Amateur FA U16s were defeated 3-1 by Essex FA in the Southern Counties Youth Competition at Wadham Lodge FC on Thursday 9 November (7:00pm KO).
On a cool, clear November evening the AFA hosted Essex for the first time at this East London venue and, as reigning champions, were hopeful of continuing their successful start to the season.
AFA started the match well, playing with a high level of skill and awareness, with Billy Norton prominent in midfield.
It was no surprise, therefore, when the AFA took the lead in the 16th minute. Rigbert Rama displayed both skill and tenacity in dribbling into the Essex penalty area from the right and the ball was worked across the box to Avonia Brown, with his back to goal. He turned to his left to create space and rifled a right foot shot past the ‘keeper from about 15 yards.
The AFA were now dominating both possession and opportunities, but were unfortunately unable to take them - although they went close on several occasions. Notably just after scoring, when Norton created a half chance for Bailey Stevenson, but a defender got back to clear. Then a cross to the far post was headed just wide.
On the half hour Norton put Stevenson through again and he lifted the ball over the ‘keeper as he came out but, again, a defender got back to clear.
Essex had been restricted to the odd breakaway and had come closest after winning the ball in midfield which led to a snap shot just over the bar. The AFA had started to relax a bit and were not moving the ball as quickly as earlier and got caught in possession again in the 34th minute and lost the ball. An excellent pass then put their centre forward through and he drove the ball past Harry Hauserman to equalise.
The AFA responded with Liam Mulligan putting Stevenson in again but his lob went just over the bar. However Essex were now lifted and finished the half pushing the AFA deeper into their own half as the home team lost some momentum.
Kaan Onay replaced Hauserman at half time and it was not long after that he was hit with a quick fire double from Essex that decided the game. They had started the second half as strongly as they finished the first and only seven minutes in they won a free kick out on the left about 25 yards from goal. The ball was swung in and by passed everyone to finish in the far corner of the net.
The AFA had no time to recover from this when, only two minutes later, another Essex free kick from the left wing was met by an unmarked player at the near post and they were 3-1 down.
This really deflated the champions and caused them to lose momentum. The AFA were often too deep in defence, walking rather than running and not supporting players when in possession of the ball, leading to the ball being lost and Essex continuing to dominate.
The managers made substitutions to generate some spark and eventually this paid off as the AFA started to come back into the game, although they did not make the most of their increased possession. The ever-willing Stevenson almost got the AFA back into the game on 66 minutes but his shot went just wide. Then Kaan saved well with his feet as an Essex centre forward broke through.
The AFA players can take confidence from the fact their character did not wilt and they continued to strive to come back and, in particular, used the wings well but, unfortunately, did not get in enough telling crosses or make the most of those that were effective and the game was lost.
However, much can be learned from this and hopefully the AFA will put that into practice when they face Kent in the New Year.
1. Harry Hauserman (Wingate Finchley)
2. Ryan Murphy (Cockfosters)
3. Ben Bellman (Cockfosters)
4. Bradav Badjenga (Enfield Town)
5. David Ola (Wingate Finchley)
6. Avonia Brown (Wingate Finchley)
7. Rigbert Rama (Wingate Finchley)
8. Billy Norton (Norsemen)
9. Bailey Stevenson (Cockfosters)
10. Liam Mulligan (Wingate Finchley)
11. Justin Dumfeh (Wingate Finchley)
12. Sharif Ahmed (Norsemen)
16. Giorgio Kerenski (Enfield Town)
17. Ylli Elei (Cockfosters)
18. Dario Sesay de Luca (Clapton)
23. Kaan Onay (Bishops Stortford)
Manager - Gary Harrowell
Coach - Gary Casey
Referee - Mr. C. Beament
Assistant Referees - Mr. J. Kilby & Mr. T. Dawkins