Clapton CFC faced a setback in the race for the league title after a tricky draw in the sun, wind and sleet at the Stray Dog.
A win here would have placed Geoff Ocran‘s side top of the league, though other teams have games in hand.
The sun was shining on Saturday though the Walthamstow microclimate brought a dash of sleet earlier in the afternoon. Cricklewood’s travelling support had grown to a flag, a drum and a larger handful of fans. But to be fair, 100% of their fans were at the ground for kickoff. The same sadly could not be said for Clapton.
Of the 276 watching the game, only an estimated 150 were through the gates for the whistle. There had been more traffic problems in Walthamstow, but it was an unusually subdued Stray Dog as the players walked out onto the pitch. This seemed to set the tone for the day.
What we did have was not just two, but three competing sets of drums: the Cricklewood away contingent, the BUC and the main stand drummers all going for it in an impressive effort to outdo one another.
Tons begin brightly
Clapton started brightly with a trio of chances from Julian Austin in the first 10 minutes. Two attempts drew saves from the opposition keeper and one dragging just left of the post. James Briggs was linking up well with Austin and Cricklewood offered little in response.
At the 15 minute mark, Clapton won a corner. With dark clouds now rolling over the Stray Dog, Briggs whipped one in and then everything got slightly confusing…Austin jumped to challenge for the ball. The keeper fumbled the incoming ball goalwards. A Cricklewood defender frantically cleared but it looked over the line. Every single Clapton player shouted for a goal. Each Cricklewood player shouted for a foul. The cleared ball fell back to Briggs who lashed a shot that slapped off the top of the crossbar. Chance gone.
But wait, no! The linesman had been waving furiously to the referee and following a quick chat – goal given! Clapton celebrated and Cricklewood surrounded the ref to express their polite disagreement.
Doesn’t matter how they go in, they all count and this particular one was chalked up as Briggs scoring from a corner.
Bits and pieces
Cricklewood had clearly identified Austin as a threat, they struggled to cope with him and instead proceeded to bring him down three times over the half. Also catching the eye for Clapton was Dean Bouho, who had a great first half, tidying up, blocking off Cricklewood advances and helping out across the backline where needed.
The latter part of the half was a scrappy affair, with neither side putting too many passes together. The bittiness seemed to get to both teams, late challenges and complaints to the ref were the prevailing themes. Clapton certainly seemed frustrated not to be seeing more of the ball.
As halftime approached it was all one-way traffic. Cricklewood had a three-on-two counter and should have scored, luckily Tafari Nicholas responded well and put the Cricklewood striker under enough pressure that he blazed high.
With minutes of the half remaining, Cricklewood again countered effectively on the break. Francis pulled off a trademark save from a one-on-one situation, then moments later, another golden chance for Cricklewood was put just beyond a striker’s laces by Bouho’s big toe.
Clapton had long since lost the momentum from the early exchanges. The midfield were unable to build much going forward, forcing the Tons to fire long balls up to Sherwin Stanley and Noah Adejokun. Cricklewood seemed happy to fend these off. The referee blew for halftime and Tons fans went in to break happy to remain ahead.
Flat red and whites
The second half, it has to be said, was not a classic.
Clapton again started brightly in the opening exchanges, but 10 minutes into the half another Cricklewood move on the break gave them the goal that had, to be fair, been coming.
The visitors won a throw in the Clapton half. Their midfielder took the ball on a mazy run through the centre of the pitch and spread it to their winger out on the right. Their winger put in a low diagonal pass to the unmarked number 11 who tapped in. In the space of the 15 seconds from the throw being taken, all the stout defending of the first half was undone. 1-1.
From this point, a definite flatness crept into the game. No real chances for either side were created. There were two longs spells of inaction as players were injured and received treatment. The noise from the Tons fans was notably absent.
A chance from Joshua Adejokun, who tried to lift the tempo when he came on, was probably the highlight of the second half, as both teams fought to a stalemate.
The match was something of a hiccup after winning the previous four on the bounce. Clapton will be disappointed with outcomes on and off the pitch, two points dropped and a quieter following than we’re used to for our home matches.
Next up, we take on Brentham, a team we are yet to beat in four meetings. There can be no doubt that Tons both on the pitch and in the stands will need to raise the game for this one. But as the man says, we go again!
An entirely relaxed, chill and totally cool request to Tons fans coming to watch us play Brentham… get there before kick-off, yeah?