Friday, October 01, 2021

Match preview - Merstham FC vs Hereford FC

It’s a return to FA Cup action for Hereford FC on Saturday, as they travel south for a change to Surrey to face Merstham FC at the unimprovably well-named Whisky Bible Stadium in the third qualifying round of the competition.

The hosts are based in the little pocket of that county that’s reserved for its plumbers, nurses etc, the essential workers who are needed by the useless stockbrokers who proliferate elsewhere, but who are not needed to be living too close in the same gated communities as them. Ugh.

Merstham compete in the Isthmian League Premier Division, one level below Hereford. They’ve had as dodgy a start as the Bulls, sitting third bottom with six points from seven games, and have only managed four goals. They actually finished bottom when last season was curtailed, but only eight games had been played. Last Saturday they lost 4-1 at good old Kingstonian. They put their shyness in front of goal to one side prior to that in the last round of the Cup though, beating Margate 4-1 at the Whisky.

The club reached the actual first round of the Cup in 2016/17, their best ever run in the competition, although they lost 5-0 at home to Oxford United in front of a record 1920 crowd. You never know, if each of the London Bulls brings a friend or four, that record could be broken on Saturday.

Winger Dylan Adjei-Hersey, on loan from Wimbledon, looks to be their main threat.

As for Saturday’s visitors, well, the feelgood factor is back! The Bulls will be hoping to continue their generally excellent 2021 cup competition form, and their generally excellent over-the-last-four-days league form, yes league form. That win at York was absolutely smashing wasn’t it, and rich reward for the staff and players, who have kept at it when lucky breaks haven’t quite been breaking, and wonderful too for the fans who made the trip.

A rejuvenated Brandon Hall should cause ripples of positivity to now flow throughout the team, as was the case from December last year when he reclaimed his starting place, and his own confidence should be boosted by having Levi Andoh and Reiss McNally playing in front of him. Andoh goes from strength to strength as he finds his feet, and McNally’s debut on Tuesday seemed to have been something of a revelation. I can safely say that I’ve never met a group of people on a bus and gone on to play a superb game of football with them shortly after the journey. Excellent use of the loan market by Josh Gowling.

The purple patch Tom Owen-Evans was hinting at coming into in the first half against Lymington seems to be developing nicely, with an excellent performance at York, and a goal or two in this match wouldn’t be surprising. Neither would it be surprising if Dan Smith added to his tally as he enjoys his own purple patch, unlucky not to score against York with a header, a part of his game that is proving to be a real threat. Suddenly, causes for optimism are cropping up from back to front, and that’s without factoring in the players coming back from injury.

But, and it seems churlish to offer a but after such a lovely win, as has often been the case there’s a suggestion that this Hereford team is the equal of anyone else who tries to play a bit, particularly when away from home and able to counter-attack, but in the National League North there are at least as many Leamingtons as there are Yorks, and it’s perhaps those clubs that provide the headaches, often literally, as in Luke Haines' case. It would of course be horrible to try to match the cynicism of these clubs in attempting to pick up more points against them, but maybe the quality of the players now coming in will allow the team to simply negate that cynicism with total football. Given the growing Dutch presence in the team, perhaps that phrase is apposite.  

After needing a replay to get through the last round, the Bulls will be hoping to put this one to bed at the first time of asking. A smallish squad recently hit by a flurry of injuries will need to be carefully nursed through the next month or so with as few matches as possible. Having said that, there’s no doubt that this is another slippery banana skin, so there’s no room for any messing about. A nice early goal and then lots of subsequent goals at regular intervals would be good, and then having a proper good go at ripping into the National League North table with intent before Christmas.

Make sure you’ve got a whisky and a Bible to hand at 3pm. This will hopefully be straightforward but, well, you know what it’s like…