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JC MSFL Division 2:
Southgate Harmen A 1 NW Neasden C 4
Stephen Bloom hit his fifth hat-trick of the season and his second in consecutive weeks to help North West Neasden C to a stunning victory over Division Two leaders Southgate Harmen A.
Played at the home of Harmen, Ashmole School, where the hosts were previously unbeaten this season and tipped by many to continue that trend today, Neasden simply outplayed them in every aspect of the game to see them take four points from them from the season, scoring eight goals in the process.
Neasden kicked off knowing that their nearest challenges for second place, Red Sea, had already been handed a walkover over Harmen’s B team and the pressure was firmly on the visitors to maintain their recent excellent form of the past two weeks following double-header wins over Red Sea themselves and a 4-1 defeat of Faithfold last week.
Following a gripping 4-4 draw at Bricket Wood in the first encounter in February, this match had the makings of another classic with promotion to Division One to play for.
The hard, bouncy and uneven surface at Ashmole did not suit Harmen’s usual fast-paced passing game and it was the visitors who started the game firmly on the front foot. Just under the quarter hour mark, Neasden had something to show for their encouraging start as a David Marcus free kick gave them the lead. Both Marcus and Benji Dymant stood over the ball a full 30 yards from goal before the latter left it to the former to curl a delightful shot into the corner of the net past Harmen goalkeeper, Ziggy Lichman. Critics would say that perhaps Lichman should have done better with the free kick but, together with Marcus’s excellent technique and a timely bobble (for Neasden) just in front of him, there was little Lichman could really do.
This did little to rouse Harmen and rather than go on the offensive for the equaliser, it was the visitors who sensed that a second may not be far away. And it duly arrived just five minutes later.
Marcus’s long throw, which caused problems for the Harmen defence all game, found the head of Neasden captain Joel Hilton, and his flick-on found an unmarked Bloom in the six-yard box to stab the ball into the roof of the net to double Neasden’s advantage.
Neasden were dominating the game and with Harmen firmly on the ropes, they made it three to put them in dreamland shortly before the half hour mark. Ricky Stolzman intercepted a Harmen through ball and his clearance bounced over the flat-footed Harmen defence and in to the path of Bloom. Seeing Lichman off his line, the Neasden number 10 sent a delicious lob over him from 25 yards and into the roof of the net to extend Neasden’s lead and reflect the superiority they had over their hosts. So hard was the pitch that had Bloom’s lob landed before the line, it would have doubtless bounced over the crossbar but he judged it to perfection to score his 22nd goal of the season.
Harmen found their way into the game towards the end of the half as they started to dominate possession but did not force Neasden goalkeeper Simon Beresford into a save of any real difficulty.
Playing five across the midfield, and with the central triumvirate of Paul Andrews, Gary Dymant and Ben Wulwick not affording Harmen any time on the ball, Harmen could only resort to long-distance attempts and Neasden played out the remainder of the half comfortably to maintain their three-goal advantage.
As the second half kicked off, Neasden knew they would have to withstand some fierce Harmen pressure but they continued to keep the hosts at bay with Hilton and Adam Levesen outstanding at the heart of their defence.
Harmen’s first clear chance of the game did arrive on the hour mark as Alex Bourne used his strength on the edge of the box to outmuscle and spin away from Levesen only for Beresford to deny him with a super save from a one-on-one situation.
However, it was not long before Beresford was beaten as Harmen gave themselves some hope with a penalty just before the midway point of the second half. Dan Beckwith was caught late by Wulwick and skipper Jonathan Hirshler made no mistake from the spot, coolly despatching the ball into bottom right-hand corner, sending Beresford the wrong way.
Harmen sensed that they had given themselves a real chance to grab something from the game and the next goal would prove crucial. It soon arrived but went to the boys in yellow and blue with a counter-attack of the highest quality.
After another winning Hilton header in the Neasden defence, Marcus played an inch-perfect pass on the volley into the path of Bloom who had held his onside position by remaining inside his own half and was now bearing down on Lichman. It seemed the Neasden striker may have delayed too long as he took several touches but he finished with precision as he lashed the ball across the hapless Lichman into the far corner of the net via the inside of the post to complete a memorable hat-trick and take his goal tally to 23 in just eleven matches for the season.
This sucker punch took the wind out of the Harmen sails and Neasden could have inflicted more punishment had substitute Nick Davis not headed narrowly wide from a Bloom cross before Bloom himself saw an audacious lob curl just the wrong side of the upright.
A sensational win then for Neasden – manager Melvyn Beresford got his formation and tactics spot on – and with the top three now separated only by four points, the battle for promotion seems destined to go all the way with just four match days remaining. But for today, it was all about Neasden.
Neasden: S. Beresford; R. Stolzman, J. Hilton, A. Levesen, J. Green; D. Marcus (sub: M. Simons), G. Dymant, P. Andrews, B. Wulwick (sub: N. Davis), B. Dymant; S. Bloom