Opening league game of the season report from Tony and Roger:
Sydenham Wessex Premier League (Saturday 5th September 2020)
Hamworthy were hoping to carry Tuesday's FA Cup form into their first League encounter of the season. For extra spice, United's in-form Matty Neale was facing his team mates from last season, as was James King. Many of the Christchurch squad including their Manager and Captain Billy Walker had all previously worn the maroon and blue shirts of United in recent years. The hosts welcomed ex-Eastleigh and Dorchester man Chris Dillon to the line-up; returning to the game after a lengthy injury. He replaced Adam Costello in defence, who was unable to play due to a family bereavement.
The game started at a quick pace, Christchurch keeper Lewis Gunstone-Gray almost immediately having to turn a teasing goal-bound cross from Ollie Davis over his bar. The Hammers continued to do the early pressing, and deservedly took the lead on 11 minutes. A push by ex-Hammer Billy Walker on Eddie Hodge led to a United free kick just outside the penalty area, and slightly to the left of goal. The ball was played short to Matty Neale who superbly bent the ball low around the left of the four-man wall. It just beat the dive of Gunstone-Gray before finding the net just inside the near post. A few moments later an almost identical free kick was awarded to the visitors, but ex-Hammer Mickey Finch's effort finished a yard wide. United had a gilt-edged chance to double their lead on 21 minutes following an error in the Church defence that let Ollie Davis in on goal. Sadly, for the Hammers he muffed his shot, and it passed well over the bar. Although the ball fell nicely onto his left foot, the United man opted to use his stronger right foot, a decision he admitted later he regretted. The same player following some good link up play with Hodge; did however continue to be a nuisance in front of goal. He was twice denied by solid sliding tackles by Ron Frost. There was not a lot to choose between the two teams, with the Hammers preferring the ball on the deck and creating the better chances. The Visitors however were taking a much more direct route, with long balls out of defence looking for their quick forwards. Frost was very adept with his long throws into the United box, one of which almost paid dividends just before the break, but the second header passed narrowly wide with the flag up for offside anyway. The Hammers were good value for their one goal interval lead, but they would still have work to do in what was becoming another competitive and occasionally feisty affair.
In contrast to the start of the first half, it was the Church who emerged the more threatening after the interval. They had changed their formation at the start of the second half, and this was soon to pay dividends. Connor Cocklin got in a fine tackle to avert an early Christchurch raid, before the visitors managed to level matters on 48 minutes. Ex-Hammer Ash Pope did well to chase down a long ball forward from Frost and managed to beat Murphy with a crisp shot to the right far post. The Hammers responded positively for a period, with Davis doing well to round Brad Hill before firing a yard over. He then drew a good take by the keeper after another precise ball from Hodge. However, United's best and only decent remaining chance of the half went begging on 55 minutes. A slick move involving Davis, Neale, Hodge and Cann prized open the Church defence. Cann, in space ten yards out, got plenty of meat on his shot but it was excellently read by Gunstone-Gray who dived low to his right, and claimed the ball the ball at his second attempt. From this point on Christchurch gradually took control, and on 75 minutes Pope fired just over from a short free kick. The Hammers were now making many more mistakes than they had been earlier in the game. United gave the ball away cheaply in defence, and a quick Church break ended with Finch rattling the bar. It then needed a crucial save by Murphy to keep the score level. He spread himself well to keep out Pope's close range shot with his trailing leg. It was against the run of play when the Hammers did create a half chance near the end of the game. Cann, perhaps jumping just a little too early, was unable to get a strong enough connection to beat the keeper from James King's cross.
At the final whistle a draw was probably a fair result in what was, to quote the cliché, a game of two halves. The second half belonging to the Christchurch as much as this first did to Hamworthy. Either side could have nicked it. The game as a whole provided good entertainment to the large crowd of 180 including a certain Mr Harvey (Hamworthy’s Ex Chair