LIFE ON THE FARM – Wimborne Town FC

Good Afternoon everyone and welcome to the BS3 Services Stadium – the home of Bristol Manor Farm FC – for this PITCHING IN Southern League Division One South fixture versus Wimborne Town.

Our away fixture at Larkhall Athletic was but one victim last Saturday amongst a raft of postponements which decimated the league schedule once again, meaning lost revenues, busted rhythms and midweek rearrangements all ‘round… Happy New Year…

Due to their plastic pitch there was slim chance of a postponement in midweek, however, when Lee Lashenko’s side had to make the long trip to Poole on the south coast to face newly-promoted and high-flying Hamworthy United.

Their ‘All-weather’ pitch may only have had two or three of the natural elements to contend with last Tuesday but there was certainly enough wind and rain about to have kept a wide-awake Noah on permanent look-out all night. The rain fair swirled and sheeted across the ironically-named Sunseeker International County Ground, sweeping to and fro underneath the club’s brand new floodlights like MGM Studio rain.

It’s tempting to add that the only thing missing from the scene was Gene Kelly and a silent copper, but that wouldn’t be strictly true as Manor Farm made the long trek south without the suspended Frankie Artus, the injured full-back Mason Winter and an unavailable-due-to-work trio of Theo Llewellyn, Aron Robbins and skipper Jake Gosling.

These unfortunate absences forced Lee’s hand into naming just three players on the bench – all of them under 18’s – in Will Gallagher, Regan Lashenko and Luco Ponsillo, who impressed as a sub last time here against Slimbridge. The three teenagers would all go on later in the second half on Tuesday night and each make a great impact from the bench. Perhaps, going forward, an even bigger one on our season.

The captain’s armband (and role of midfield lynchpin) for this treacherous-looking voyage was passed on to the arm and redoubtable shoulders of Lloyd Mills and we loved Barry Carelton’s tweet on our social media feed for its’ sweet simplicity – “Well deserved Lloyd”. Nice one, Barry, and so say all of us.

Lloydy was partnered in midfield by last season’s Under 18’s skipper Harry Lucas (already an established first-team player this term) and the ever-so-slightly older George Fowler who has patiently waited for his chance and is now duly taking it.

With the super-skills of Evander Grubb and Marcus Day – just ‘in’ and ‘out’ of their teens respectively outside on either flank – and! – seventeen-year-old Harvey Tierney (again from our current crop of sensational Under 18’s) stepping in for a full league debut at left back, Bristol Manor Farm fielded what must have been one of our youngest starting line-ups in living memory.

Jayden Nielsen, barely 21 himself, continues to perform with growing maturity at left-back since being pressed into service there on a fairly regular basis this season from his normal position up front on the wing. He has adapted supremely well to the task that his Manager has asked of him. Jayden was Farm’s best outfield player on the night, mostly secure with his defensive positioning yet still managing to carry our greatest threat in attack with a series of purposeful runs.

With Captain Mills at the helm and a well-seasoned spine of crewmen to the boat in Johnsy, Kinger, Fordy and Howe we collectively set sail then for Poole Harbour. Straight into the eye of a storm.

The final result will doubtlessly have had our detractors freely criticising such a youthful excursion but stuff ‘em… Our hand was forced and you can rest assured that we (the players, a Farmy Army of six, some staff, club officials and rightly proud parents – all crammed into cars and a “will it?/won’t it?” minibus) still all travelled down there with full faith and confidence in our youth, our stalwarts, our leaders and our abilities. Otherwise, why bother?

The unrelenting storm came in the shape of a ruthless Hamworthy United side who attacked at pace, utilising their familiarity with the artificial surface and the unpredictability of long high balls that hung for an age and deviated at a whim in the tempest-tossed night skies. There were some powerful and creative interchanges up front for the home side once the ball had finally got there and barely twenty minutes into the game The Hammers were 3-0 up.

Two of those goals look like gifts from Manor Farm but had as much to do with bad luck as anything. The first saw a wind-assisted corner first hang then speed up through Ben John’s grasp, taking the faintest of attacking touches into the net. The third was a cannon into an empty net off a firm clearance by the unlucky Farm ‘keeper. The second was an absolute world-class banger by Sam Griffin, so fair play. They also carved open a goal in between that was ruled out for offside during a blitzkrieg passage of play. But the goals were a quick triple-whammy to take the wind right out of even the sturdiest of sails.

Farm had started brightly enough in the earliest stages, Tierney linking up well with the attack, getting to the byline and crossing the ball to Howe on the edge of the box who held it up well before getting off a left foot shot and forcing their on-loan goal-keeper Kai Storr into a diving save at his near post.

