London Lions started 2011 in disastrous fashion after suffering their heaviest defeat of the season.
They went down 5-0 at Hoddesdon Town but the scoreline in this South Midlands League Division One clash does not start to tell the story as the Lions bossed the game in terms of possession and chances.
The Lions started the match in sixth place but they were left to rue a string of missed chances and an inspired performance by home keeper Tom Bullock against a Hoddesdon team playing its first competitive game since November 27.
The Lions carried on the good form shown from the previous match against Cranfield United which incidentally they also lost having dominated for 90 per cent of the game.
The two games had very similar circumstances and outcomes, Lions failed to take gilt-edged chances and paid the ultimate price.
Almost from the kick-off, London Lions went on the offensive and pinned their hosts in their own half for long periods. The visitors should have been two up inside 15 minutes. First, Daren Bern went through one-on-one with Hoddesdon keeper Tom Bullock who pulled off a fine save, and then top-scorer James Gershfield shot wide when also clean through.
Guy Morris then headed over after a perfectly delivered corner from TJ Keterman when the defender should have done better.
As has happened more than once this season, Lions’s poor finishing came back to haunt them.
With Hoddesdon virtually camped inside their own half and under constant pressure for 30 minutes, the hosts scored with their first worthwhile attack. There appeared to be no real danger to the Lions goal when No. 10 Sammy Vanderpeer picked up the ball from a great Tom Cowell pass some 35 yards from the goalline and to the left of centre, but his sweet left-foot volley sent the ball flying over Danny Berliner and it nestled in the top corner of the net at the far post.
The Lions seemed undeterred and continued to look the much better side. Two minutes after going behind, the visitors had a golden opportunity to strike straight back, but having been played into space in front of the Hoddesdon goal, Gershfield was thwarted by a great block from Bullock, who then collected the ball from the rebound as Damien Thomas came in to make a second phase tackle.
As the half wore on Lions continued to dominate but still failed to convert two more glorious chances as Daran Bern was once again denied by the excellent Hoddesdon keeper, and Andy Glynne blasted wide when with a bit more composure should have done better.
Half time came and went and surely it was only a matter of time before Lions levelled with the amount of chances they were carving out. And after starting the second period how they pretty much played the entire first period they were dealt another blow which ultimately proved fatal.
Hoddesdon’s management had obviously told his players to shoot on sight they did on the second occasion after 55 minutes. This time 30 yards out Vanderpeer converted another hopeful bullet which again caught Berliner out but this time the Lions keeper did not even move as the ball once again smashed the back of the goal.
To say London Lions were shell-shocked would be an understatement, but they carried on playing some good football, and pressed further up the field to try and rescue something from the game.
With 30 minutes left, the Lions changed formation to 3-4-3 introducing Lee Cash to see if he could take one or two of the chances that Lions continued to create. However, the reshuffle left the Lions open to the counter attack which they were punished from a further three times for the remainder of the game.
The extra space behind the visitors goal allowed Steve Wakam a little more freedom down the right flank, and he broke clear and fired in a fierce 18-yard effort that Lions’ Danny Berliner did well to palm away to his left for a corner. From the resulting set piece, Wingrove swung the ball towards the far post where Wakam rose well and under pressure headed just wide of the left hand post.
Calamity struck for the Lions just after the hour when defender David Soutar attempted effort to cut out a cross from livewire Wingrove, but instead, he diverted the ball into his own net..
With his charges now three goals to the good, Andy Crawford decided to ring the changes, and he brought on Dean Barker at the expense of Tom Cowell. Barker had been sidelined with a knee injury for five months and was itching to get back into the harness, and it wasn’t long before he was in the action. Barker played a great pass inside to Vandepeer who helped the ball on and into the path of Josh Smith whose fine effort just cleared the Lions’ crossbar.
Although he had only been on the pitch for a few minutes, Barker was already starting to get into good attacking positions and was giving the Lions defence a hard time. Then, with 17 minutes still on the clock, Sammy Vandepeer’s clever headed back- flick from a cross wide on the left played the ball into the path of Barker who coolly took his time before slotting it low past Berliner That was certainly the strike to seal the result for the Lilywhites but, London Lions were still going in search of a consolation goal or two.
As the game entered the final quarter of an hour the play flowed from end to end as both sides went in search of goals. Just a minute after Lions had struck the Hoddesdon crossbar as he tried to convert a cross from the right, Wingrove played in a low cross from the left and found Vandepeer whose first-time half volley crashed against the bar.
Having run his socks off for fully eighty-six minutes, Wingrove gave way to Alfie Branch who was making his debut for the Lilywhites. Still Lions were gamely going forward at every opportunity looking for that first goal. Gershfield looked odds-on to grab a consolation in the last minute when he was put clear by a great through pass only to be denied by another superb save from Bullock, diving to his left to concede a corner.
Hoddesdon failed to deal properly with the kick and inside a minute of his previous save, Bullock dived full-stretch to his right to palm away a terrific strike from Daniel Stanton.
Just to rub salt into the wound, Hoddesdon cleared the resulting corner upfield where the ball landed in the path of Vandepeer who held off a couple of challenges and tucked the ball inside where Barker was on hand to slot home his second Hoddesdon goal of the season in only 25 minutes of play.
There were nearly seven minutes of added time to be played, and still London Lions were pressing for their first goal, but by now the Hoddesdon defence was determined to maintain the clean sheet for their keeper. Further chances also fell to Vandepeer and Barker, but neither was able to clinch a morale-boosting hat-trick.
Summing up an incredibly frustrating afternoon, Lions manager Tony Gold said: “The result suggests we were smashed but that simply wasn’t the case. Bottom line is simple, football is about goals, goals win football matches. Even at the highest level as Sunderland found out to their cost a few weeks ago where they had 33 chances in front of goal and lost, if you don’t take your chances you can’t expect to win games.
“We had 15 good chances to score and took none, Hoddesdon had six chances to score with two of those barely half chances and took five. In the end that was the difference between the two sides.
“Similarly, you can’t account for what happened for their first two goals. Our performance overall was good but the result shocking. The higher up the football pyramid you go the more individual weaknesses are highlighted. I have said it before and I will say it again, for Lions to compete at this level week in and week out collectively we need to be at our best in all departments and individually players awareness, concentration, discipline and ruthlessness at both ends needs to improve otherwise this certainly won’t be the last time this happens.”
Lions: Danny Berliner, Aron Barnes, Guy Morris, Adam Myeroff, Tony Gold (sub: Lee Cash), David Soutar, Daniel Stanton, TJ Keterman, Daran Bern, James Gershfield, Andy Glynne (sub: James Stanley)