2021/22, a season which saw Bristol Manor Farm achieve its highest league finish in its 60-year existence, was a memorable one for everyone connected with Bristol Manor Farm FC. Jack Davies takes us back to August at The Corinium Stadium as we look back on a season full of unforgettable moments.
Bristol Manor Farm, like the rest of the league, had a prolonged break before the beginning of the new season due to the curtailment of last season’s Southern Football League season due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Preparations weren’t made easy, but a rather substantial squad overhaul at The Creek saw many ins and outs in the eight-month break. Departures included talismanic captain Jamie Adams, exciting full back Tyler Ashmead and wide men Marcus Day and Jamie Bird. In terms of incomings, Farm had a very exciting pre-season; a glut of talented players, many of whom featured higher up the non-league pyramid, came through the doors in BS9.
No-nonsense centre-back Josh Ford, explosive forward Kyle Tooze, and midfield trio Jayden Nielson, Theo Llewelyn, and Jamie Short were all drafted in, as was the returning Owen Howe, a prolific goalscorer in his first spell at the Creek.
The Farm began with one of the hardest opening days they could have had, a trip to the much-fancied Cirencester Town FC. Despite the majority of the chances and a brace by Howe, they came up short to the hosts, who recorded a 3-2 victory.
The Portwaymen wouldn’t have to wait too much longer for that first win, as Lee Lashenko’s side inflicted a 3-1 defeat for Dean Edwards’ Barnstaple at a sun-kissed Creek. Howe with his second brace in as many games.
Lashenko’s men were a penalty shootout away from the final FA Cup qualifying round last season but would fall at the first hurdle this time around, a defeat away at Exmouth, largely thanks to an early red card. A well-fought draw away at Larkhall in August’s penultimate fixture just left Mangotsfield at home for the month. Farm making it back-to-back home wins with a comfortable 2-0 victory.
Just days after the club had exited the cup, September started with an unexpected home defeat against Melksham Town, resulting in a narrow 1-3 loss.
Farm, however, returned to winning ways in a hard-fought away win on a Tuesday night in Willand Rovers, before a credible 1-1 draw in Worcestershire against Evesham United.
September ended in spectacular style as Farm produced one of the finest comebacks in recent history, coming from two down against Plymouth Parkway to win 4-2. Josh Ford was in imperious form when he scored twice before Short and Tooze turned the tide completely.
A home stalemate against Lymington opened October before Farm’s cup draws would see them play a trilogy of consecutive fixtures against Paulton Rovers.
The first two games were played at The Creek, with Paulton winning the first after a last-second equaliser from now Farm midfielder George Fowler, and the second after an odd goal in regulation time. Bristol Manor Farm finally got their win and rather comfortably so, by three goals to one in Somerset.
The roundabout season was summed up perfectly in the final two games of the month. A home defeat to Bideford, who hadn’t won a single away game so far, was followed by a win away to Highworth who hadn’t lost at home! Howe and Bryant doing the damage in the latter.
Farm’s home form continued to decline into November, with the league’s leaders Frome coming away from the match with a resounding 3-0 away win.
Away from The Creek, Farm was unbeaten since that opening day defeat, but that record was ended in emphatic style at Winchester. Despite two heavy defeats in a row, Farm had cause for optimism as they welcomed former Gibraltar International Jake Gosling to the Creek. Josh Ford clawed Farm back into the match, but Winchester made the extra man count by scoring four late on.
An evening trip to Barnstaple midway on paper seemed a perfect way for Farm to end their recent woes. The hosts hadn’t garnered a single point by this point in the season, and very few could envision what would happen over the 94 minutes that would follow.
In a game of eight goals, the battle-hardened Barnstaple side twice came from behind before Farm skipper Aron Robbins snatched victory for the visitors with his last kick. The game would also see 17th and what looked like a final goal for Owen Howe as the big number nine moved back to another former club, Tiverton.
The first game in his absence was the reverse fixture with opening day opponents Cirencester and a first home win in almost two months would duly arrive. Ben Bament stepped up to the mark, and continued his fine form when he scored the only goal to kick-start a dramatic change in form at The Creek.
Farm were one of the first teams to reach their exact midway point of the season at the start of December but it would be described as ‘one for the purest.’
