Canvey Island 0-0 Hampton & Richmond Borough
Saturday, 25th August 2012. Att: 332
'Never change a winning team' seemed to have been Mark Harper's motto of the day as the starting 11 mirrored Hampton's Tuesday night line up that had seen the Beavers achieve an excellent 3:0 win over Hendon. The only change was new signing Alan Bray replacing Malvin Kamara who was absent due to a private commitment.
From the outset both sides were struggling against the strong wind in a ground that on the far side is completely unshielded from the nearby sea. Nevertheless, the first minute already indicated that the visitors were keen to pick up where they had left off on Tuesday. A long Neil Jenkins pass found Charlie Moone in the 18 yard box but the striker didn't get his foot on the ball properly and missed the goal.
After 6 minutes the hosts had their first goal attempt which was saved by Rodney Chiweshe, a man who would go on to play a central role in the most memorable moments of the match. The first half saw Hampton have plenty of the ball, with Tom Hickey being a positive nuisance in midfield, not letting his opponents get past him with the ball and regularly winning possession for the men in red and blue.
Max Hustwick, Alan Bray, Darren Powell and Neil Jenkins made for a solid and focused back four, rarely allowing the Gulls to complete their attacks with a shot on target. In the 14th minute Jenkins cleared the best Canvey chance so far just in front of the Hampton goal. The skipper was fouled shortly after, resulting in a Charlie Moone free-kick that was saved by the Gull's Number 1.
Both sides continued battling hard for possession, with Hampton seeing a bit more of the ball but not creating any dangerous chances. The 31st minute then saw Hampton supporters hold their breath for about 30 seconds as Chiweshe managed to drop the ball not once but twice at the oppositions' feet during a spell of pressure in front of the Hampton box. During a few frantic seconds Joe Benjamin managed to clear the first ball and James Simmonds blocked the second attempt by the home team to get the lead. Having just displayed their defending skills aforementioned players now added much needed creativity to Hampton's game when they switched position.
Benjamin was now playing on the left wing and Simmonds on the right but he continued to make himself available in midfield to distribute the ball.
The end of the first half saw two decent chances for both sides in quick succession; first, the hardworking Jon-Jo Bates missed the goal by inches after a Jenkins corner and then Canvey Island's forward Bradley Woods-Garness had an uninterrupted run on goal but also couldn't convert his chance. At half-time the draw seemed a fair result, with Canvey Island having the slightly more potent chances while Hampton had battled more successfully for possession in midfield. Most notably the Hampton defense had been rock-solid with Alan Bray gelling in well with his back four companions, the excellent and consistent Max Hustwick, a strong Darren Powell who managed to head the ball to safety numerous times and the ever-present Neil Jenkins.
HT Canvey Island 0 HRBFC 0
Hampton returned after the interval unchanged and the second half got underway with a Simmonds free-kick after a foul on Benjamin; Hampton now playing against the wind. The midfielder saw his ball being lifted by a gust far above the goal and possibly being lost at sea forever now. But soon after Simmonds got another chance to display his skill at set pieces when the Canvey goalkeeper just about manged to lift his superbly placed ball above the crossbar. Canvey Island soon followed suit with chances of their own and 15 minutes into the 2nd half their forward just about missed the box after a well placed corner-kick.
Hampton were now losing the ball more often as the pressure by the hosts increased. When Canvey's James Hawes was sent off after a second yellow card for knocking the ball out of Chiweshe's hands, the Beavers could have seized the opportunity and increased their pressure on the opposition.
But it was Canvey who continued to have the better chances. Half way through the 2nd half Rodney Chiweshe redeemed his earlier insecurities when he fisted the ball over the crossbar with some skill after a free-kick by the hosts. As it is often the case, the team with a player short manages to dictate play and Canvey Island continued to increase their pressure on the Hampton defence when it should have been the other way round. 30 minutes into the 2nd half Mark Harper opted to make two changes – Joe Turner for Joe Benjamin and Elliot Bent for James Simmonds - to add some fresh legs to the left wing and midfield. Turner provided several accurate passes into the box which Bates and Moone couldn't convert into goals. The best chance of the game occurred just at the end, when Bradley Woods-Garnes somehow managed not to find the Hampton goal, firing the ball just past the sidebar.
To sum up, Malvin Kamara's absence was evident as his speed on the right wing is much needed to deliver more crosses to JJ Bates and Charlie Moone which should make long and high balls obsolete. Compared to Tuesday's performance it was equally evident that Joe Benjamin, who otherwise had an excellent start for his new club, didn't quite manage to get into the flow of the game today. To his credit he worked hard and remained involved throughout. It could be argued that Hampton have lost two points today after playing a good part of the 2nd half against 10 men. But on a positive note the Beavers remain unbeaten, have kept a clean sheet and have maintained their 2nd place in the league, all in all making for a solid and positive start to the season. Furthermore, Mark Harper is left with a positive problem now when it comes to choosing his starting 11, especially in regard to the back four when Dean Inman and Billy Jeffreys still have to return to first team duty after suspension and work commitments respectively