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Analysis: Telford end 'weeks of pain' with Kevin Wilkin’s first victory

They say it’s better late than never, and although an injury-time winner didn’t fix all of the Bucks’ problems, it did provide some welcome respite and a morale boost as they progressed in the FA Trophy.

Matty Brown (4) (AFC Telford United Defender)has the ball at miway line.
Matty Brown (4) (AFC Telford United Defender)has the ball at miway line.

Captain Matty Brown’s ‘buzzer beater’ as the clock ticked into a sixth minute of added time averted the immediate threat of a penalty shootout and nudged the Bucks into the next round.

It’s a win that shouldn’t disguise the fact that much hard work remains ahead, and came in a competition the Bucks would likely sacrifice if it guaranteed survival in National League North – however, for a few hours on Saturday evening, those thoughts could be set to one side.

When Brown’s header deep into injury time nestled into the net, the outpouring of emotions, chiefly delight coupled with relief, was palpable. For that winning feeling to arrive in such dramatic circumstances elevated the moment – the hope has to be that the Bucks, now they’ve been reminded of that intoxicating emotion, will want more and will strive harder to feel it again.

It was a far from faultless afternoon from Kevin Wilkin’s team, and had a shadow cast over it by injury to striker Jason Oswell, who has only just returned to the side after a long-term injury lay-off.

Oswell suffered a dislocated shoulder as he went to ground awkwardly following a challenge, requiring a visit to hospital to put his displaced arm back into position.

Oswell doubtless would have enjoyed seeing the winning goal, but was ensconced in the dressing room, which is probably a good thing. Already in a great deal of pain, the desire to throw arms skyward might have proved excruciating.

Opponents Kings Langley, themselves perilously close to the foot of the Southern Central Premier, didn’t make life easy for the Bucks. It wasn’t a match of high quality, but Wilkin’s side were that little bit more comfortable in possession of the ball, and that ultimately told.

Wilkin made two changes to his starting XI, with Kobe Jae Chong given a rare start in place of the ill Robbie Evans, and Mo Faal starting alongside Oswell in place of Nate Blissett.

Faal was involved immediately, as the Bucks looked set for a dream start, one to settle any nerves among the travelling supporters. The rangy forward was brought down within sight of goal and referee Neil Pratt indicated a penalty kick for the foul. Brendon Daniels had the ball tucked under his arm, waiting to place it from 12 yards, but the officials then consulted. Mr Pratt subsequently amended his decision to a direct free-kick just outside the box, and although Daniels still took the kick, his effort struck the defensive wall before he aimed the rebound at goal, but straight at Kings’ keeper Hafed Al-Droubi.

The away side has started positively, but were soon given a warning when left-back Alex Lafleur picked up possession 30 yards from goal and sent in a skidding, bouncing shot that went past Luke Pilling’s left post, the keeper unhappy that Lafleur had been given the opportunity.

The game was scrappy, as both sides tried to impose their respective game plans. A corner conceded cheaply by the Kings brought pressure but no reward, but in the 17th minute the hosts broke the deadlock.

A free-kick conceded 30-35 yards from goal, wide on the right-hand side, was delivered into the Bucks penalty area and the powerful presence of defender James Kaloczi went unrecognised, as he stole in between the Bucks defenders to head powerfully down and into the net from close range.

It was another goal that could be classified as ‘cheap’, or preventable, and that defect is one that Wilkin is all too aware he needs to correct in his side. The Bucks tried to respond, and another corner resulted in a confrontation between Brown and Kings striker Brad Wadkins. The Bucks’ captain was addressed by the referee and no cards were shown as tempers cooled.

There then followed a few bizarre minutes, where the Gaywood Park ground was ‘buzzed’ by two powered parachutists, one of whom seemed clearly to enjoy that thought that he has a captive audience below, plummeting and spiralling around.

During that period, Jamie Allen fired an angled shot at Al-Droubi, and soon afterwards Daniels went agonisingly close, latching onto a loose ball from Oswell’s knock-down to fizz a low shot just wide of the keeper’s left post.

