Kentish Town U11s overcame some good quality opposition from other north London clubs to win the annual ASFT Hendon football tournament for the second year running (having won it as U10s last year), despite losing two players to injury over the course of the afternoon-long competition. Town went though the entire tournament unbeaten, but had to survive a scare in the semi finals, where they came from behind against a good Focus Football Newham team to force extra time and win on penalties.
Opening the group stages against local side GT United Youth from Colindale, who were fielding a team made up largely of younger players, Town comfortably ran out 6-0 winners. Patrick Morley opened the scoring, thrashing in a shot on the rebound as his first effort was cleared off the line. A minute later, Oscar Del Torto made it 2-0 as he stole the ball on the left from a GT United throw in deep in their own half and shot past the keeper to double Town’s lead. Town found themselves briefly frustrated as Oscar saw a shot deflected wide by a diving keeper and Max Leach and Denny Smith both went narrowly wide.
Town were not to be denied for long, however, as Denny got the first of a massive haul of tournament goals, carrying the ball in from the right wing and firing between the GT keeper and his near post. A minute later, he fired another shot in only to see it deflect wide off the upright. But it was the Alidor-Hamilton twins who got the remaining goals. Sol finding himself on the end of a nice passing move and firing in from the right edge of the area to make it 4-0, then driving forward with the ball and shooting directly at the keeper before turning in the deflected save for Town’s fifth. And Town grabbed their sixth with minutes to go, as another beautiful passing move saw the ball move from defence through midfield to Sol on the edge of the area, where he carefully set up Mal running in to fire the ball home from the middle of the area.
The second group stage kicked off around 45 minutes after the first one ended, and Town showed some signs of having been made to sit on the sidelines as they faced AFC Southgate, being slower to the ball and less intense in their play than they had been in their opening match. However at no point did they ever look at risk against a Southgate team that seemed unable to break through a well disciplined Town side. Town dominated the early stages of the game without creating much danger – the only chance falling to Patrick Morley whose shot drifted just wide of the right hand post.
With Town frustrated by their lack of reward for their domination, there was some relief when Denny broke the deadlock, receiving the ball in the inside right position and making space before firing across the Southgate goalkeeper and into the back of the net to put Town in front. Halfway through the game, Oscar Del Torto came on for Max Leach and immediately created danger down the left, pushing forward down his favoured left wing and seeing his shot rebound off the left post. He then did well to play in Sol Alidor-Hamilton, only to see Sol’s shot balloon off the top of the Southgate bar. But it took until the last minute of the game for Town to make their victory safe, Denny again at the heart of the action setting up Sol to fire in from close range to make it 2-0. With seconds to go, Town nearly grabbed a third as Oscar was brought down on the edge of the area, and chose to roll the free kick into the path of Sol, however his fierce shot hit the corner of the Southgate uprights and deflected wide, as the referee blew for time.
Town’s third group game as against one of two Focus Football Newham teams, who – with Kentish Town – had looked the pick of the tournament sides on the basis of early exchanges. Despite fielding a largely younger team, they were full of technical ability and workrate pushing Town as hard as any opponents in the tournament. Town started on the offensive, Sol driving forward powerfully into the area, but only able to tamely strike the ball in the direction of the Focus Football keeper, and Oscar picking up a long clearance from Arlo Doherty but unable to get his shot in on target. At the other end, however, Football Focus were also creating chances, a diving save from Arlo to a fine shot from range showing that Town needed to be aware of the need to avoid giving Focus Football any space or time on the ball.
But it was Town who were continuing to create most of the chances, Sol seeing a glancing header from a well flighted corner go wide of the Focus Football goal and Denny Smith nearly played through by a nice ball over the top but unable to get on the end of the ball before it reached the keeper. With the game halfway through, a brutal double challenge on the edge of the Focus Football area saw Oscar Del Torto’s tournament end in injury as he was carried off with a badly bruised knee. Undaunted, Town continued to press forward, Denny finally grabbing a goal for Town with five minutes to go. With the deadlock broken, the game seemed to open up, Focus Football forcing a big save from Arlo before equalising as Town struggled to retain possession at the back. However, it was Kentish Town who finished the strongest, Denny running through the Focus Football defence to make it 2-1, before Sol grabbed two for himself. The first saw him drive forward into the box from middle and smash a powerful shot through the keepers hands; the second saw him alert to indecision at the back, running forward to bundle a loose ball at the near post with the last touch of the game to end it 4-1, effectively securing a semi-final place for Town.
The final group stage game saw Town playing TFA, who had looked dominant in their other group games. However, they found it hard to maintain their composure in the face of a Town team who were now playing with one less substitute – Oscar Del Torto having retired to the sidelines – but were performing with increasing confidence as the tournament progressed. Kentish Town were on the attack from kick off, Denny Smith making a blistering run down the right and firing a shot in from outside the area, only to see it tipped over the bar. Continuing to press forward Sol Alidor-Hamilton saw two shots fly wide of goal before finally finding the net, a long throw finding Denny on the right who ran forward into the area before neatly laying the ball off to Sol who this time made no mistake in firing home, the ball hitting the keeper on its way into the net. Town doubled their lead moments later as an injured TFA player in middle of the field of play caused uncertainty in the TFA defence, Sol winning the ball this time before passing to Denny who skipped past the keeper before passing the ball into the net. Town continued to dominate, Sol and Max Leach both having chances to score before Sol put the game beyond TFA’s reach, driving forward from the middle and firing past the keeper to end the game with Town three goals ahead.
