“The nerves aren’t kicking in quite yet” says Wallingford Town boss Lee Matthews but the gaffer admits it is only a matter of time before play off final anxiety sets in ahead of Saturday’s Combined Counties League promotion decider at Hilltop which gives Wally a fighting chance of a first season back at Step 5 since 2008.
Matthews admits to having been “calm on Monday but nervous by the Tuesday” as his team defeated Rayners Lane midweek in the semi final following a very creditable third place finish in their first ever season as members of the Combined Counties.
Matthews recalls “there was no pressure from he chairman” at the start of this successful season having moved across from the Hellenic League. It has been a learning curve for the gaffer of the Thames-side outfit and his team as he explains “We only knew a few sides from a days in the Hellenic, the likes of Chalvey and Rayners Lane.”
“It is a very competitive league”, says Matthews of the division Wallly transferred across from at the start of the season. “With 21 teams in the league, a 40 game season was perhaps longer than what we were used to so consistency over that long period was always going to be a main factor.” And the main difference between the Hellenic and the Combined Counties? “More of the top 8 or 10 sides in the Combined Counties are ‘footballing’ sides, mainly due to the fact that they are mainly London sides able to attract ex-academy players whose way is to naturally ‘play play play’. I’ve been really impressed with the quality”.
Matthews men have also proven their quality in enjoying a run through to the Third Round of the FA Vase, an experience which he feels has stood his players in good stead. “The teams we have played in the Vase have had incredible seasons. Bishops Cleeve won the Hellenic Premier. Ascot have reached the Berks and Bucks Final. When you look at it like that perhaps we’d have been disappointed not to reach the play offs as we’ve done so well against sides who have had really good seasons”.
Ambitious Wally are merging with Crowmarsh Youth next season to become Wallingford & Crowmarsh FC and Matthews will have an Allied Counties side for the first time to supplement his impresssive first team squad: “I knew there were good players already at Wallingford and the ones I wanted to bring in were either step 5 players or players proven at step 6. We are going to have a bigger youth set up which is an exciting thing happening off the pitch”.
Whether the merged club will start out with a men’s first team at Step 5 depends on Saturday’s final at Hilltop. The two sides are familiar to each other having played both league fixtures over the last few weeks of the regular season. Wally have the psychological advantage – they took four points from the two games – but Matthews had nothing but praise for the opposition. “Good footballing side”, he enthused. “Lots of good options. Perhaps not the greatest pitch but they play good football on it and their manager is a great guy who is now involved with the Somali National side”.
With Hilltop and nerves to contend with – “it hasn’t quite hit me yet” admits Matthews when referring to the latter issue – it promises to be a tough ask in the final but Wallingford have one more sprint to come in their marathon season.
Wallingford will travel to Hilltop on Saturday the 7th of May. Kick off at 3pm at the Middlesex Stadium, HA4 7SB.