HSCL Reserve Div One:
London Lions Reserves 2 Park Street Village 1
"Winning ugly” is an overused phrase these days but it describes perfectly London Lions reserves’ performance this weekend.
Park Street Village came to Rowley Lane level on points with Lions but with five games in hand and still hoping to catch leaders Codicote.
With seven of the squad aged 21 or younger - and having been outfought and well beaten (4-2) in the away fixture September – the pre-match emphasis was on the need to “earn the right to play” against strong, aggressive opponents.
The Reserves welcomed back, from long-term injury, Sam Reeves, who had been out for four months and Paul Samuels, who had not started a game for Lions in over two years and both were prominent in an opening period that was played almost exclusively in Lions’ own half.
The plan had been for the midfield trio of Reeves, Warren Leader and Tim Becker to provide a solid central platform, enabling the Newman brothers, at full back, to press forward, giving width and allowing Bradley Lazarus a free role behind Ross and Green.
Within 15 minutes, it was clear this simply was not working - PSV’s wingers were being fed the ball at every opportunity, forcing our midfield wide to cover and then exploiting the gaps down the Lions middle.
Lions reorganised into a 4-5-1, with Lazarus and Green dropping back wide and this stemmed the tide but Lions continued to be forced back on the defensive.
For all the opposition possession, however, it was not until the 30th minute that home keepr Mark Brahams was called on to make a save, diving smartly to his left to parry a snap shot from 12 yards.
Samuels and Hyman, at the heart of the defence, were immense, David and Josh Newman gave fast wingers no time and room and the midfield five worked tirelessly to win the loose ball.
At the other end, Lions were creating very little themselves – Becker’s curling free kick across the face of the goal about the only real threat.
And then, on 40 minutes, Lions had a slice of luck that their endeavour, if not their quality of play, deserved. Lazarus released Green, whose early shot was well saved. The ball found its way to Joel Ross, who crossed from the left wing and the PSV centre half, under no pressure, headed into his own goal.
The call at half time was to improve quality on the ball while maintaining the workrate. The excellent Samuels and Josh Newman set the tone from the back, creating space and finding teammates. Becker also was taking more time on the ball, spreading the play wide and driving forward to join attacks.
Injuries then forced Ross and Reeves out of the match, replaced by Revivo and Joselyn. After 65 minutes, Lazarus made way for Julius but, within a few minutes of this last substitution, Joselyn took a kick on the ankle, off the ball and could not continue.
Reduced to10 men, however, Lions seemed in control. The back four continued to deal superbly with everything that came their way and Revivo and Julius were proving a real handful in the wide positions. Becker’s quick free-kick was turned in by Julius but the club linesman’s late flag signalled offside.
PSV then lost their man advantage when the right winger, who had earlier been booked, was sent off after another late lunge but, as full time approached and the game looked safe, a corner from the right was turned in at the near post and the scores were level.
Park Street Village sensed a winner and pressed forward but Lions remained composed and, deep into stoppage time, won a free kick some 40 yards from goal. Becker stepped forward and smashed the ball into the goal, off the underside of the bar, with barely enough time remaining for the game to be restarted.
The Reserves have played better and lost this season but this result was ground out, against a good and very physical side, thanks to levels of focus, commitment and team ethic not always associated with this Club.
The Lions spent much of the game defending but restricted the opposition to only two shots on target. Lions weren’t allowed to play the way they wanted but, because all 14 players worked tirelessly and refused to take a backwards step, we earned a result. Hopefully this can be a lesson well learnt.
Lions reserves: Mark Brahams, Warren Leader, Frank Hyman, Dan Green, Tim Becker, Joel Ross (sub: Jeremy Julius), Josh Newman, Dave Newman, Sam Reeves (sub: Adam Joselyn), Paul Samuels, Bradley Lazarus (sub: Shai Revivo)
Man of the match: Paul Samuels