Tuesday 12th Jan 2020 7:45pm- National League South at Park View Road, Welling
It has been a frustrating time for many football fans, being locked out of the game they love as well as seeing the antics of the players in the last few weeks and the almost complete lack of contrition shown by the clubs. With football below Step 2 still on hold and very unlikely to restart at any time in the foreseeable future, the game is in the biggest state of flux it has been in for decades.
At the National League level (Steps 1 and 2), clubs are still playing despite the lack of fans, the lack of further grants from the government and the increases in the COVID cases within the squads. Oh, and add in the not too surprising cold weather that is now impacting fixtures.
Last weekend, more games were cancelled (11) than played (10) at Steps 1 and 2, which is now causing major fixture issues for clubs. Any positive cases means at least a 10 day shut down which at the current moment means 2 or 3 games will fall by the wayside. The FA’s latest edict on COVID and cancellations is that squads need to play if they have at least 14 players available. With the increased risks that travel outside local areas causes, the closeness of the players in the dressing rooms and on the pitch as well as the cost of regular testing, there have been calls for all football to be halted until we see a decrease in infection rates.
However, Tuesday night saw another round of games in the National League. Whilst only one out of five games went ahead at the National League (Step 1) level, in the South only the game at Hampton & Richmond Borough was cancelled, meaning a rare match day featuring a dozen or more teams playing.
Welling United had suffered a COVID-19 issue a few weeks ago and with other teams around them still playing, came into the game against high-flying St Albans City at the foot of the table. During the last few weeks the club had taken advantage of the lack of football at Steps 3 and below to bring in some players on dual registration including Cray Wanderers’ Joe Taylor and Rhys Murrell-Williamson to give the Wings more attacking option.
Last season there was no relegation from Step 2 after Steps 3 and below null and voided their seasons and there may be some hope that the same happens again this season. Five teams are separated by just one win, and with only one side currently slated for relegation and the back of the mind potential for a Points Per Game finish, Welling needed to get back to winning ways.
St Albans City came into the game in 3rd place, but on a PPG basis would be top, which again all clubs will have an eye on after how last season’s final positions were decided. Unbeaten away from home, against a side yet to win at home. Surely there was only one result?
It was hard to determine who the high-fliers were in the opening exchanges as Welling set themselves up with ten men behind the ball when St Albans were attacking, looking to hit the ball to Joe Taylor to control and bring others in when they could. A good spell of corners for the home side should have resulted in something more than possession, whilst St Albans’ keeper Michael Johnson pulled off some excellent stops.
However, against the run of play, the visitors took the lead when Jeffers latched onto a loose ball in the area to slot the ball home. The talking point of the half, if not the game, came in the 44th minute when Mitchell Weiss ran into the back of Welling’s full-back Chiori Johnson and to everyone’s amazement, the referee gave a penalty that Jeffers converted. After the referee blew for the break he was approached by the Welling management team asking for any logical explanation of the penalty decision.
The second half saw both sides huff and puff without creating many clear-cut chances, with Joe Taylor sending a header just wide and the Welling keeper needing to be quick off his line to deny Jeffers a hatrick.
The postscript to the game was that the defeat was one too many for Welling Chairman Mark Goldberg and manager Bradley Quinton was relieved of his duties on Wednesday with Wings bottom of the league.