AFC Totton 2 Cirencester Town 3
The Centurions deservedly snatched a win over hot favourites Totton in this Southern League Division 1 semi-final play-off. They now go on to contest the Final at Bridgwater Town on Saturday, matching 2 good footballing teams to decide which club goes through to the Southern Premier.
Manager Mr Hughes decided to go for experience and know how, putting club skipper Neil Griffiths in at right back to contain danger man Mike Gosney, and sticking Jamie Reid into midfield to counter the threat of Totton playmaker Carl Pettefer.
His team did him proud, with no need to play defensively as from the off they took the match to The Stags. Sean Wood and Tom Etheridge in midfield were first to the ball and very lively as Ciren started brightly and just got better. Totton were soon reduced to banging the ball upfield, hoping to force an error against the composed Lyndon Tomkins and Chris Thompson.
Ciren's response was to find Scott Griffin up front, composed and clever on the ball and looking to bring his midfield back into play or to set the lightning quick Carl Brown loose against a huge but unwieldy Totton backline. Very soon, Ciren had the advantage.
A Sean Wood corner on 11 minutes saw Tomkins outmanouvre Castle 10 yards out and send a header rocketing towards the net. Gareth Barfoot made a Hollywood save but Scott Griffin was by far the quickest to react to bang the loose ball into the net. Then minutes later, with Ciren now dictating the play and Totton funnelling nervously backwards, Griffin repeated the dose.
Carl Brown, nipping on to a neat pass from Jamie Reid, forced Mike Green to concede a throw within range of a Tom Etheridge howitser. The ball duly soared in, Barfoot came out to claim and fumbled badly and Griffin immediately slammed the loose ball home for an unbelievable Ciren 2-0 lead.
Barfoot, rattled, twice very nearly conceded again and was very lucky when Lyndon Tomkins reached a Wood free kick ahead of him only for Pete Castle to block Jody Bevan's goal bound shot. Totton, who had already lost forward Nat Sherborne to injury, then saw key central defender Ian Richardson limp off with a torn hamstring. Carl Brown had turned Richardson inside out, trying to contain him on the edge of the box in yet another hairy moment when Barfoot fumbled a clever pass from Tom Etheridge.
Ciren had two more close chances before the break, both created by the midfield sending early passes in to Carl Brown, the first being fired just wide of the far post with Barfoot beaten the second then over cooked when Brown went down the right but sending his cross just over the head of Bevan at the far post.
So much on top and looking to put the match to bed, Ciren conceded a soft goal on 44 minutes when Tom Price had his first cross cleared back to him and instantly lobbed beyond the flat footed Matt Bath and into the top corner of the net. Within 33 seconds of the restart, Totton equalised when a corner by Gosney was met by Jamie Whisken, unchallenged, 10 yards out and his header rocketed home.
Many teams would have crumbled as Totton, scorers of 105 goals in the League, surged forward. But, even though their midfield was forced back and left their front three isolated, Ciren did not bend. Reid, Etheridge and Wood battled in midfield to force Totton into sending long passes forward. At the back, Tomkins and Thompson stood firm and in spite of the territorial pressure, Totton did not have one direct strike on goal until 80 minutes.
A quick short corner saw Totton skipper James Taylor, so far reduced just to conceding free kicks as he tried to batter his way through, connect 10 yards out only for sub Fred Ward to kick the effort off the line.
Ciren, with Griffin up front being battered unmercifully as he tried to hold the ball up and keep the attacks moving forward, had attacked only fitfully though twice they had forced Barfoot to saves in isolated raids. With 10 minutes to go, Rob Hoskin replaced Jody Bevan up front. His quick feet and positional play brought a passing response from the Ciren midfield as Totton faded and now Ciren looked the more likely winners.
Griffin was inches off converting a far post chance as Barfoot again flapped at a cross, then both Reid and Etheridge forced stops before, with 93 minutes gone, Griffin collected a pass on the edge of the box. Rob Hoskin offered outside, received the ball in space and checked back inside before surging past Castle. From 18 yards he slotted a clinical shot inside the near post with Barfoot sprawling vainly and the Ciren fans behind the goal celebrating in sheer disbelief.
It was a stunning strike and a bereft Totton had no reply as Ciren held out for three more minutes before celebrating an unexpected but, on the play over the whole match, a thoroughly deserved win.
Totton: Barfoot, Lewis, Green, Richardson [Whisken 30], Campbell, Pettefer, Price, Sherborne [Spinney 15], Taylor (c)[Williams 82], Gosney Subs: Richardson J, Lester g/k
Cirencester: Bath, Griffiths, Mason [Ward 52], Thompson, Wood, Tomkins (c), Reid, Etheridge, Bevan [Hoskin 83], Griffin, Brown [Banks 92] subs: Westlake, Sysum
Ref: Mr A Serrano Att: 411 (Ciren 41) MoM: jointly Lyndon Tomkins & Chris Thompson