On a mild late summer’s day, Barn Elms’ pitch seven played host to the debut of Strangers United Football Club, the newest addition to the Kingston & District Football League. Standing in their way were the recently promoted FC Porto of London, and manager Michael Tsoukkas was swift to emphasise the levels of focus and energy from the off.
Tsoukkas’ pre-match words were evidently taken on board. An energetic burst forward by Lewis Kean drew an early corner, and the resulting ball was flicked on by Jonathan Rees-Porter and expertly stabbed in by Alex Evans for SUFC’s first ever goal. Cue the celebrations, as the 5-strong crowd went wild in disbelief.
Prone to a cliche, Strangers were immediately caught napping from the kickoff. The ball was lost in midfield, and Porto’s striker was in behind the defence courtesy of a delightful through ball and an unfortunate lapse in communication, and he slid the ball into an empty net.
After a rapid start to the game, both sides looked to get some possession under their belts. The teams traded shots off target, with Rees-Porter looking threatening from set pieces, while stand-in goalkeeper Wilkie Plumeridge looking more assured as the minutes went by. Winger Aubi Bone became the first Stranger, and hopefully the last, to be McGeady spun, before redeeming himself minutes later with a quite sumptuous nutmeg through ball to the excellent Jimmy Davies.
Carlos Sandin provided Strangers with a moment of excitement with a driving 50-yard run, beating three men and proving his danger up front, but the resulting shot was blocked by Porto’s last man. Captain Sion Mattey, who provided a superb presence in the midfield, proved once again why playing Call of Duty as a teenager has lasting consequences, slipping when Sandin played a beautiful through ball. See our YouTube page for Mattey’s unfortunate snipe.
After the unfortunate early concession, the Strangers defence looked assured, with Freddie Reeve and Davies bombing up and down the flank, while Jack Nithavrianakis putting in a last ditch tackle to prevent the Porto striker from tucking in a second. At the other end, Bone won a free-kick in a dangerous position, and almost squeezed it home with a precise under the wall shot that whistled just past the post.
With the first half looking like it would end all square, Harry Ames put in his second dangerously whipped corner of the day, and Rees-Porter tucked in the header for 2-1 on the stroke of half time.
More rousing words from Coach Tsoukkas had the players fired up going into the second half, and a few tactical tweaks helped Strangers find their rhythm once more.
The debutants controlled the second half, looking comfortable across the board, in particular, the midfield trio of Joe Rowland, Ned Costello and Mattey dominated, not giving the opposition an inch. Their dominance was rewarded, with Mattey winning the ball supremely, finding Costello, who split the Porto defence with a eye-watering through ball out to Bone on the right wing. Bone raced towards the Porto box, saw Sandin in acres of space at the back post, but his cross ended up finding the top left hand corner of the opposition’s goal. 3-1 to Strangers, and game over.
Strangers looked comfortable until the final whistle, and Davies had the chance to make it a rout after following up to Costello’s saved effort, but the left back’s chance for instant stardom flew over the bar from six yards.
And with that, the final whistle blew, and Strangers United FC had their first win under their belts. An impressive debut from everyone involved, players and coach alike. A huge shout out to cameraman James O’Connor, whose debut remains delayed with a knee injury, and to the terrific supporting crowd. Let’s take this result into the next friendly, in couple of weekends time, before the start of the season later in September. Up the Strangers.
MOTM: Carlos Sandin - for the energy, the legs, and proving that he is in no way Bambi on ice. DOTD: Jimmy Davies - because the ball is still somewhere in orbit.