After 595 days without competitive football, Guernsey fans flooding back to Footes Lane were treated to the perfect return to competitive action as the Green Lions saw off new opponents Sutton Common Rovers.
Having raced into an early two-goal lead, that could have been more before the break, Tony Vance’s side overcame the nerves of the visitors pulling one back shortly after the break to make the game safe midway through the second half.
Given the lack of pre-season, GFC could have been forgiven for their energy levels flagging towards the end, but in fact found a second wind later on and finish strongly.
Buoyed by a 900-strong crowd, the Green Lions roared into action from the first whistle, zipping the ball quickly around the pitch.
Captain for the day Ross Allen had already spooned well over and seen a shot cleared away from a clever short corner routine, and Bolaji Williams skewed well wide before Guernsey found the open inside just six minutes.
Debutant Ben Le Tocq’s diagonal switch was collected by Charlton Gauvain on the right wing. He worked space for the cross. Allen thought about the acrobatic effort but instead cushioned the ball for Kyle Smith to lash home on the volley and give his side the perfect start.
The second to put the Green Lions right in the driving seat came just four minutes later. They opted for another short corner routine, with Liam Mahon returning the ball to the right channel. Loaring slid an enticing ball across the six-yard box that should have been a tap-in for Smith, but the number nine couldn’t sort his feet out and missed the ball. Le Tocq kept it alive for Allen at the far post, and the number 10 dropped a shoulder to work some space before curling a delicious shot past the stretching Mackenzie Foley into the far corner.
It should have been three just a minute or so later when Allen met Liam Mahon’s cross at the far post but his downward header bounced just the wrong side of the post.
James Walker had been untroubled on his debut in the Guernsey goal, with his first meaningful contribution being to field Emmanuel Tehe’s angled shot at his near post.
Smith came close again when he timed his run perfectly to get in behind to meet Le Tocq’s ball over the top. It bounced up nicely for Smith to attempt the lob but his effort dropped just wide. Two minutes later, he saw a low shot from the edge of the area deflected narrowly wide.
Williams had the ball in the net for the Commoners midway through the half but he was guilty both coming from an offside position, and pushing Tom Strawbridge.
There was a brief scare for the otherwise untroubled Guernsey defence on 39 minutes when Walker spilled a cross but Thomas Dodds was in the right place to block the shot from Williams and then clear the ball from the six-yard box.
Kieran Mahon’s sweetly-struck shot from range cracked off the foot of Foley’s left-hand post shortly before half-time Ryan Healy looped a header over the bar at the other end.
Sutton Common halved the deficit shortly after the restart when Dejarhn Grant pounced on a spillage from Walker, after a cross had come in from the left, and tucked the ball home from close range.
Guernsey could have buckled after that, having more than 40 minutes to play against a side in the ascendency with much more match practice than them this season, but the defence stood strong and the team found extra energy for the remainder of the game.
Adam Allen and Aaron Bogle both headed angled free-kick deliveries over the bar, and Allen was denied a second on the hour as Foley saved his curling effort, with the ball just evading the number 10 for a rebound.
As the half ticked towards the midway point, GFC restored their two-goal cushion. Yet another routine from a corner caught the visitors unawares, as they were distracted by the decoy runs, allowing Smith to backheel the ball back to the taker Gauvain. Loaring actually kept the ball out as he went to finish it off, but luckily the ball bounced across goal where
Allen was perfect placed to tap into an empty net and put clear daylight between the two sides again.
There were still 25 more minutes to negotiate, but the Green Lions found more gas in the tank despite their lack of pre-season minutes. Frank Tobin seized on a loose ball in the area on 75 minutes but saw his rising effort smash off the crossbar, possibly via the outstretched arm of Foley. Substitute Dave Rihoy then cleared the bar and Foley blocked as Gauvain nipped in ahead of his marker to reach Loaring’s crossfield ball.
A couple more wayward headers from the visitors followed in the closing stages, while their closest effort came from Malachi Robinson in stoppage-time, his thunderous shot crashing off the bar and over.
There were solid debuts for Le Tocq and Walker, the latter the latest in a line of on-loan goalkeepers, this time from Bristol City, and 16-year-old Ben Acey also got his first competitive minutes for the club with a late cameo.
The three points from GFC’s first competitive outing in nearly 20 months saw them leapfrog Staines Town in the league.
Guernsey: 1 James Walker; 2 Frank Tobin; 3 Ben Le Tocq; 4 Thomas DODDS; 5 Tom Strawbridge; 6 Kieran MAHON; 7 Charlton Gauvain; 8 Liam MAHON (14 Dave RIHOY 76’); 9 Kyle SMITH (15 Ben Acey, 83’); 10 Ross ALLEN (c) (12 Louis GRAHAM, 90+3’); 11 Matt LOARING. Not used: 13 Jordan KELLY.
Goals: Smith 6’; Allen 10’, 65’. Booked: Walker, Gauvain, Mahon.
Sutton Common Rovers: 1 Mackenzie FOLEY; 2 Malachi ROBINSON; 3 Jake HILL; 4 Ryan HEALY (12 Matthew TANTON 70’); 5 Mohammed DABO; 6 Aaron BOGLE; 7 Dejahrn GRANT (14 Kyle HENRY 84’); 8 Adam ALLEN (c); 9 Bolaji WILLIAMS; 10 Brendan Murphy-McVey; 11 Emmanuel Tehe (15 Ollie TWUM 79’). Not used: 16 Kiyo BROWN.
Goal: Grant 48'. Booked: Healy, Williams, Murphy-McVey.
Highlights are available to view now on GFCTV.