Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Rusthall 3 v 1 Tunbridge Wells

Tuesday 23rd July 2013
Pre-season friendly
Jockey Farm, Rusthall
Admission: £4.00
Programme: None
Attendance: 224
Match Rating: 4

This game promised to be much more interesting and competitive than the average pre-season friendly, with it being a local derby between Tunbridge Wells’ two senior clubs. It would also be the first time I have watched Tunbridge Wells since their remarkable big day out in the FA Vase Final at Wembley in May, visiting the home of a Rusthall club that seems to have been rejuvenated over the summer with high hopes for a successful season ahead.

Jockey Farm is a delightfully rural and tranquil ground located a couple of miles to the west of Tunbridge Wells, and the ground has not changed noticeably from my previous visit a couple of years ago. Admission was rather half-heartedly taken – one needed to approach a table to pay their admission – and no programme was produced for today, slightly surprising given the probable high number of spectators in attendance.

Rusthall had a fairly poor season in 2012/12, with only a late run of form pulling them away from the relegation zone. They have had quite a turnover of players over the summer and have ambitions to be much closer to the top of the table this season. This evening’s game would be a good test of where they are at, against a team one step above them, with Tunbridge Wells playing in the recently renames Southern Counties East League, formerly the Kent League. Not only did Tunbridge Wells reach the FA Vase final last season, many speculated that they may have been much closer to promotion but for chronic fixture backlog – which regularly saw them play on consecutive days towards the end of the season. Having retained almost all of the players from last season, they are one of the favourites for promotion this coming season.

On the first cool evening for the last couple of weeks, with occasional rain showers, this was very much a game of two halves. Tunbridge Wells had must the better of the first half and opened the scoring on 35 minutes when Wayne Clark dribbled forward and around several defenders before dinking a smart finish over the keeper. They retained their one goal lead at half time, but it should really have been much more convincing, having spurned two one on one opportunities as well as having several other presentable chances. Rusthall were not playing badly, but just never looked capable of scoring.

Into the second half and Rusthall got much more into the game as Tunbridge Wells lost their way more and more as the half wore on. Rusthall were awarded a penalty on 56 minutes when their player was rather clumsily pulled back. The penalty was smashed down the middle to tie the game up at 1-1. Rusthall deservedly went into the lead seven minutes later when a pinpoint cross on the run from out wide was headed powerfully into the net, and ten minutes later they scored a third when a shot towards goal was deflected at close range to deceive the keeper and the ball ended up in the net. This was no more than Rusthall deserved, and they could easily have extended their lead further. Rusthall’s second half display was mightily impressive and if they can carry this level of performance into their league season, they could indeed have a good season. Tunbridge Wells looked a very poor outfit in the second half, disjointed and with their players increasingly getting agitated with each other, but they have plenty of time and game time before the league season commences.

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