The aerial threat intensified, and not from the parachutists either. Faal threw himself headlong in the box trying to head home a cross from the right but was denied by a deflection or unlucky bounce, or both; however, the equaliser was not on hold for much longer.

Chong, who was been a largely peripheral figure since joining the Bucks, clearly possesses ability but has so far been unable to impose himself in the hurly-burly of Step 2 football. This match didn’t seem like his kind of contest, but with Wilkin only able to name five substitutes instead of the allowed seven he granted Chong the chance he has craved, and was rewarded.

The son of a former professional basketball player, Chong was named after the legendary Kobe Bryant, and when he was located with the ball 25 yards from goal and centrally, he fired in the equivalent of a basketball ‘three-pointer’ from distance, the ball still rising as it flashed over Al-Droubi and high into the net. It wasn’t to secure three points on the day, but it gave his side a crucial lift, scoring while enjoying a period of dominance.

The Bucks ended the half in the ascendancy. More corners were forced, Daniels watched as Al-Droubi turned his free-kick from 20 yards over his crossbar after a foul by Jacob Gardiner-Smith, but the threat of a sucker punch remained, and Wilson de Carvahlo hooked the final shot of the half into Pilling’s midriff as a reminder his side were still in the game.

Wilkin’s team started the second period brightly, and from yet another corner, Oswell might have put his side ahead when he peeled away to the near post and twisted his neck muscles to direct the ball across goal and narrowly wide of the far post.

Oswell’s afternoon was soon to be brought to a painful end. In the 54th minute he went into a routine challenge near the touchline but fell awkwardly with his right arm outstretched, and dislocated his shoulder. As he was off the field, the Bucks were briefly down to ten players and Kaloczi’s shot from distance took a big deflection wide of Pilling’s goal before the Bucks could address the situation, with Nate Blissett introduced in Oswell’s place.

The hosts sought to take advantage and Cain Keller’s wayward but firm angled shot took a horrid deflection off Harry Flowers, going over a wrong-footed Pilling’s crossbar. That brought a corner, then another, but the Bucks held firm.

The Bucks responded, but although their quality in possession helped as the hosts tired, it didn’t bring any clear chances. Brown directed a downward header into Al-Droubi’s gloves from a free-kick, and the skipper threatened the goal again when he nodded on a long throw that just wouldn’t drop for Flowers to fire at goal.

The game entered its final quarter with penalties looking increasingly likely, and that particular penny appeared to drop for both teams. The final five-10 minutes began, almost appropriately, to resemble a basketball game, with play switching from end-to-end rapidly.

Al-Droubi mishandled Chong’s audacious attempt from distance, conceding yet another corner, and then, after a booking for Ekpolo, Gardiner-Smith regained possession from a free-kick only partially cleared, his swinging shot from 25 yards pushed away by Pilling.

The Bucks took the ball to the other end and yet another corner. Brown rose at the near post to meet it but glanced his effort over the crossbar, and play from the goal-kick switched rapidly towards Pilling’s goal, with a fiercely-struck Jordan Parkes effort appearing en route to goal until a Bucks player stuck out a leg to deny him.

The frantic play continued into the time added by the officials, and Al-Droubi tipped a Daniels shot over his bar in a dramatic moment; however, the Bucks weren’t to be denied. From their 11th corner of the game, an almost carbon copy of a previous routine saw Brown meet Daniels’ near-post delivery, but this time it wasn’t a dress rehearsal. The captain’s header flashed across Al-Droubi into the far side of the net, sparking near-delirium for his team, but despondency for the Kings.

The game barely restarted before the final whistle blew, and although his side had lacked the control he’d have wanted, Wilkin’s side had secured their first win in over three months, and their first under their new manager.

All journeys start with a single step, and although the road ahead of them remains daunting, this result, and the circumstances in which it was achieved, gives the Bucks somewhere to start from.

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