Hill’s heroes end 17 years of hurt
THEY’VE done it. Or at least they think they have.
Weymouth’s win at Bishop’s Stortford clinched the Conference South championship and a return to non-League football’s top flight after an absence of 17 years.
Champagne flowed and hugs were exchanged as more than 800 euphoric Terras fans flooded on to the Woodside Park pitch to hail Garry Hill’s heroes at the final whistle.
All the talk in Hertfordshire should have been about the glorious season skipper Matt Bound and Co have enjoyed to claim the title.
But such a magnificent day in the Wessex Stadium club’s history was somewhat overshadowed by the Soloman Taiwo affair.
Whether Conference officials punish Hill’s men over their failing to ensure the midfielder had international clearance remains to be seen.
Nevertheless, Weymouth’s players didn’t let the threat of a possible points deduction ruin their celebration promotion party which continued long into the night.
Even if the full-timers are docked the four points, won when Taiwo played, it would all prove irrelevant if they beat Lewes at the Wessex Stadium on Saturday.
On a day of endless rumours and gossip, Weymouth’s players deserve credit for producing a thoroughly workmanlike performance in difficult circumstances.
The match itself probably won’t stay in the memory for very long, but the goals from Kirk Jackson and substitute Lee Elam were all that mattered to the hoards of travelling fans.
With terra-cotta and blue wigs, fancy dress and beachballs in plentiful supply, Weymouth could have been two goals to the good inside the opening couple of minutes.
Simon Downer, who at right back was simply sensational, launched a long throw from which Jackson’s turn and shot was deflected behind by Rob Gillman.
Then from Andy Harris’s efffort from a similar position down the left, skipper Bound drilled goalwards only for Matt Jones to clear off the line.
A scrappy passage of play followed as both sides struggled to string any major passing moves together on a tricky playing surface.
Midfielder Harris did fizz a free kick from range just over midway through the opening half, while at the other end Terras keeper Aaron Lee-Barrett saved smartly from Rob Gillman.
It was Weymouth who looked the more threatening as the interval approached as Clark and Downer both wasted decent opportunities.
But when the all-important opener arrived for the visitors on 41 minutes, it was a contender for Terras goal of the season.
Striker Raphael Nade and Ben Smith combined for the midfielder to release the galloping Downer down the right flank.
The former Leyton Orient defender drilled a low cross for Jackson who, with his back to goal, somehow flicked the ball through his legs and past a bamboozled Blues keeper Andy Young.
As the news of promotion rivals St Albans City winning at Havant trickled through, tension began mounting among Terras supporters.
But if Weymouth were also getting nervy, their second half showing certainly didn’t show it.
The visitors never looked like letting their lead slip and were always in control.
Clark should have made the points safe when he shot tamely at Young after racing through, before Jones scrambled away Nade’s close range effort.
The only slight worrying moment for the visitors came when keeper Lee-Barrett failed to hold a cross under pressure by striker Roy Essandoh, but managed to retrieve the loose ball at the second attempt.
Hill replaced Clark with Elam on 72 minutes and the midfielder made an almost immediate impact with a second goal.
Again the lively Nade was involved in the build-up, holding off a couple of challengers before finding team-mate Smith.
The former Yeovil Town midfielder played a superb pass to release Elam who cut in from the left flank and tucked past Young to spark wild celebrations.
By now it really was party time for the Terras whose supporters mixed chants of ‘we are going up’ with the cheeky ‘who needs Mourinho, when we’ve got Garry Hill’.
The score line would have been even more emphatic had Smith’s header and Nade’s screwed shot gone in late on.
But that was all academic as the final whistle sounded to signal the celebrations and prompt a good natured pitch invasion from the massed ranks from travelling fans.