3 v 0
They say that one swallow doesn’t make a summer, so it may be best to view this comfortable victory for Kevin Wilkin’s reconstructed Bucks as a solid first step.
It was the fourth consecutive season in which the Bucks had won their opening fixture, all four of those coming at home. In each of the three previous campaigns, opening-day optimism was swiftly swept away with the autumn leaves; however, this victory had a different feel to it.
For a start, there’s no escaping that it came at a lower level of the football pyramid. It also came against opponents not anticipated to be amongst the promotion contenders in the Southern League’s Premier Central division. On top of that, it felt nothing like summer.
The Bucks could only beat what was in front of them, and they did so with a degree of ease. The contest was as good as over by half-time as they progressed to a 3-0 lead through goals from Ricardo Dinanga, Remi Walker and Montel Gibson.
Wilkin gave Bucks league debuts to no fewer than eight of the starting XI, an indicator of how much he has changed the playing staff over the summer following relegation.
Only Jordan Piggott, Byron Moore and Gibson were at the club at the end of the last season, and all of them contributed well alongside their new colleagues.
The Bucks showed few first-day nerves, and Dinanga was soon weaving towards the penalty area before being halted, left wing-back Nathan Fox firing the resulting loose ball over the crossbar from a distance.
The game’s first corner was won when a Royston defender raised his leg to deflect defender Orrin Pendley’s long-range shot wide of Louis Chadwick’s right post, and in a flurry of corners that followed, it was Pendley who went closest, rising to head across goal and wide after Gibson had flicked the ball on with his head at the near post.
Royston showed some appetite to attack too, and their speedy wide attacker Florian Tsagium was a threat, although well policed by right wing-back Ellis Myles.
Dinanga drove a shot well wide after good chest control by Gibson from Pendley’s searching ball from his own half before Tsagium switched flanks and won a corner off left-wing back Nathan Fox. The resulting kick caused a nervy moment before new captain Fraser Kerr showed his willingness to put his body on the line, heading away as feet were raised in the six-yard box.
Another debutant, Bucks defender Steffan Jones, was the first player booked, for an over-aggressive foul on Matt Bateman. The youngster, who turned 18 in midweek, holds huge promise but will learn hugely from playing alongside Kerr, the Scot looking like a Bentley amongst a forecourt full of Fords at this level.
The opening goal was soon to arrive, and Kerr was the provider. His long pass from his own half located Dinanga in the inside right channel, the forward having slipped the attention of the Crows’ defence. Dinanga drew Chadwick off his line and then calmly slipped the ball under him from an angle to score.
Wilkin said afterwards that he felt the goal relaxed his side and any anxiety apparent in their finishing was soon to disappear. Byron Moore drove a shot wide, and Piggott, a revelation in a box-to-box midfield role, was denied as he reached the penalty area by a sliding challenge.
In the 34th minute, the Bucks scored a beautifully orchestrated second goal. Moore got things moving in midfield, his vision allowing him to find Myles overlapping on the right-hand side. The right wing-back is sure to be a fans’ favourite, with his buccaneering style, and his inviting cross was met on the run by midfielder Remi Walker, ghosting in to guide a cushioned shot wide of Chadwick’s right hand and into the corner of the net.
It proved to be his last touch of the game too, as he aggravated an injury in scoring and had to be replaced by substitute James McQuilkin, a third Bucks debut for the returning midfielder.
Gibson wanted in on the act and with Royston rocked he was denied by the fingertips of Chadwick, who got just enough onto the Bucks’ striker’s fiercely struck shot to prevent it from finding the far corner.
The relief was temporary. From the corner on the left, Gibson’s movement meant the Crows’ defence lost him, and he was able to take the dropping ball on the full, his powerful side-footed finish flashing past Chadwick from a tight angle.
Half Time: AFC Telford United 3-0 Royston Town
The Bucks faced a dilemma in the second half. Wilkin’s side was unable to adopt cruise control, knowing that Royston was likely to both tighten up defensively, but also attack more on the basis of having little to lose.
A free-kick awarded just seconds into the half was taken by McQuilkin and his on-target effort was deflected for a corner. The Bucks had the ball in the net from the flag kick, but it was ruled out for a foul.
Dinanga should have made it four when he fluffed what looked to be a routine finish, having been played through on goal by a move which saw teammate Piggott floored in a clash of heads.
Bucks keeper Brandon Hall, another on debut, had barely had to move all afternoon, apt for a man whose family sell mannequins for a living. Wilkin said afterwards that he’d rather the chance hadn’t been given up, but when Cain Keller was released on goal in the 56th minute, Hall showed his concentration hadn’t slipped and narrowed his angles to stop Keller’s shot with his legs, the ball travelling up and over the crossbar.
Gibson headed a cross over the bar and in a subsequent attack collided with Chadwick as he went for a header, fouling the keeper.
Royston searched in vain for a route back into the game and midfielder Alfie Williams wasted their best chance; making a run into the box, he was located by an accurate squared pass but cleared the crossbar from 12 yards.
Piggott then struck the post with a low shot to Chadwick’s left-hand side that struck the inside of the upright and rebounded across the goal. It would have capped a performance of great industry from the popular defender turned midfielder.
Myles saw a well-struck shot blocked en route to goal and Bateman had a low shot well saved by Hall as the teams traded blows, one in search of a goal to reinvigorate the contest, the other seeking to kill it off once and for all.
Neither was to be successful, and the game began to peter out as the realisation the Bucks back door wasn’t going to open dawned on the visitors. Tré Mitford became another Bucks debutant, replacing Dinanga, and he too showed signs of linking up well with Gibson.
Both the overall standard of play and weather might have been a few degrees lower than fans have become accustomed to, but the feel-good factor was higher, and that is something to feel good about in itself.
On what felt like an autumn afternoon, it was hard not to think that if the Bucks are still playing and recording victories like this in autumn itself, there will be a lot more to smile about this season as a minimum.
Match Date: August 5th, 2023 3:00 pm
Competition: Southern League Premier Central
Kick Off: 15:00
Venue: New Bucks Head
- Brad Bood
- Twariq Yusuf
- Ricardo Dinanga
- James McQuilkin (replaced Remi Walker, 34 minutes)
Referee: Martyn Mitchell
Assistant 1: Jordan Tindall
Assistant 2: Lloyd Reddin
Official 4: n/a