The Semi-Final saw Town up against a second Focus Football Newham side, who played with similar skill and conviction to the squad mates Town had faced in the group stages. And Town went behind early on – for the first time in the tournament – as Arlo Doherty struggled to hold a shot, the rebound being steered beyond his reach. Town responded immediately, pressing forward in numbers and pinning Focus Football back in their own third for much of the game, but unable to make a breakthrough. Sol Alidor-Hamilton had two good chances, both of which flew wide and Max Leach and Denny Smith both failed to steer shots through an increasingly crowded Focus Football penalty area. With only two minutes of the game to go, Town looked like they would find themselves going home without a trophy. But then – from out of nowhere – Sol pulled off the goal of the tournament, receiving a throw in just inside the Focus Football half and volleying a rocket of a shot into the far corner of the goal to put Town right back in it.
With extra time approaching, Town looked the most likely to score, but continued to find it hard to break down what turned out to be the best team they had faced in the tournament.
Denny nearly broke the deadlock, close to full time, running at the Focus Football goal from the left and skipping two tackles before shooting just wide, but it wasn’t enough to prevent the game going into an additional period. The momentum behind them, however, Town continued to pressure the Focus Football goal in extra time. With the exception of a late strike from Patrick Morley that rebounded off the base of the right hand post, and a spectacular sliding tackle from Max Leach to prevent a shot from close range by a Focus Football striker, there were few clearcut chances, leaving the game poised for its only penalty shootout of the day.
With spectator nerves on edge the penalty shoot out kicked off. Denny Smith making no mistakes in firing to the left of a diving keeper. The first Focus Football kick went wide to the right, Arlo Doherty guessing right with his dive but unable to get firm hands to the ball. Sol Alidor-Hamilton took the second Town penalty, a poor attempt down the middle of the goal which hit the legs of the Focus Football keeper before deflecting clear putting Focus Football into pole position in the shootout. Their position reinforced when their second kick was blasted successfully into the roof of the net. The third Town kick – perhaps surprisingly – was taken by Arlo, who made no mistakes slotting the ball to the right of the keeper, leaving the outcome of the game dependent on his saving the next shot.
As we’ve come to expect from one of Kentish Town’s now legendary servants, he delivered, blocking the Focus Football shot and bringing the shootout back level. Patrick Morley then put aside demons that have haunted him since a tournament penalty miss last year with a neatly judged penalty to the right of the keeper, before Focus Football again drew level with a quality penalty keep. Deep into sudden death, Max was pushed forward to – reluctantly – take the fifth kick for Town, which despite his nerves he efficiently slammed well beyond the Focus Football keeper into the far right hand corner of the net. With Arlo saving the next penalty with some ease, Town were – after a brief scare – through to their second Hendon final in two years.
Running out for the final, Town were another man down – Max having injured himself with a nasty astroturf burn when he made his last ditch saving tackle in the previous game. This left Town facing TFA – one of their opponents in the group stages – with no substitutes. However, having got through the genuine test of the Semi-Final, from the start they played with a fluency and positivity that belied what must have been a very tired team. Less than a minute into the game, Sol Alidor-Hamilton found Denny Smith on the edge of the area where he made space and fired past the keeper to put Town in the lead.
Seconds later Denny nearly made it two as he won the ball and ran at the goal only to snatch his shot and put the ball wide. Town continued to press, with Denny at the heart of a lot of the moves, and unlucky not to secure a penalty as he was bundled over in the box after running onto a nice flicked header from Sol. The pair combined again for Town’s second goal, Denny chasing in and firing off a shot that rebound out a distance from the keepers legs. Whilst a tiring Sol was perhaps slow to get onto the ball, once he had done he made no mistake firing the ball in to make it 2-0.
TFA briefly threatened as Town sat back, giving their opponents perhaps too much time on the ball, Arlo having to smother a shot after a defensive mistake, and another shot from TFA going fortuitously wide. But with minutes to go, Town moved back up the gears, putting the game beyond reach as a nice interception in midfield by Sol released Denny, whose unopposed run through the middle left him able to shoot cleanly to the left of the keeper to put Town 3-0 up.
A minute later, Sol and Denny combined yet again – Denny again making a dangerous run forward, finding Sol wide left of goal with a pass that was return back across the face of the goal enabling Denny to turn in Town’s fourth. The same attacking combination rounded off a great tournament for Town as they finished the game on top, a beautiful pass from Sol to the feet of Denny in front of goal for his fourth and Town’s fifth.
A great performance by a small group of Kentish Town players, who showed their quality and resilience throughout a long day in Hendon. What is more impressive is that Town could easily have fielded at least two more U11 teams of comparable quality to the one they played today, such is the strength of their U11 squad this year.
Receiving the trophy
Receiving horror tackles