Despite large spells of dominance, a 0-0 home draw against Slimbridge was all Farm could manage, but it did at least signal back-to-back clean sheets for the first time in the season.
A narrow away defeat to Sholing halted Farm’s initial winter progress, before another 0-0 stalemate against Cinderford took Farm into a fairly settled mid table.
The final game of 2021 was away to local rivals Mangotsfield United. Discussions over the future of striker Kye Simpson swelled pre-match, but the striker lined up for the opposition – only able to watch his team hit for three as Farm powered through, ending the year on a high.
Few would have predicted that the second half of the season would be so incredible for Farm, and they started the new year in thumping fashion.
Dean Stamp stole the headlines in a resounding 4-0 win away to Richard Fey’s Melksham, with the powerful forward scoring his first two goals back in a Farm shirt in nearly five years.
The first home game of the new year saw Farm get their third win in a row for the first time throughout the season. Partnered with Shea Bennington-Mannings, Dean Stamp continued his lethal scoring habits when he lashed home the opener against Evesham, and Nielsen got his first in what would become a purple patch for the youngster.
January would end in spectacular fashion, as the Farm achieved what was voted their second-most impressive result of the season. Plymouth Parkway were only at the beginning of their seige for the championship, and had lost just twice at home in over two years.
Despite going down to 10 men midway through the first half. The Farm would score two without reply to secure a famous 2-0 win and do the double over the would-be champions.
Farm showed no signs of slowing down when they came from behind to win at Lymington. Sam Walker headed the match’s opener, but the ever-reliable Nielsen and tireless Mike Bryant had other ideas to snatch all three points on the South Coast.
A fantastic five would become a sensational six. Bryant scored twice in Farm’s 2-0 home win against Paulton, as a fervent Creek crowd clapped their heroes off the pitch.
The incredible run would come to a heartbreaking end away to Bideford in the penultimate game of February. Several chances came and went before the home side scored in the 94th minute to send Farm home with nothing.
The boys would return to winning ways in emphatic style to end a very successful winter. Nielsen, Stamp, Mills, and Vowles were all on target as Farm beat Highworth by four goals to nil.
March kicked off with a second draw of the season against Slimbridge, and then a 2-0 home win over Willand. The latter saw a debut for the aforementioned Kye Simpson and he marked it in style with a goal of the season contender.
Farm’s final of just three games in March would live long in the memory. Manager Lashenko gave the club reasons to be optimistic as he re-signed forward Owen Howe ahead of the crucial away tie at AFC Totton. Totton hosted the match, and once they countered Bament’s early goal, it was very tight. As if written in the stars, Howe came off the bench and just a minute later, stabbed home late on to give Farm a massive 3 points.
The final month of the season started with another home win at the hands of Sholing FC. Farm failed to carve out any real chances, but made their best count when Simpson pounced on a Sholing lapse in concentration to clinch a 1-0 win.
A hard-fought 0-0 draw away to 2nd place Frome kept Farm in the hunt for that precious 5th place, and they had two home games to go.
Larkhall visited first but Farm showed no sign of those play-off nerves. Three goals and three points followed, including a first of the season for full-back Mason Winter.
The final day of the season had Farm three points ahead of 6th place Totton, and needed at least a point to guarantee their season extended beyond the regular. With the visitors Winchester winning 2-1 and Totton winning away in Gloucestershire, Farm had to find a goal. Winter’s cross flicked up to the back post and could not have fallen to a better man. Owen Howe volleyed home to send the Creek into delirium, setting up a play-off semi-final away to Frome at Badgers Hill.
1200 strong packed Badgers Hill with the hosts eager to put the disappointment of being eclipsed by Plymouth Parkway for the title behind them. Frome did take the lead before Simpson hit back immediately and half-time ticked by level. What happened next was a night to never be forgotten. Two bullet headers by Howe earned Farm a memorable win that would set up a showdown away to Winchester in the Southern League Division One Play-Off Final.
Despite their best efforts and another bumper away following, Winchester proved too much on the day as they ran out worthy winners to seal promotion and left Farm with disappointment, but great cause for optimism in what was an unbelievable season and their highest ever league finish.