Western League XI 2 - 2 FA XI
125th Anniversary Match
Wednesday 11th October 2017
The Western League’s 125th anniversary celebrations got under way on Wednesday night when the representative XI took on an FA XI at Oakfields, home of Melksham Town FC, and the excellent 532 crowd were treated to 90 minutes of faced paced football fitting of such an occasion, writes Kerry Miller.
The driving rain and wind which threatened to drown out the whole night thankfully abated early enough to entice a crowd to watch the match at the newest ground in what is the third oldest league in the country. Guests from many clubs, leagues and FAs attended as England C team manager Paul Fairclough brought a side picked predominantly from Southern League clubs based in the south and west. Gosport Borough, Salisbury, Basingstoke Town, Dorchester Town, Wimborne Town and Winchester City were represented as well as Mangotsfield United and Larkhall Athletic more locally and both teams showed what they could do in a fast paced opening on Melksham’s immaculate playing surface which is made quick passing football.
TV and media were also well in attendance and a scattering of club flags showed allegiance to individuals, many of whom had important league and cup matches just three days later.
The FA XI had early much of the possession and looked to stretch the Darren Perrin’s Western League side’s defence and Larkhall’s Joe Tumelty tested Bradford Town’s Jamie Bartlett from distance to warm up the crowd, many of whom would rarely have seen football played at such pace and with such accuracy. The Western League then broke from the initial shackles and imposed themselves on the game and following a defensive error, Melksham’s Dan Demkiv found himself free around the edge of the penalty area but Salisbury’s keeper Charlie Searle was equal to his effort at the expense of a corner. Bradford’s Dan Cottle then tried his luck but was denied by Searle, but he could do nothing on nine minutes as the Western League took the lead. Demkiv’s ferocious pace took him clear on the right and his low cross was converted with a lack of fuss by Demkiv on his home turf.
With their next attack the Western League almost made it two when Bitton’s Joe McLennon brought a fingertip save out of Searle and it forced the FA XI out of their shell briefly and Salisbury’s Tom Whelan and Wimborne Town’s Luke Holmes both went c lose. The Western League always looked faster to the ball and the FA were having real trouble in coping and after McLennon had fired just over it was 2-0. Demkiv expertly beat the offside trap two yards inside the FA half and having clear of the defence he slid home the second on 22 minutes.
Basingstoke Town’s Sam Smart then attempted to ignite a revival on the half hour when his whipped cross was just cleared away from Wimborne’s Toby Holmes but the speed of the game was beginning to tell and referee Sam Allison cautioned Mangotsfield United’s Jake Elliot, Luke Holmes and Salisbury’s Elliot Wheeler in a short spell before the break, all for foul which were clumsy without being malicious. Searle made the final save of the half to keep out a Demkiv effort and the Western League XI were well deserving of their half-time lead.
Fairclough reacted at the break by introducing Gosport Borough keeper Matt Cafer, Winchester City’s Josh Harfield, Dorchester’s Billy Lowes and Basingstoke’s Jack McKnight and it seemed to work as his side took over in the main and had much more of the ball. Unsurprisingly the pace eased but Elliott went close with a shot which went just over and McKnight was wide with another and Perrin then rested some of his hard working squad, introducing Luke Alden from championship-chasing Willand Rovers, Asa White from Odd Down and Clevedon Town’s Ryan Gissing.
The FA got stronger as the game went on and it was no surprise when Basingstoke’s Dan Bayliss drove home their first from the left with around 12 minutes left to set up a grandstand finish. Melksham’s Mike Perrott twice went close to clinching the win but in the end it was denied them as Smart slung in a cross and final substitute Callum Bunting from Basingstoke converted to make it 2-2 for a fitting climax to what was a fine game and an occasion worthy of a fine league.
Western League squad:
Jamie Bartlett, Dan Cottle, Ricky Scott (Bradford Town), Warren Maidment, Mike Perrott, Dan Demkiv, Luke Ballinger and Rob Brown (Melksham Town), Luke Alden, Luke Mortimore (Willand Rovers), Jack Packer (Chipping Sodbury Town), Jake Hodgson, (Cribbs FC), Ollie Barnes and Ryan Gissing (Clevedon Town), Asa White (Odd Down).
FA XI squad:
Matt Cafer (Gosport Borough), Elliott Wheeler, Jake Wannell, Tom Whelan, Charlie Searle (Salisbury), Dan Bayliss, Sam Smart, Callum Bunting and Jack McKnight (Basingstoke Town), Jake Elliot (Mangotsfield United), Billy Lowes (Dorchester Town), Toby Holmes and Luke Holmes (Wimborne Town), Ollie Bailey and Josh Harfield (Winchester City) and Joe Tumelty (Larkhall Athletic)
Referee: Sam Allison, Assistants Craig Scrivens and Andrew Evans. Fourth official James Durkin.