Esterkin sparkles as Raiders go clear
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David Esterkin was the star as Raiders B took another step towards promotion with a hard fought but ultimately comfortable win at The Ark against Oakwood B.
With Adam Posner, Danny Bloom and Anthony Goodmaker still injured and Josh Fineman, Andrew McMaster, Sam Isaacs absent, Raiders were able to recall Mike Hershman, Gilad Kestenbaum, Simon Buchler, Ben Sheldon and Jeremy Elster. They were joined by JJ Spiro and Joe Tankel - who was in the squad for the first time in two years following recovering from his long-term knee injury.
Oakwood always present a physical challenge but Raiders have shown remarkable adaptability this season, grinding out results when needed, playing flowing football on other occasions, and in the first half they showed a physical toughness not always associated with the men in Orange.
Chances were few and far between in the opening half, David Simnock turning away a pile-driver from the right hand edge of the box for a corner at one end, whilst Nicky Woolf's acrobatic effort was well held by the Oakwood keeper before he then denied Esterkin who had been put through one-on-one.
After a goalless first 45, Raiders came out on fire after the break. Within three minutes they had the lead. A slick interchange of passing through the middle ended with a foul on Hershman 35 yards out on the left had side. Woolf whipped in a delightful free kick and Sheldon ghosted in at the far post to turn the ball home first time.
The confidence flowed through Raiders with Kenstenbaum, Buchler and Esterkin playing some exquisite one-touch push and run football. Another five-man one-touch move was abruptly ended when Buchler was upended on 53 minutes some 25 yards out just to the left of the "D". Woolf looked for all the world like he was set to whip the ball around the wall towards the far corner. Instead the striker struck a sumptuous effort up over the wall and down in to the top corner just inside the near post.
On the hour mark the game was over as a contest when an inside out ball from Samuelson down the left picked out the run from Esterkin, the man from Manchester carried the ball in to the box before nonchalantly flicking the ball over the keeper to make it 3-0.
The goal was the cue for a double change with Rafi Addlestone and Samuelson replaced by Elster and Tankel, the latter partnering Woolf up front with Hershman slotting in on the left. Within minutes Hershman was on the end of a slick one-two with Kestenbaum and Esterkin before slipping Woolf through, but for once the hot-shot marksman missed the target.
Kestenbaum was replaced by Richard Bloom with 70 minutes on the clock, allowing Jonathan Shapiro to move in to midfield where he helped the league leaders close out the game with minimal fuss despite Esterkin being denied by another one on one save from the keeper.
Raiders manager Jonathan Adelman was once again delighted with his team. "We started slowly today, but when we hit our stride we carved out chance after chance and some of the pass and move football today was a joy to watch.
"We defended well today as well, and its always nice to keep a clean sheet. Today was also important as it saw the return of the Tank after two seasons out - we've been careful to take it slowly with him, but we know the quality he brings and we hope to get more games in him before the end of the season."
During the week Raiders were awarded the points from the postponed game against Redbridge, meaning they now have 29 points from 11 games. Adelman commented: "We beat Redbridge earlier in the season at Fairlop and we'd have fancied our chances of beating them again at home had the Committee required us to. To have this many points already is a testament to the strength and depth of our squad, but we know we have seven huge games to come if we are to realise our objectives for the season.
"We have achieved nothing yet and all the boys are hungry to make sure their hard work to date gets the reward they deserve."