Walthamstow produced a strong defensive performance against Little Oakley on Tuesday night to procure themselves a spot in the next round of the Essex Senior Cup.
Yemi Adelani’s smart strike on the spin shortly into the second half proved enough as Stow battled through a mostly unremarkable game to win 1-0.
From minute dot it was clear to see how Little Oakley were going to approach this game as they sent a long ball over the top of Stow’s backline, stretching the play but the Stow defenders were alive to the danger straight away.
The first-half drifted by quietly to begin with as the game got lost in midfield tussles. Stow had a chance to create a shooting opportunity just under a quarter of an hour in when Connor Scully drove forward from the right but with the crowd and teammate Michael Osei audibly begging him to shoot, Scully elected instead to look to pass on the responsibility and the danger was eventually dealt with by the Oakley defence.
Stow began to control the game with Oakley’s gameplan to sit back and look to counter only working in fits and starts. Fortunately for Oakley, one way you could describe Stow’s attacking play would be “shot-shy”. Good work down the left by the impressive Samir Bihmoutine saw the ball cut-back into a good area but captain Eman Okunja was robbed of the ball after dilly-dallying on it for too long around the penalty spot.
Another good cut-back from the left by Bihmoutine once again went unrewarded as Charlie Cole miscued his effort into Joyce’s gloves.
The best chance of the game fell just a minute later with half-time approaching. A mix-up in the Oakley defence as they failed to clear saw the ball fall kindly to Adelani who spun and fired straight at Joyce, whose reactions were superb to block.
Little Oakley failed to see the warning signs though, and immediately after the restart fell behind. Scully dazzled down the right and his pull-back should have been dealt with by the Oakley defenders but once again they failed to clear and this time Adelani made no mistake, swivelling on his right and striking the ball low and hard beyond the despairing Joyce with his left peg.
Oakley went close to equalising almost immediately though. Oakley forward Greg Rodger was played in down the right and flashed a shot across Amarildo Cekrezi in the Stow net but, called into action for pretty much the first time in the match, the Stow keeper parried the ball away and out of danger.
Stow were finding plenty of joy down either flank but it was Bihmoutin who shone once again, breaking down the left before cutting back for Okunja whose rasping effort was tipped over the ball well by Joyce in the Oakley net.
Perhaps with the Newbury Forest game still fresh in their minds from the week prior, Stow had started to manage the game, somewhat to Oakley’s frustration. And that frustration – perhaps not helped by the traffic on the A12 which led to this game being delayed – boiled over around the hour mark when Rodger pushed a Stow player over in trying to recover the ball for a free-kick, earning himself a booking. Rodger was then immediately substituted.
The game became fairly scrappy after that, with Oakley putting the majority of the pressure on and Stow content to manage the game and look to counter through the front four of Adelani, Cole, Scully and Bihmoutin.
The dynamic had swung though and Stow weren’t able to pressure with the same intensity, encouraging Oakley to come onto them.
Five minutes from the end Oakley came the closest they’d come to equalising when an Oakley free-kick was looped to the back post and headed back across, and an attempted flick at goal looked to be sending the ball bouncing over the Stow goal line but for Ben Byrne to acrobatically clear off the line.
All Stow had to do now was slow the game down with not long left to go, and as such they took the ball to the corner flags at every opportunity. A sensational bit of gamesmanship saw Osei skip around repeated challenges close to the corner flag much to the delight of the Rabble behind the goal, and when a free kick was given, a Stow player could be heard encouraging Adelani to – and I’m paraphrasing here – use his backside to shield the ball.
After four minutes of added time which was characterised by Stow’s game management, the ref blew full-time to send Walthamstow into a second-round tie where they will face the winner of Buckhurst Hill or Southend Manor in mid-November.