Another swift attack followed. Some good link-up play between the three ended with Day’s excellent low cross finding Grubb who saw his goal-bound shot pushed away by Storr but only to the feet of Lloyd Mills who narrowly carved one wide with the outside of his right boot.

But then came that quick deluge of goals and the storm wasn’t done with us yet. Ben John had to make two brilliant and critical saves to keep the hull of our ship from busting apart completely as the Dorset club continued to pour forward with the scent of blood in their nostrils. The Hammers showed their class and dominance when adding a fourth ten minutes before the break, slicing through a beleaguered rearguard to take an unassailable lead into the interval.

For all the luck of half their tally in the first 45, Hamworthy’s first-half performance was as powerful an attacking display as we’ve faced all season and their final victory was well deserved. Were we unrealistic to be so optimistic? Of course not. Was it folly to go with such youth and attacking intent? Don’t be silly. What’s real is that we’re loyal supporters who keep the faith and players who work hard and go again and again and again for the cause – it’s all a football club really is when you boil it down to its’ bones and sticking together through thick and thin is what gives us our identity. Our character. Portus Abonae.

It’s that bravery and character that showed in winning the second half 2-1 and despite the obvious setback which leaves us coming into today’s game still bottom of the division, the club left Poole with heads held high, given fresh hope for the future by the excellent contributions made by our teenage subs from the bench who combined effectively to restore some pride and give a greater air of respectability to the final scoreline.

After debutant Hamworthy sub Rafa Ramos – freshly signed and twice our tormentor in defeats to Bashley this season – had added a fifth goal with just over ten minutes to play, Manor Farm looked all but scuppered.

But Luco Ponsillo was a handful, skilfully taking on players, attacking the box and twice getting crosses in from the by-line. Regan Lashenko bristled with intent and was instrumental in Farm’s first consolation score, showing good determination to hold off his defender before getting off a good shot which was blocked. The rebound fell to Ponsillo, handily placed to smash home.

If that wasn’t consolation enough for the loyal travelling support, then up popped sixteen-year-old super-sub Will Gallagher, unafraid to take on the big guys and getting into the box to prod home another good cross from Ponsillo with virtually the last kick of the game. It was Will’s second goal from the bench this season and certainly put a smile back on our faces for the long, cramped and reflective journey home.

Thanks to Lee, Rachel (the hardest-working Secretary in show business!), Jasmine, Macca and all the drivers that got the players and fans safely there and back – finally getting us all home to various parts of Bristol deep into the wee hours – and special thanks to everyone who tuned in to Manor Farm Radio for live commentary and stuck it out ‘til the end with us – we hope it was worth it for those late goals alone. We really appreciate that sense of connection we feel when we’re far away from home.

Four days after our midweek trip to deepest Dorset then, we welcome Hamworthy’s not-so-loved neighbours and local rivals Wimborne Town to our ground today to complete this week’s Hardy-esque Wessex double-header.

It will also be the third and final instalment this season of an already epic trio of fixtures between the two clubs which for value and entertainment we hope lives up to the first two.

Both games have already been well-talked about in these pages. Manor Farm made a great comeback to win 3-2 in an FA Trophy tie in September (after another long midweek odyssey to the land of teeming rains) and Wimborne prevailed by the same score in quite dramatic fashion on our weekend league visit in November. The game saw three brilliant, unlikely, almost unfeasible goals scored within a minute of each other in a crazy injury-time climax.

The game went pretty viral on you tube & social media and despite the heart-breaking result we take our hats off to local content provider Tony from TBTVSports for providing such an entertaining take on a never-to-be-forgotten game of football.

On behalf of Chairwoman Gill Callaghan and the BMF Committee we extend a warm welcome to her Wimborne Town counterpart Tony Grant, to Manager Tim Sills, the players, management, officials and those Magpie supporters who’ve made the similarly long trip up to us today for this eagerly-anticipated match.

Special thanks to today’s Match and Ball Sponsors JANSON & SONS BUILDING & LANDSCAPING – a well-respected local firm who have stepped in at late notice to ensure we’ve got the game covered. Thank you. The club has gone through some difficult times of late so thanks for your support and backing . You’ve certainly picked a cracker of a game to sponsor, Janner, we hope you all have a great day today. JANSON & SONS BUILDING & LANDSCAPING – today’s Matchday Sponsors.

Wimborne are riding high in the table’s promotion play-off spots in 3rd place. Bristol Manor Farm are bottom in 20th. But with a dramatic 3-2 win to each name so far, league position might count for little as both clubs seek to favourably complete the narrative to this ongoing epic saga. One-all with one to go – a mini-tournament decider.

Up the Farm & TOOGS!

By Kevin O’Donohoe.