Ware 2 South Park 1
Cowley at the double to secure opening day win.
This was a hard fought victory that was, in truth, a little tough on the visitors who competed well throughout the 90 minutes. They were fielding a completely new side from last season and before the match were anxious about how well they would perform. Pre-season results had not looked promising for the Surrey side but with Ware facing their own selection problems the game developed into a close contest that was settled by a lovely piece of individual skill from Dave Cowley to quickly cancel out the visitors' equaliser.
Ware's problems saw them without the two men who had both registered hat tricks in pre-season games. Jordon Watson was unavailable due to work commitments and Leigh Rose on leave. In addition Ben Hart's injury problems continued meaning that all in all Ware's options up front were severely limited.
As a result Albert Adu was moved forward from midfield and whilst he had a good game, working hard throughout, the absence of a raiding winger and someone to hold the ball in the final third hampered Ware.
This meant there were significant spells in the first half when South Park had the best of possession and they would have considered themselves unlucky to be behind at half time. As it was, Dom Njoya's first goal for Ware, a shot from a narrow angle just before the break, was enough to separate the teams.
The game had started at pace with Ware having the visitors under pressure from the kick off, forcing keeper Michael Eacott to scramble the ball away unconvincingly for a 2nd minute corner. It didn't last and South Park started to mount some serious attacks collecting the ball when Ware cleared up field and working it forward from the back for their wide men to cause problems in the home defence.
This was the pattern of play for much of the first half with South Park's Kyen Nicholas adding his long throws into the mix whenever Ware were forced to clear the ball from the playing surface. It wasn't pretty to watch from a Ware point of view and the collection of three yellow cards in this period was a sign that the home side was being forced into some desperate tackles to stay in the game.
Yet for all the pin ball antics in the Ware area there were few clear cut chances for the visitors. Their clearest opportunities came from distance with Nicholas volleying high on the turn before another opportunity saw him shoot wide under pressure from outside the area.
Nor were Ware without their moments and Adu was always in action. The visitors tall defence lacked pace and Adu, perhaps the smallest man in the Ware side, could exploit that. He hit Eacott's left post from a 13th minute corner, won a free kick on the edge of the area which Cowley sent high and was denied by a last ditch tackle at the foot of the other post. He also played his part in Ware's opening goal.
The half was almost up when Njoya collected the ball on the left deep in the South Park half. His cross was judged to perfection for the onrushing Adu to run onto but a defender saw it too and as the two battled for possession the ball rebounded to Njoya who had continued his run. His shot may have been bundled into the net by a defender but no-one was going to deny the Ware man the credit.
The second half saw an improvement in Ware and after 55 minutes Ross Elsom's shot was blocked and fell to Adu who drew a fine save out of Eacott. But two minutes later the scores were level after a ball in from the right fell perfectly for Dylane Ramazani. The tall number ten looked seemingly unchallenged as he nodded the ball almost nonchalantly into the net.
Fears that this might signal an onslaught on the Ware goal were put to rest almost straight from the restart. Once again it was Adu in possession in the South Park area but lacking an opening he laid the ball off to Cowley. First the midfielder turned his defender one way, then the other before driving the ball under Eacott and into the goal.
Within another five minutes the visitors started to look to their substitutes bench for a change of fortune but they couldn't find it and Ware seemed to be heading for a win. There was even a chance to seal it for sure just a minute before the end of normal time as Charlie Yexley carried the ball into the opposition area. His shot was driven at Eacott who parried it away before being injured as Adu sought to claim the loose ball.
The game was already into added time when Eacott was ready to resume so home supporters had a lengthy spell to endure as South Park looked for an equaliser. When the final whistle did come it signalled Ware's first opening day win since 2008. It was a good start to the season but the absence of so many front men may become a problem if it continues for any length of time.
Ware: Vlantislav Gkontsarov, Charlie Yexley, Dominique Njoya, Gareth Madden, Louis Bowen, Bradley Fraser, Ross Elsom, Dave Cowley (Kardan Campbell 78mins), Jack Daveney, Albert Adu, Alaa Oujdi. Unused subs: Kofi Appiah, Billy Baird, Harry Ricketts.