Three cheers for Raiders B
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NLR B took another big step towards the title with a comfortable win over Faithfold in an early-morning kick-off at Brunel.
Matt Green, Rob Samuelson and Nicky Woolf sent Jonathan Adelman's men 11 points clear at the top.
Three goals in 18 first half minutes gave Raiders the three points to put them 11 points clear at the top of Division Two on a day which ended with all three Raiders teams top of their respective leagues.
With the wet weather putting paid to games at Chase Lodge, the fixture was moved to the 3G at Brunel with an "eye-watering" 9am kick off. The early start didn’t seem to bother Raiders whose first-half display was "almost perfect," according to boss Jonathan Adelman who also paid tribute to both club’s efforts to get the game on.
Despite missing a host of players including Adam Posner, David Esterkin, Simon Buchler, Gilad Kestenbaum and Rafi Addlestone, the men in Orange continued their fine start to 2014 with a compelling exhibition of pass and move football.
The opening quarter of an hour saw incessant Raiders’ pressure, a Ben Sheldon pile-driver from 25 yards flashed inches over, Nicky Woolf forced a smart save from Dan Kosky before the two Raiders stalwarts combined with Sheldon’s through ball flicked just wide by Woolf.
Danny Bloom’s corners had been causing havoc but the massed green and white ranks repelled the pressure until after 25 minutes the deadlock was finally broken. Another Bloom corner was delivered with devilish pace and bend, the run from Matt Green was perfect and his powerful header bulged the roof of the net for his second goal of the season.
Green, whose Raiders career has been peppered by long injury lay-offs has enjoyed an extended healthy run this season and Adelman believes he is in the form of his life - "he reads the game so well and rarely comes out second best in duels with strikers, he is one of the rocks on which our season has been built".
Despite claims by promotion hopeful’s Redbridge earlier in the season that l’Orange played "hoofball", the 36th minute build-up to the second goal was a thing of beauty with more than 20 passes exchanged before Richard Bloom, Jeremy Elster and Danny Bloom combined to release Woolf in the inside left channel, a deft Cryuff turn, a drop of the shoulder and a trademark Woolf shot followed, Kosky made a superb save, but the ball fell at the feet of Rob Samuelson who gleefully smashed home for his fourth of the campaign.
Just before the break, Raiders’ dominance was rewarded with a fine third - swift combination play down the right from Sheldon, Hershman and Samuelson led to the winger slipping the ball to Woolf some 20 yards from goal on the edge of the “D”, the striker opened his body and fizzed a delightful curled low shot inside the near post – the archetypal “square + R2” finish! Woolf now has 16 goals in all competitions.
Faithfold had struggled to mount serious pressure in the first period, with a long-range effort from Doron Hershkorn which flew just over the only shot of note.
After the break Rob Shooman’s men reshuffled their pack, pushed men forward and had much more of the game, without unduly troubling David Simnock in the Raiders goal.
On the hour mark Jonny Blain made his long awaited return to league action and the veteran striker could have bagged himself a brace, first working a yard of space only to shoot straight at Kosky, then seeing his firm header from fellow sub Sam Isaacs’ cross deflected agonisingly wide. Isaacs had a good chance himself, but could not hit the target from Sheldon’s cross.
Josh Fineman also made his return from injury in the latter stages as Raiders changed shape and saw out the game to record their sixth clean sheet of the season.
NLR boss Jonathan Adelman told JC Sport: "The first 45 is probably the best we’ve played all season, our passing and movement off the ball has been improving as the season has gone on.
"Since the turn of the year we’ve played some really nice stuff, our defending has been top notch and we’ve been rewarded with three good wins.
"FC Team and Redbridge are now the only teams who can catch us and, after this win, they know they will probably have to win all of their remaining games to do so.
"There will be no let up from us in our final three games the boys are very motivated to make history and complete an unbeaten league season."
Commenting on the stellar form of all three Raiders teams, Adelman added: "There is a long way to go this season and no-one at the Club is getting ahead of themselves, but I’ll certainly be buying a copy of the JC this week – it will be quite something to see all three Raiders teams sitting proudly on top of their respective divisions.
Faithfold no. 2 Dan Yoss told JC Sport: "Sunday didn't go to plan - we just didn't turn up ... maybe the 9am start got to us.
"Credit to Raiders, a top outfit. They'll be in the Prem in not too long if they carry on like this."