Balham may be the gateway to the south, but Tottenham Hale is certainly proving to be the gateway to the south-central division at the moment. Following successful raids to the parishes of Hertford and Harlow, the Terrors of Tooting set out to lay siege to the abbey at Waltham and returned, once again, with an impressive haul. For once, I planned my jaunt sensibly and the trains didn't let me down resulting in arrival at the Hale with plenty of time to spare. A quick sojourn up and down the platform revealed none of the travelling Bog-End faithful waiting and therefore i was trusting the modern technology of Google maps, rather than the neatly hand-plotted charts of Tooting's resident cartographer, Tim Megone.
Arriving at the ground, first impressions were of a sparse set-up; a small main stand, one end open to the elements and no cover at all down the opposite side. And it was starting to rain - oh joy. Initially i failed to locate any kind of bar, which turned out to be behind one of the ends, almost detached from the stadium - the footballing equivalent, i always think, of an outside toilet.
To set the pre-match scene : this was a fixture that could confidently be filed under the 'tricky' heading, rather than 'routine' or 'daunting'. The Abbots (as i subsequently discovered they like to be called, in preference to 'the monks' as i've always referred to them) are an unpredictable outfit; our previous visit to these parts, just under a year earlier, had seen them top of the table and unbeaten at home. The 2-0 victory we were able to come away with that day presaged an alarming dip in form for them, coupled with a much-improved run for us, which culminated in them trailing us when the return meeting took place five months later, and eventually finishing even further away from the play-off places than we were. Their start to this campaign has been consistently inconsistent. Sitting in the proverbial mid-table position (tenth), their six matches so far had seen an abundance of goals (32 in total, at both ends) compared to our comparitively measly 17. Their problems, however, have been mostly away from home. On their own turf, they had won both matches comfortably, scoring seven times in the process. On paper, this looked something of a challenge to the Terrors.
What followed was surprisingly straightforward then, although a strange match in many ways. A 3-0 victory looks comfortable enough, and it didn't really flatter us - in truth we could have had more. At the same time, we did get a bit sloppy in parts, although James Shaw racked up another clean sheet, took everything cleanly in the air and wasn't really troubled by the supposedly potent home attack (there'll be tougher days ahead, James!); our defence, marshalled superbly by Dean Hamlin and Nathan Daly in the absence of suspended captain Sol, didn't really give them a chance to threaten. And in midfield and attack, Dominic Morgan-Griffiths and Danny Bassett were the pick of the bunch, though nobody could be accused of having a bad game. The goals, when they came, were worth waiting for; firstly, just before the break DMG dispossessed his opposite number in the middle of the field, and played a glorious ball forward which was taken down superbly on the edge of the box by Bassett. Those of us behind the goal were in the perfect position to see the glint in his eye as he realised the keeper had left a small gap at his near-post, and thundered the ball into it on the half-volley to claim his 5th league goal of the season (7 in all competitions). Midway through the second half, the tireless David Castanho added a second with a neat side-footer after good work once again by Bassett. The victory was wrapped up five minutes from the end, when substitute Omari Hibbert was unceremoniously pulled down just as he looked set to net his third of the campaign. Despite the transgressor looking like the last man, the referee took pity on him and issued only a yellow card, and Danny confidently stepped up to slot home the spot-kick to seal the points, which had never looked in doubt.
And so we move on, second in the table on goal-difference to Westfield (only another seven strikes on the afternoon would have seen us overtake them!), with more cup action to come in the coming weeks. We turn our attention to the oldest and most-cherished knockout competition of them all this weekend, with top-of-their-league Poole visiting and the natives scenting more glory in the air. A successful outing here and we might even be spared another trek to Tottenham Hale, for the time being at least, as the following round will take precedence over our trip to Cheshunt to take on FC Romania. Although, knowing our luck we'll be drawn away to Ware...