Tankel late show saves NLR
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Joe Tankel preserved Raiders’ unbeaten league record with almost the last kick of the game at Brunel as FC Team B belied their position at the foot of the table to take a well-deserved point from the home of the league leaders.
Missing Matt Greene, Ben Sheldon, Josh Fineman, Danny Bloom, Simon Buchler, Jeremy Elster and Gilad Kestenbaum, Raiders shuffled their pack with Jonny Blain making his first start since the opening day of the season. Sam Issacs, Anthony Goodmaker, Adam Posner and David Esterkin also returned to the starting line-up, with Tankel earning a spot on the bench for only the second time since his return from long term injury.
In a scrappy first half, Raiders had the first effort of note after 20 minutes when a long diagonal ball picked out Mike Hershman on the right side of the box, his first-time effort was destined for the roof of the net before Team player-manager David Gordon produced a superb finger-tip save to turn the ball over.
With Team camped deep and closing down the Raiders midfield, chances were at a premium with Raiders unable to pick decisive throughballs and Team with one up front unable to hold the ball up front long enough to create any chances of note.
It was no surprise therefore that the opening goal came from a set-piece. Posner’s right-wing corner went all the way to Hershman on the far side of the box, the pacy winger clipped a dangerous ball back towards the far post where veteran striker Blain was on hand to head home.
The goal promted Team out of their shell and twice in two minutes Raiders’ stopper David Simnock was called in to action, firstly with a superb reaction save from a header and then diving full-length to tip a low 20-yard drive round the post.
Andrew McMaster replaced Blain at the break, with Posner moving alongside Nicky Woolf up front, but it was Team who started the second period strongly and after a sustained period of pressure, they equalised in the 55th minute with a simply stunning long-range effort from Daniel Woolfe which rocketed in to the top corner.
Rob Samuelson replaced Isaacs on the hour as Raiders pressed to regain the lead. Samuelson clipped a delightful pass in to the path of Esterkin but whilst he held off Josh Kay, he couldn’t get a strong shot away and Gordon gathered with ease. FC Team promptly went up the other end of the pitch and took the lead through a Mitch Lassman header.
Raiders were stunned in to action, Samuelson delivered an inch-perfect free-kick, Goodmaker applied the header, but with the ball flying in to the bottom corner, Gordon pulled off an outstanding save.
Tankel replaced Jonathan Shapiro as Raiders pinned FC Team in their own half. Twice the men in orange had chances to level, but first Hershman and then Woolf thrashed over when clean through. Then, just as they had done on the same ground against FC Team C, Raiders snatched a dramatic late, late equaliser. The Team defence failed to clear a cross, the ball dropping out of the sky was met on the volley 25 yards out by Rafi Addlestone, the shot was flying wide until Tankel poked out his boot to divert the ball inches inside the post to send his teammates wild. Ref Stuart Ansher blew the final whilst immediately after the restart.
The passing fluency which has been a hallmark of Raiders’ play this season was absent as FC Team played a high-tempo pressing game which the men in orange struggled to deal with.
Raiders Manager Jonathan Adelman cut a frustrated figure “We’ve had very few bad days at the office this season, but today was certainly one of those days. Usually we like teams pressing us as we back our passing and movement to open up the opposition when they leave gaps, it just didn’t happen for us today.
"I couldn’t have argued if FC Team had held out for all three points but all credit to the boys, they kept knocking at the door and eventually got the goal we needed to keep our unbeaten record intact.
"Everyone is delighted for Joe - it’s been a long road back to fitness after his knee injury. On his day he is one of the best centre-backs at the club – he also has a habit of popping up with vital goals a habit I’m glad he hasn’t lost during his two years out!"
FC Team B player-manager David Gordon told JC Sport: "I did not expect to come away from the game feeling like we had dropped two points. We deserved to win the game and everyone was absolutely gutted at the final whistle, which came about 10 seconds after their equaliser went in.
"I am proud of all the boys though, as they were absolutely superb and put in an amazing performance. I think Raiders proved why they are top of the league though because despite being outplayed for the majority of the second half, they were still able to come away with a point.
"Sometimes you get the luck at the top and sadly when you’re at the bottom it seems to go against you."