AFC clinched their first ever league title by securing the point they needed with a 1-1 draw against Sporting 50, in a game that was packed with drama from start to finish.
With sizeable followings from both sides meaning a big crowd and lively atmosphere, AFC settled in to the game well early on. George Harrington and George Harding were busy down the wings, but Walcountians couldn’t create the clear cut chance they needed to take the lead. Instead, it was Sporting 50 who went ahead against the run of play after 25 minutes. The Sporting 50 striker and league top scorer curled in a superb free kick from 20 yards, getting it up and over the wall and in off the underside of the crossbar.
The game opened up after the goal, with Ryan Thomas almost equalising for AFC when through on goal, but the keeper was out quickly to deny him. Sporting almost doubled their lead on the 35 minute mark, when a fierce shot cannoned back off the post and the rebound was put over the bar.
With half-time approaching AFC suffered a huge blow when they were reduced to 10 men. A ball over the top skidded off the surface and was misjudged by onrushing keeper Matt Scola – making his first appearance since breaking his hand three months earlier – and was handled outside the area. Tom Melvin took the gloves and was called in to action straight away to keep the half time deficit to just one. The ball was pulled back for the Sporting 50 forward, whose well struck shot from 12 yards seemed destined for the bottom corner but was miraculously turned over the bar by Melvin’s outstretched leg.
AFC regrouped and started well after the break, but again couldn’t muster the clear cut chance to get the crucial goal they needed against a Sporting side who were doing their best to slow the game down, and thought they had doubled their lead when a headed goal was disallowed for offside.
Walcountians were staring down the barrel with 20 minutes to go when captain Harry Scola was harshly judged to have deliberately handled a shot on the line and shown a straight red. Down to 9 men and with a penalty to surely finish the game off, Tom Melvin was the hero as he flung himself to his right to turn the spot kick around the post and keep the title dream alive.
Galvanised by the save, AFC stepped up their search for an equaliser and ten minutes from time a swift counter attack saw the ball fall at the feet of George Harrington on the edge of the box. Ignoring the screams to play the ball wide right, he slid a delicate reverse pass in to the path of club top scorer Sam Grosser who, as always, made no mistake from 12 yards.
With 10 minutes of normal time remaining Sporting 50 pressed hard for a winner as AFC were pushed deeper and deeper into their own half, and a well struck Sporting shot from 25 yards crashed off the post. It took superb defending from Mike Eglon and Dan Haines – by now the only two recognised defenders in the side – to keep Sporting 50 at bay. George Harding almost put the result beyond doubt when – isolated on his own up front – he brilliantly wriggled clear of three defenders but couldn’t find the target with his shot from an angle.
Eight agonising, nerve-racking minutes of added time followed the end of the 90 minutes. AFC were holding on and doing well to limit the chances for Sporting 50 to nick a winner until the long-awaited final whistle sparked euphoric celebrations, confirming the Counts’ first ever league title in the most unlikely fashion.
Eight long months since we kicked off the league campaign and what a season it’s been. A huge thanks to everyone at the club who came to support us and pushed us over the line – it sums up everything we love about our club – and it was a day that we’ll never forget.
M.Scola; D.Haines, H.Scola (c), M.Eglon; G.Harding, G.Harrington, T.Melvin, L.Rodgers, R.Thomas; S.Grosser, B.Macey
Subs used: D.Obakin, J.Baldwin, C.Baptiste, Z.Akwuba
Sub not used: J.Marsh
Man of the match: T.Melvin