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Canterbury City 3-2 Meridian VP
Canterbury City 3-2 Meridian VP

An entertaining and enthralling encounter that Canterbury City dominated for long periods but saw them just having to dig in a little at the end to see the game out as Meridian staged a spirited late response.

Trailing by two, the visitors struck on the verge of the break to reduce the deficit and then despite City restoring their two goal advantage, their opponents just wouldn’t be shaken off and after they’d again gone to only one behind, a surge coursed through them as they chased an unlikely equaliser.

City however were determined and resolute and gave little away in the final stages before deservedly ending proceedings with the victory.

City got off to a great start and were already confidently moving the ball around and were soon dominating possession and had several opportunities to open the scoring even quicker than the ninth minute that they did so. A super ball into the box from Joe Nelder almost saw debutant Harry Sikirwayi open his account, but he was just inches away from diverting the ball home as he came sliding in while Rob Lawrence then ended a lovely City move with a falling volley just wide, before almost sliding Brad Walledge in and through on goal.

A long shot from Mo Cham was then comfortable for Meridian keeper Connor Cooper, but he could do nothing moments later when a precision ball from the back from Luke Illsley was perfect for Cham to run onto and he drew the keeper before neatly slotting it past him for 1-0.  

Meridian then had a brief sortie forward but were unable to create anything from a free-kick or a corner won and it was City bossing the game and playing some really nice football. A Nelder ball in saw Walledge’s header saved by Cooper before another cracking move from City ended with the same player flashing a fierce shot just past the angle from the edge of the Meridian box.

Cham then did well to catch and control a long ball from the back before cutting inside and seeing his strong, goal bound effort deflect off a defender and out for a City corner. The hosts worked that well and it eventually fell to Illsley who prised open a gap before shooting firmly through it, only to see Cooper go down smartly and only just grasp the ball as it threatened to go past him.

It was all fairly one way traffic at this point – City were pressing and harrying their opponents – who weren’t always helping themselves and it wasn’t long before the hosts doubled their lead. The impressive Harry Maher tiptoed and slalomed his way through the visitor’s ranks before finding Cham who, from a slight angle, took a pace or two forward before tidily slotting the ball home once more – this time for 2-0.

Meridian tried to respond but they were proving fairly ineffective up front as a couple of corners and an attacking free-kick all came to nothing but Nat Murrey did get a shot off but that was easily blocked by Illsley.

City, however, were playing really well, moving the ball around nicely with some super one-touch play and retaining possession with some craft and skill while Meridian were passive in response with City often having them pinned back deep in their own half. Illsley moved forward from the back and as space opened up in front of him, he thumped a long range effort just wide before Cham and Jake McCarthy then combined well before the latter’s curling effort went just too high.

Walledge then almost got on the end of another slide-rule pass from Illsley, before – after yet another fine move from City, Alfie Giles fired well over the bar.

Half-time was fast approaching and City were looking very comfortable but, in the dying seconds, they took their eye off the ball for just a moment and an innocuous cross played in from the Meridian right wasn’t cleared properly and it just sat up nicely for Mal Turner who, not believing his luck, slammed it home from close range for 2-1.

It was the final act of the half in which City had dominated, but worryingly now they only had a one goal cushion!

The second-half started in similar vein to how the first had gone and within a minute of the restart, Cham had seen a shot blocked out for a corner from which Luka Radojevic rose to guide a lovely header towards goal that had Cooper beaten, but faded slightly before just nudging the face of the far post and being cleared.

City keeper Tom Benham, a virtual spectator hitherto then finally saw some action, reacting speedily to gather the ball seconds in front of the onrushing Murrey, before at the other end, Cooper was forced into a similar move to deny Cham. City were looking irresistible and Cham went close again, just inches from getting on the end of Illsley’s lovely through ball before he himself played Maher in down the right with a cracking pass that opened Meridian right up. Maher unselfishly slid the ball across instead of maybe going for goal – only to see Walledge charge in at speed and divert the ball over the bar!

City’s next effort came from a Lawrence corner and saw the unlucky Walledge head down towards goal but see it bundled away past the far post, after which Sikirwayi saw his shot blocked. The ever running Cham, in search of his third, narrowly failed to get on the end of two or three attempts to find him, before Meridian, from nowhere almost levelled. A free-kick on the edge of the City ‘D’ was beautifully struck by Christian Ibitoye around the wall before smashing off the post to safety!

 A close call, but not to worry though because just a couple of minutes later, a ball from midfield was cleverly dummied by one player, then slid forward by Lawrence right into the path of Cham. He steadied himself before blasting the ball into the roof of the Meridian net from the edge of the box – with some force, some meaning and probably some relief as well, for City’s third, his hat-trick and to make the score 3-1.

City continued to impress and substitute Sam Lawford saw his low cross fly off a Meridian boot and deflect luckily – for them at least, wildly up and out for a fruitless corner, before City almost bagged a fourth when Giles tried his luck from distance with a rocket of a shot that moved in the air but saw Cooper reacting brilliantly to beat the flying ball away one-handed as he twisted in mid-air.

Lawrence then fired a free-kick low at Cooper after Maher’s marauding run forward had been brought to an illegal halt, before another sent in by Monty Saunders was hurriedly headed over the bar by a defender facing his own goal. City were really playing some great football and it wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that at times they were purring with some of their best football of the season so far. They were still creating opportunities as a corner was defended just out at the far post, while another was well punched clear by the busy Cooper.

It was all going so well for City and they were well on top, although, to be fair, Meridian were probably playing a little better than they had done in the first half, but still weren’t really proving too onerous at all for City’s defenders. With seven minutes of the ninety remaining however, the visitors again struck out of nowhere to reduce the deficit once more. A rare attack saw a cross from the right that wasn’t cleared and it fell to Turner who, loitering with intent again, suddenly found himself in space and with the ball at his feet and he needed no second invitation, cleverly slotting home from just inside the box for 3-2.

All of a sudden, it was a different contest. Meridian had proved tricky opponents in the reverse fixture earlier in the season and towards the end of that match they threatened a resurgence and I remember writing that ‘if you were a Meridian supporter, you might just wonder why they hadn’t played like that for the whole game!’

Well here we were again! Urgency and optimistic belief gained a hold and Meridian chased the game – they were quickly getting the ball forward and pushing City back and they were further buoyed by the five minutes of added time that went up. Twice Benham was forced to step in to thwart them as they suddenly found the extra gears that had been missing for most of the previous eighty-three minutes as they frantically sought to ping the ball towards the City box at every opportunity.

Alas for them, it was all to no avail as City stood firm and defended defiantly while dispersing Meridian’s hurry away and successfully managing the game out – even almost scoring again when Leo Dodds headed just wide.

A deserved if ultimately narrow win for City, a dominant performance that could have, maybe should have produced a clearer result, but all in all, a cracking game, a victory, three points and some great football to admire!

Final score: Canterbury City 3 Meridian VP 2

City: Tom Benham, Luka Radojevic (Darren Cooper), Joe Nelder, Luke Illsley, Jake McCarthy, Harry Maher, Alfie Giles, Rob Lawrence (Monty Saunders), Brad Walledge (Leo Dodds), Harry Sikirwayi (Sam Lawford), Mo Cham (Ben Binder).