SPARTAN SOUTH MIDLANDS LEAGUE DIVISION ONE
LONDON LIONS 2 CRANFIELD UNITED 1
London Lions made history on Thursday night as they became the first Jewish team to win promotion into the South Midlands League Premier Division.
Tony Gold’s men knew that victory over Cranfield United at Hemel Hempstead FC would see them cement a top two finish. And the manager has now challenged his players to go on and win the title.
The Lions have come through a relentless schedule of fixture – often playing three or four games a week over the past couple of months – and that made last night’s achievement all the more satisfying.
Goals from Sam Sloma and defender Michael Sacks, who was the man-of-the-match, sparked wild celebrations.
The final score between the Lions and Cranfield Utd was 2-1, and it was those three points that Lions needed for Tony Gold’s class of 2013 to secure their highest ever level of football.
Celebrations were relatively tame for all concerned as there is still the league to be won but that didn’t detract from what was an outstanding achievement by a side that only gained promotion to this league three years ago.
The first shot of the game came inside the eighth minute when Josh Kennet found his self with the ball in space, testing the visiting keeper from 15 yards out. Lions then conceded a free kick wide out of the right, but the defence held firm and Mario Cenolli, who had returned in the Lions goal, punched well to clear the danger.
Sloma was next to try from distance, but the shot was always falling wide and then became irrelevant as he was flagged for offside. Then a long throw from Craig Ellis won Lions a corner that Kennet whipped toward the front post, but the Cranfield keeper collected.
Cenolli had to be at his best to save at the near post from Cranfield’s dangerous no. 4, palming across the area for Andy Glynne to clear. Cranfield soaked up the pressure as Lions moved the ball around in the visitors third and that possession eventually led to the opening goal.
A delicate pass from Kennet to Sloma found the latter in acres of space just inside the Cranfield box. Turning unopposed, Sloma had the whole goal to aim for before nonchalantly tucking the ball home.
Lions then nearly doubled that lead when Sacks managed to pull away from his marker in the box but head the ball over the bar after another great delivery from Kennet.
Dean Nyman then delivered a teasing cross which Paul Hakim just could not reach on the stretch to convert goalwards.
Lions continued to keep the ball with authority, but had to be wary of Cranfield’s goal threat as they always looked dangerous on the break.
As the half was coming to an end Lions doubled their lead. A terrific corner from Kennet was this time met purposefully by the impressive Sacks and his towering header had too much power for the Cranfield keeper to keep out.
The restart brought a signal of intent as Cranfield immediately worked the ball into the Lions box through no. 11, but his cross was cleared by the covering Adam Myeroff and the danger was averted.
The game then lost its rhythm completely as the referee continuously stopped the game for menial matters, stopping both sides building any fluidity. Lions then made several changes bringing on all three subs as the game headed towards its climax.
The visitors set up a grandstand finish after scoring the goal of the game as a terrific passing move ended with a great finish to halve the deficit.
Lions were starting to get frustrated by the visitors, with Cranfield absorbing the pressure well. Cranfield put the ball into the Lions danger area on a number of occasions in the final minutes, but Sacks, in particular, was happy to deal with the aerial threat. Both Lions centre backs, including skipper Guy Morris, had enjoyed a comfortable game.
With stoppage time providing no further chances, the referee’s whistle brought jubilation, Lions were promoted to the Spartan South Midlands League.
Jubilant Lions manager Tony Gold said: “The last three weeks have been quite busy - we have another game to prepare for on Saturday so I will probably catch my breath some time at the end of the next week.
“Most people watch history happening. Tonight the lads went out there and made history. The realisation came at the final whistle when Daz (Yarlett) came up to me and said 'that’s it we’re up'.
“Our aim tonight was to be promoted, so we are over the first hurdle. The next big target is to win the title, and we’re desperate to do that."
Lions: Mario Cenolli, Adam Myeroff, Guy Morris (capt), Michael Sacks, Andy Glynne, Daniel Stanton (sub: David Soutar), Craig Ellis, Sam Sloma (sub: Ben Ellis), Josh Kennet, Dean Nyman, Paul Hakim (sub: Adam Bolle). Subs not used: Ricky Engleman
Goals: Sam Sloma, Michael Sacks
Man-of-the-match: Michael Sacks
LEAGUE TABLE (40-game league season)
1. London Lions Pl. 36, W. 29, D. 4, L. 3, F. 115, A. 30, Pts. 91
2. Hoddesdon Town Pl. 38, W. 27, D. 4, L. 7, F. 102, A. 51, Pts. 85
3. Cockfosters Pl. 36, W. 26, D. 5, L. 5, F. 113, A. 96, Pts. 83