AFC Waltham successfully defended the Jim Ainley Cup against a Kings Head XI at Mount Pleasant in an entertaining game. The Division Six side retained the trophy in the charity fundraising fixture that has become an annual event.
Waltham lined up as above in a 4-4-2 formation, but with rolling substitutions permitted, it was a good chance to give every available player some time on the pitch. The big team news was that player-manager Paul Thompson started himself at centre-back. And he was looking comfortable until a lack of match fitness saw him substitute himself after 25 minutes, with Kent Bennett coming on at left back and Karl Wright slotting in alongside Lidgard at centre-back. Before leaving the pitch though, the Waltham boss was kind enough to let the centre-forward he was marking back out of his pocket.
Waltham started the game on the front foot and the first half saw them create several chances, only for wasteful finishing to let them down. Early in the game Dan Moore found Bryan on the left who skipped past a defender and fired inches wide of the post. As the game progressed, Stoneman at right-back was finding himself in possession more and more, and linked up well with winger James Leshone. And it was after good work down Waltham’s right that the opening goal of the game was created. Leshone bent in a Beckham-like cross from near the touchline and Moore rose like a salmon to head home perfectly into the far corner to make it 1-0.
Waltham seemed to settle into the game with some spells of possession after the goal, with Keil Thompson and Aaron Roberts pulling the strings in midfield. Waltham then made a few changes, with James Watkin coming on to play left midfield, Ceclich coming on in an unfamiliar right midfield role and Jordan Hobbins sent on up front. Hobbins soon had a chance to score after midfield playmaker Keil Thompson played a great through ball for the striker to run onto after brilliantly bending his run to beat the offside trap. Hobbins carried it towards goal and smashed it from a tight angle only for it to come back off the near post and go behind for a goal kick. Hobbins had another chance minutes later when Ceclich fed Smith who, with his back to goal, played a Zidane-esque back-flick to put Hobbins through again. This time he took his shot early and could only scoop it into the ‘keepers hands. The referee, strangely wearing gloves, blew the whistle for half time with Waltham 1-0 ahead.
The second half began in the same way the first had ended. With Waltham shading the play but having to work hard for it with the Kings Head XI putting in a real shift and having quality in the middle of the park with Rising and Mikey Wright. Midfield general Rob Saxby came on at half time sporting a black-eye as a result of a rumoured punch-up with Mario Balotelli on a recent night out in Cleethorpes. Saxby showed several good touches as well as getting away with a few attempted assaults on ex-Waltham man Mikey Wright in the Kings Head midfield.
AFC Waltham’s all-time record post-war goalscorer Ian Ceclich made a great chance for himself as he sprinted clear of the Kings Head defence, only for the goalkeeper to save brilliantly with his feet. James Leshone was looking for his first AFC Waltham goal and hit a free kick “just” (he said afterwards) over the bar. Midway through the second half Steve Smith thought he had found his side a second goal. Sadly for Smith, strike-partner Jordan Hobbins temporarily thought he was Vincent Kompany and he cleared Smith’s effort off the line and over the bar with a brilliant defensive clearance. Soon after, James Phillipson was sent on up front after passing a late fitness test. Phillipson made a nuisance of himself and was like a young Steve Livingstone winning headers and putting himself about.
A second goal did eventually come for Waltham. A Smith corner from the right caused panic in the box and as the ball came out to Saxby 20 yards out, he steadied himself and hit a wonderfully placed volley that bounced 17 times before nestling in the bottom corner of the net. More substitutions followed and Roberts was rested for the final period of the game after a good performance in which he was often the driving force of Waltham going forward. Manager Paul Thompson went back on at centre back alongside the faultless Lidgard. There seemed to be a different Paul Thompson on the field this time though. The Baresi-like defending of the first half was nowhere to be seen as he became an attack-minded centre-back, twisting and turning like David Luiz in his own half with mixed results.
Kings Head XI got a goal back in the last 10 minutes when captain Rising floated a free kick over the Waltham defence and Mikey Wright was at the back post to power a header past Harrison to make it 2-1. The Kings Head threw bodies forward in an attempt to force an equaliser and caused problems from a few set pieces. But Waltham held out to see the game out and retain their trophy. Special mention has to go to Paul Lidgard for keeping his name out of the referee’s book for the full 90 minutes.