SPARTAN SOUTH MIDLANDS LEAGUE PREMIER DIVISION
LONDON LIONS 2 AFC DUNSTABLE 4
London Lions left the Hemel pitch after 90 minutes without the result but it was a hugely encouraging performance from the youngest first team to ever take to the pitch in a first team fixture.
With the scores level at 2-2 going into the final 15 minutes, Lions were undone by an extremely lucky third when the ball fell fortuitously into the path of a AFC Dunstable forward following a terrific block from Adam Myeroff and an injury-time penalty when Dan Lee was adjudged to have brought down a visiting player in the box.
The Lions squad contained six players under the age of 18 including two 16-year-old's and they all gave a tremendous account of themselves. It was extremely pleasing to watch a group so young and inexperienced pass and keep the ball so confidently.
The 4-2 score line certainly flattered the visitors and certainly didn’t tell the whole story. Having gone two goals down in the first 25 minutes Lions looked like they were in for another tough night.
The impressive Jake Rinsler, 16, made his first team debut at right-back but was dispatched into centre-half after 20 minutes following a hamstring injury to Jake Gottlieb. The injury to Gottlieb meant another 16 year-old Ben Winters also made his first team debut coming off the bench and again gave an industrious performance. There were also debuts for three U21 Wingate & Finchley players in 18 year-old Ryan Sellers who was outstanding on the night at left-back, 17 year-old Sam Sollosi who also produced a performance far beyond his years and 18 year-old Joe Sharpe whose tenacious energy and decent delivery caused problems all night. The final debutant Kian Siabi capped a good night with two excellent goals.
Dan Lee, Ricky Engleman, Adam Myeroff, Ben Ellis and young Nicky Lewis completed the remainder of the side.
With so many changes to the side one could be forgiven for thinking it was going to be difficult to get any fluency early on, but the side settled far quicker than expected and showed their visitors that even with a side so young they were going to have to fight for every ball.
Lions fell behind on 15 minutes. A rasping shot from 20 yards from the impressive BJ Christie left Lee no chance, it was one of those goals you just had to sit back and applaud.
Just as Lions started to get some rhythm into their game they found themselves 2-0 down on 25 minutes. A 50-yard ball over the top of the Lions defence left Myeroff and Christie one-on-one, the forward just managed to get to the ball first and his pace allowed him to break free and tuck the ball clinically past an exposed Lee.
At this point the inexperienced Lions team could quite easily have dropped their heads and rolled over, instead they rolled up their sleeves and carried on taking the game to their opponents. The outstanding Sellers was a constant threat down the left and the tidy work of Lewis and Sollosi who did not give the ball away once all night continued to carry a threat.
The hard work and pure persistence eventually paid off five minutes before half-time. Good interchange play from Ellis and Lewis allowed the latter to show great footwork and make space for himself driving past two Dunstable defenders in the box. Lewis delivered an inch-perfect cross along the floor into the path of the hard working Siabi who tucked the ball away for his first goal in a Lions shirt.
The half time interval probably came at the wrong time for the Lions as they were certainly in the ascendency, but the 15-minute break would allow them to regroup and tweak a few areas that needed adjustments.
Lions certainly carried on where they left off as the second half got under way. Sharpe, Engleman and Sollosi driving forward and at the heart of everything good going forward for the Lions. Myeroff, Sellers, Winters and Rinsler excelling at the back.
Following a sustained period of pressure, Lions were finally rewarded with an equaliser and deservedly so. A cross from Ellis into the visitors box caused confusion and after a scramble which saw Gold’s scissor kick ricochet off a Dunstable defender the loose ball fell invitingly for Siabi who didn’t need a second invitation to bury his second goal of the night.
It really was game on and it favoured the home side until 15 minutes from time when they were dealt an extremely harsh piece of bad luck. Dunstable broke down the right and the winger delivered a lovely cross which Myeroff did fantastically well to cut out, but the ball diverted incredibly fortuitously to the one player Lions didn’t want it to fall for and the lucky player tapped the ball home from three yards.
It was incredibly harsh on Lions who had done brilliantly to get themselves back on level terms from two down.
As the game reached its climax Lions had another chance to level but Ellis’s shot across the keeper narrowly missed the far post. With the game two minutes into injury time AFC Dunstable were awarded a penalty after Lee brought down the forward. The penalty taker placed the ball home to make it 4-2, game over.
Lions manager Tony Gold had nothing but praise for his side's efforts, adding: "We every nearly pulled off what could have been one of the best results in Lions history tonight. Given that we had six players all under 18 on the pitch and at 2-2 we had AFC Dunstable rocking it was a phenomenal performance. I was genuinely delighted with the performance even though the result didn’t go our way.
"The young lads showed great bravery and played with no fear, it was really pleasing. The most pleasing aspect was our ball retention and distribution. In the last eight weeks we have had players playing that just haven’t done the basics well enough and it’s been highly frustrating.
"Yes the result is disappointing, three of their four goals could have been avoided, but for me, the most pleasing aspect of the night was the performance and maturity shown by some very young lads playing at this level for the very first time. It has been a long while since I enjoyed watching a game of football as much as I enjoyed tonight, result apart.
"All the debutants, Ryan Sellers, Sam Sollosi, Kian Siabi, Jake Rinsler, Joe Sharpe and Ben Winters can all be extremely proud and pleased with their contributions tonight, especially Sellers for his energy and Siabi for two great goals.
"With a bit more luck which seems to have deserted us at the moment we could quite easily have got a point tonight if not all three.
"I am still confident if we can get a bit more consistency in the 11 players that take to the field and get the likes of Michael Sacks, David Soutar and Guy Morris back more regularly that it won’t be long before results start going our way."