Scorers: Hillier, Adjekwei, Manu
Off to the Fred Knight Sports ground for the promotion chasing first team, an interesting arrangement given it was one of the most important fixtures in the recent history of the football club. It is a good little facility but one that would inevitably bankrupt the club. A 6 foot wall and netting is all that separates the pitch from the rail track, and it is unfortunately little match for a sliced AP clearance under pressure. Seeing as we excel at these, we would likely be talking the loss of 3 x match balls a game. We would either end up destitute or playing with the plastic fly balls available from near the till at Sports Direct. I actually think we did the latter for 10 minutes during the first half, a good spell if I remember rightly.
Anyway, it was upwards of 12 degrees which allows me to put in some inevitable banter about how pale we are. In all seriousness, it felt like a slightly uncomfortable heat for me. I need to tweet someone like Seb Larsson and find out how he stops Ambre Solaire from going in his eyes. It was a massive game for both sides, a win would put us within 3 points of guaranteed promotion, whilst HSBC needed 3 points to secure safety. They came up with us from Division 3, with around 5 points separating us. Going into this game we were 23 points clear of them, I reckon a fair sign of how we have built upon last year. That is the sort of statistical insight you get from my reports, I have got Ronnie’s pro-zone stats next week.
We lined up 4-2-3-1, we had actually been hit pretty hard by injuries and unavailability, probably missing about 5 regulars. The start was a nervy one and HSBC were bang up for it. They were having a bit of joy down the left hand side, I seemingly forgot we were playing in the UK and US by ordering that we get in on ‘lockdown’. Bit of an odd comment that. Having played the oppo a fair few times, we know what they are about, well organised, hard working and good in the air. We had to rely on the back 4 to deal with a lot of set plays, following yet more mindless free-kick concessions. We didn’t really get going at any point, I tried to fire the lads up by smashing a clearance as hard as I could onto the railway line but it had little/no impact (except for a despairing for f*cks sake from John Morris).
That said, we have developed a real knack this season of digging something out when the chips are down and this happened right on the stroke of half time. Stu sent Ronnie away down the right, who did superbly to turn something into nothing. He dug a cross out from the byline and Hillier got across his man at the near post to head home. 3 in 3 from the left flank, crucial goals (but if he tries to tell you it was a diving header don’t have a moment of it)
So HSBC probably had every right to be aggrieved going in at the break and in the context of the game, it was probably an absolute killer. We came out second half and were a lot better on the ball and we had a lot less pressure to deal with. This was especially comforting for Lee Carlin, playing through a broken nose (fair play) but leading to a pretty interesting heading technique.
We effectively buried the game with about half an hour to go. Space was opening up between the lines, and Matt Kelly used the space to flip a lovely ball in behind to Ronnie. The keeper stayed at home, Ron latched onto it and drilled into the far corner. Big goal. A tip of the cap to Ron who has been a massive addition for us this year and is getting close to 20 goals. Just unplayable at times.
We could have extended our lead well beyond the two, one missed chance went so far over it finished up in power league. ‘Matt, I think you have scored on pitch 9 mate’, Lee quipped, evidently happy with himself. A sympathetic chuckle from a sole HSBC player pretty much summed up a gag that certainly sounded better in his head. Eventually, Les closed the show for us after a move from left to right, reacting fastest off the right flank to slot home from close range. A deserved goal, and fair play to Les who has really given us a hand last 3/4 games. He has come up from the 2s, mostly starting as a sub and given us an injection of pace at important points in big games. A big help.
We closed the game out for a massive win. The epitome of a game of two halves, as it was at their place. We headed back to the club and the news filtered through of a Crouch End slip up, securing our return to the top flight for the first time in 52 years. It is an amazing achievement to have secured back to back promotions and to be honest, something I would never have envisaged after our pre-season. The drive and desire from probably in excess of 20 lads who have played for the first team this year has been immense and as a result, we have found a way to keep winning regardless of the opposition and scenario. The consistency has been superb. Obviously, there is a title to go and win (which because of the below will go down to the last day) so there is no point looking back at it all until we are done. However, it really is a great feeling to be in Div 1 and I cannot wait for us to have a crack at it next season. Well done lads.
MOM : Matt Kelly, just ahead of Ronnie for me. Dictated the game when it got a little more stretched. Has been superb again this season and without doubt one of the most talented players in the SAL.
AP : Pennycook, Carlin, Patterson, Egan (Shaw-Morris), Thrale (K.O’Leary), R. Hubb ard, Gunyon, Hillier, Kelly, Nicholau (Manu), Adjekwei