MOLTEN SPARTAN SOUTH MIDLANDS LEAGUE DIVISION ONE
London Lions 3 St. Albans City Reserves 2
London Lions equalled last season's final points tally of 64 with a 3-2 home victory over St Albans City, and they still have five games to play.
After a torrid first three months to the season, Lions have turned into a well-organised and difficult side to beat, which has seen them lose only three of their last 20 games.
With a plethora of players not available through injury, work commitments and holiday, Lions still managed to line up with a strong squad.
Reverting to a 4-4-2 formation, Lions manager Tony Gold paired Dean Nyman and Paul Hakim up top. Craig Ellis and Aron Barnes took centre stage in midfield with Josh Kennet deployed on the right and Ben Ellis on the left of midfield. The Lions back five remained unchanged with Mario Cenolli in goal and Ricky Engleman, Adam Myeroff, Kyle Bentwood and Ben Lampert making up the defence. Ben Lauffer, Connor Perlmutter and Michael Kenley made up the Lions bench.
St. Albans arrived at Broxbourne on the back of three straight defeats. However, back in August 2011 at the start of the season they demolished Lions 4-0 at Clarence Park.
With former Watford, Birmingham City, Southend Utd and Barnet star Ken Charlery at the helm and with St Albans first team plying their trade in the Southern Premier Division, Lions knew this wasn’t going to be an easy game.
St. Albans included four regular first team players in a squad of 15. Narada Bernard, who has one international cap for Jamaica and played over 30 games for Bournemouth back in 2000, played at left-back. James Bent, who had a spell at Yeovil Town and Hendon, captained the side with former Rushden & Diamonds starlet Sean Shields and Frenchman Joachim Ehui formerly of Hayes & Yeading Utd making up the quartet.
The visitors started brightly and injected a fast tempo to their game which to Lions credit more than matched. Ehui and Curtis Henry were lively all night in forward areas for St. Albans and it was the latter who opened the scoring.
What seemed like a harmless through ball going back to keeper Mario Cenolli in the Lions goal ended up in the back of the net after Lampert’s tame attempt to head the ball back to the keeper fell short. In nipped Henry to slot home.
Lions didn’t panic and in fact the goal helped them raise their urgency. Ellis and Barnes drove Lions forward from midfield and Kennet and Ellis in wide areas were proving a handful. The main threat from Lions though was from Nyman and Hakim who harried worked all night.
Lions nearly drew level when Craig Ellis’s shot looked like heading into the bottom corner but a bobble on the awful Broxbourne surface took the ball off course and onto the post.
The game continued to ebb and flow with both sides carving out decent goal scoring opportunities. Lions finally got a deserved break through 15 minutes before half time. Nyman played a superb pass into Barnes, who with still a lot to do, held off a strong challenge from Danny McDonagel before turning and lashing the ball home past a hapless David Bailey in the visitors goal.
The 1-1 score line was probably a fair reflection on proceedings but Lions knew they couldn’t drop the intensity or get complacent.
The second half started where the first left off with both sides playing entertaining attacking football and both defences defending strongly. All night St. Albans looked vulnerable from set-pieces especially corners and that is where Lions took advantage and went in front.
Kennet delivered a teasing cross from the right and having made a great run timing it to perfection Craig Ellis was on hand to firmly head the ball home.
St. Albans came again with Gio Lee-Baptiste and Henry both going close, but Cenolli, who is in a fantastic vain of form, stifled both efforts.
With 25 minutes remaining the Lions management made a tactical change bringing on Ben Lauffer for Ben Ellis and reverting to a 4-5-1 formation. The move was made to pack out the midfield and hang onto the lead they had.
The change unsettled the Lions flow a little but they still managed to add a third goal thanks to a well-taken finish from former St. Albans marksman Hakim. Having played over 120 games and scored 45 goals for his former club, he managed to work the space and find enough composure to slot home it was just reward for a polished individual performance.
As time etched away Perlmutter replaced Nyman and in the dying minutes St. Albans managed a late consolation courtesy of Lee-Baptiste who fired home from 15 yards.
Summing up another fine team performance, Lions manager Tony Gold said; "Once again I have nothing but admiration for my team. Our recent form speaks volumes. It is just such a pity the first three months of the season were such a struggle.
"We have played a couple more games then three of the four teams above us in the league, but it is getting very tight and if we pull off five more wins from the remaining five games anything is possible.
"We take on second place Ampthill on Saturday in a must-win game, so all our attentions and energies turn to this game."
Lions: Mario Cenolli, Ben Lampert, Adam Myeroff, Kyle Bentwood, Ricky Engleman, Aron Barnes, Craig Ellis, Dean Nyman (sub: Connor Perlmutter), Josh Kennet, Paul Hakim, Ben Ellis (sub: Ben Lauffer). Sub not used: Michael Kenley
Man-of-the-match: Craig Ellis