A top of the table clash, with leaders Houghton Athletic visiting 2nd placed Whirlwinds. Crawley road pitches were again heavy after rain in mid week.
The game kicked off with light drizzle in the air, the teams looked fairly evenly matched, but it was the home side who largely took the game to their opponents, Billy already getting hold of the centre of the pitch and Jack M and Ajiri, linking up well, and on a couple of occasions almost creating a 1 v 1 with the keeper, the best chance fell to Ajiri however, clean through he skewed his shot wide, giving the pitch a look of disdain afterwards. Houghton had pace wide and in the centre, but were being limited to just long range punts, which were meat and drink for Nathan, the defence and midfield in front of him, nice and compact and leaving little space to be exploited. Nathan produced the save of the game, when he parried away a venomous strike from the right hand corner of the box. This seemed to give the away side a lift, and for 10 minutes they took control, the home side not helping themselves with some panicky defensive clearances, which were gifting the opposition the ball back in dangerous positions. However they were stoic in their defending, and denied the away team a clear cut opportunity. Gradually calm restored, and the home side forced their way back in to the game and finished the half strongly, pressing forward and causing Houghton lots of problems.
Half time team talk, was fairly calm, attacking wise we were doing o.k, we had to try and ignore the niggly fouls that seemed to be a tactic for the away side, and exploit their defensive weakness. We also needed to tighten up our own defending, poor defensive clearances, were often giving the opposition the ball in dangerous positions.
The second half started like a mirror of the first, Sam introduced just before half time after a late dash to replace a missing stud (thanks Wendy !) was causing problems on the right, Jack M and Ajiri were linking well and proving too hot for the away side to handle. The home side controlled the first 15 minutes, again Houghton were restricted to the odd counter attack and limited to long range shots. Finally the dead lock was broken around half way through the first half, Ajiri robbed the ball from an opposition midfielder and galloped towards the goal line, he whipped a cross in which was met by Sam on the half volley and powered in to the back of the net, a great goal to open the scoring 1-0. Houghton were stung by this and responded well, within a couple of minutes they were level, for probably the only time in the game, the home side lost their compact shape when in transition, and a huge gap appeared down the centre, which was a exploited by a long diagonal ball, neatly controlled by the dangerous striker and calmly despatched to make it 1-1. It was disappointing for the home side, who had worked so hard to get ahead and up to that point, kept compact when they didn’t have the ball. They responded well, taking the game back to Houghton, Jack M shot straight at the keeper, when possibly Ajiri was in a better position. Houghton got a dangerous free kick centre of the goal, but it was fired wide. Nathan through the game had been mixing his distribution well, launched a kick straight down the centre of the pitch, it bounced over the away defence, Jack M read it well and latched on to the ball, a touch took him clear of the defence and his second touch despatched the ball past the advancing goal keeper 2-1. There was a sense that the home side weren’t going to let it slip this time. Sam had a fantastic free kick just tipped round the post when it seemed destined for the top corner. Houghton were being smothered in midfield, a 3rd goal looked inevitable for the home side, and so it came with Olly stabbing home from a cross by Sam, however the linesman raised the flag, a baffling decision as the ball had travelled backwards and there was a covering defender on the line. It was ruled out, it could have led to a nervy last few minutes, but the home side slowed the game down, and closed the game out for a hard fought, but deserved victory.
Scorers : Sam, Jack M
Summary: Certainly the strongest opposition we have faced thus far in the league, we started well enough, but allowed the away side back in the game with some nervy defending. Second half we were much better, apart from the lapse in concentration for their goal. We recovered well and finished the game strongly, we showed great determination to see the game out.
M.O.T.M. : Billy did well, particularly in the second half when he dominated the centre of the pitch, Ajiri, Jack M and Sam linked well and looked a real handful, Thomas was measured and calm in defence, but this weeks award goes to Nathan, he pulled off a great save in the first half when the game was on a knife edge, his distribution and handling were superb throughout and he claimed his second assist of the season for the winning goal.