SPARTAN SOUTH MIDLANDS LEAGUE PREMIER DIVISION
LEVERSTOCK GREEN 3 LONDON LIONS 1
A late winner from Leverstock Green denied London Lions a winning start in their first ever game in the Spartan South Midlands Premier Division.
Lions were virtually unrecognisable to the side that won the Division One Championship the previous season. Five members of that successful squad remain and it showed as after a good start Lions gradually deteriorated and with 20 minutes remaining were living on memories.
With no pre-season behind them and no pre-season friendlies of any note, the 2-1 defeat was in some respects a victory because things could have been far worse. Credit to manager Tony Gold and coach Steve Grenfell for getting the side organised but that was the best they could have hoped for.
The match itself was a good game to watch, with both sides doing their best to play football on the ground. Lions were a far cry away from this time last season when they travelled to Welwyn Garden City and hammered them 3-0.
However, Lions came out roaring as they took the lead in the third minute. A corner from Ben Joseph found Adam Bolle on the edge of the box, and he tried to curl a shot into the net, but Ben Ellis met it inside the six- yard box and diverted the ball past David Bailey.
Leverstock began to play their way into the game, and in the 8th minute Connor Deadman had their first effort at goal when he tried a shot from distance which was comfortably gathered by Lions keeper Mario Cenolli.
Leverstock’s Davies was just wide from a free kick outside the box on 20 minutes, but the equaliser came 10 minutes later. It started with Adam Myeroff squandering possession cheaply and with Leverstock’s Davies showing patience on the ball in midfield before he released Mark Shadbolt on the overlap down the left. Shadbolt's cross found its way to Stewart King, who couldn't get a shot away initially, but after running across the box and exchanging passes with Shadbolt a space opened up for King to rifle home a low shot for 1-1.
Lions might have gone back in front on the stroke of half time as Joseph was through on goal and tried to lob Bailey, but it landed just over the bar. The second half started with the scores still level, and again Lions had an early chance as Joseph found Bolle, who had a run at goal but saw his low shot saved by Bailey.
The game could have gone either way after that. Midway through the half Lions had two near misses, firstly with a cross from Jordan Marks which went across the face of goal on 69 minutes, and then two minutes later as Marks set up Sam Reeves with a shooting chance inside the box, but he fired his shot over the bar.
Eventually though as Lions tired drastically, it was Leverstock who made the breakthrough, two minutes from time. Lions paid heavily as Michael Sacks gave the ball away in their own half, not needing a second invitation Chad Pinching, who had only been on the field six minutes, threaded a great pass to put Stewart King through on goal, and the former Tring Athletic player showed the composure to slot the ball past Cenolli for his second of the game, clinching victory and leaving Lions with that awful feeling of having worked so hard but getting nothing for their endeavours.
Lions manager Tony Gold commented: "It is simple, at the moment and probably for most of the season we will be up against it. We are a completely different animal this season, nowhere near the levels of quality and depth we had last year. It is a big shame, but we move on. This is a transition in the clubs history, survival is the name of the game this year, and that throws up new unique challenges.
"We are like Carl Frotch a super middleweight fighting in the heavyweight division. We will be able to go a few rounds but more often than not we will eventually get knocked out. We have 42 fights and hopefully we will be able to win enough on points to stay up.
"Imagine Man Utd losing eight influential players and replacing them with division two players? That’s the enormity of what we face this season.
"From one to fourteen the lads gave everything today, Steve and I couldn’t have asked for more in terms of their work rate and endeavour. Over the 90 minutes we were probably good for a point but poor mistakes at this level will cost you and they did today.
"We roll onto Wednesday at AFC Dunstable looking forward to the challenge. I have ordered a big bus, coach and tank and had a word with the governor up stairs, he owes me one."
Lions: Mario Cenolli, Nicky Landesberg, Michael Sacks, Ricky Engleman, David Souter (sub: Nicky Lewis), Adam Myeroff, Ben Joseph (sub: Sam Reeves), TJ Keterman, Ben Ellis, Jordan Marks, Adam Bolle
Goal: Ben Ellis