Falmer Sports Complex, Falmer
Southern Combination League Division Two
Attendance: 26 (official) or 12 (head count)
Match Rating: 4
After a month of traveling long distances on Saturdays, today I decided it was time for a more relaxed and easier day out at a relatively local venue.
For their debut season in the Southern Combination League Division Two, previously the Sussex County League Division Three, Montpelier Villa have continued their recent nomadic existence by taking up residence on the University of Sussex campus, with just the campus and A27 dual carriageway separating it from Brighton and Hove Albion’s home stadium, the Amex. Indeed, one could clearly hear the music and roars of the crowd as Brighton were playing simultaneously at home today. I was partly swayed to visit this ground having seen the large sports pavilion adjacent to the main pitch with a long balcony offering elevated views of the action. Unfortunately, it turned out that Montpelier Villa were not to play on this pitch today but rather one of the back pitches on the complex. The pitch was roped off down the length where spectators approach the pitch, with a 3g cage behind the length. Around the other three lengths there is mesh fencing throughout, bordered by trees making the appearance not so bad. A 20 page programme was produced and was quite an interesting read to find out more about the set up of a club that most visitors would know little about.
It has been slightly controversial that either of today’s teams find themselves in this division this season. Montpelier Villa only finished in eighth place in the Mid Sussex League Premier Division, but profited from the desire of the Southern Counties League to add six clubs to their bottom division, based on off the pitch considerations. Rustington were relegated from senior football last season despite finishing well clear of the relegation zone in 11th place in the 15 team division, but they were relegated along with Westfield due to failing ground grading for senior football. Whilst it is true that both clubs have known for years that ground grading relegation was inevitable sooner or later, it still doesn’t sit well that Seaford Town, who managed just one point throughout the whole of last season, were reprieved, as were Midhurst and Easebourne, whose ground would also fail ground grading but finished a few places higher in the division.
On a hot and gloriously sunny afternoon, kick off was put back by half an hour as the Rustington players and officials were delayed getting to the ground following an airplane crash during the Shoreham Airshow at around 1.30pm, causing the A27 to be closed. But at least they made it to the game, which is very sadly and tragically more than can be said of two Worthing United first team players who were killed in the crash on their way to their match.
When the match finally kicked off, Rustington had the better of the early exchanges, but it was Montpelier Villa who took the lead on 4 minutes when Fukuyi Nakatani took the ball to the left of the area before poking the ball low across the keeper and into the far corner. Rustington were back on level terms on 6 minutes though, when the ball was headed down for Tom Foxon to slot the ball home, despite shouts for offside. The visitors took the lead on 25 minutes, when Steve Kirkham headed the ball into the keepers hands but the keeper allowed the ball to squirm out of his hands and over the line. Within a minutes, Rustington opened up a two goal cushion, when Kirkham controlled a low pass and a good touch left him all alone and approaching the goal, and he passed the ball into the net. When the visitors really should have made in four on 32 minutes, when their player danced around defenders, creating space for a shot but firing wide of the far post, it looked like Montpelier Villa’s first game in the Southern Combination League was not going to be a fruitful one. They got a goal back on 39 minutes though when Nakatani dribbled his way to the byline, pulled the ball back to his teammate all alone on the penalty spot, but his shot his a covering defender. Eventually though the ball was curled into the top left corner from the edge of the area by Sam Terry. And within a minute, the scores were remarkably level. A Rustington defender played a suicidal back pass far too softly, and Nakatani took the ball forward, dinked the ball around the keeper and passed the ball into the empty net.
Into the second half and Montpelier Villa looked fairly comfortable with their lead, and their prospects looked even better on 56 minutes when Rustington were reduced to ten men, Mark Burgess being shown a red card for going in with his foot too strongly at waist height as the keeper was catching the ball. He reacted poorly to this, taking a long time to leave the pitch and surroundings, and indeed the Rustington players left on the pitch were guilty of some quite ugly challenges during the remainder of the game. On 69 minutes, the home side took the lead when a dribble down the right wing ended with a low cross into the box, which Nakatani tucked into the net from close range to complete his hat-trick, and they surely made the points safe on 74 minutes when the ball was beautifully curled into the box from the left wing, finding Nakatani who stroked the ball home for his fourth and his team's fifth of the match. Rustington never really threatened to get back in the game despite some huff and puff, although they were denied a penalty in stoppage time when a goal bound shot hit a hand. But Montpelier Villa deserved to come out of a rollercoaster match on top, and Rustington clearly will not have an easy time of it back in intermediate football.
No doubt who was man of the match today, with Fayuki Nakatani scoring four, assisting the other and looked likely to score whenever in range of goal. It is probably fair to say he was the difference between the two sides.