MOLTEN SPARTAN SOUTH MIDLANDS LEAGUE PREMIER DIVISION
LONDON LIONS 2 BEDFORD 0
London Lions bounced back from Sunday's FA Cup exit by extending their perfect start to the league season with a sixth straight win, beating Bedford 2-0 at home.
However, the Lions management believe the game was ruined as a spectacle by overzealous officiating from the man in the middle as the contest descended into farce early in the second half.
In a game played competitively and fairly by both sides and with not a bad tackle made all night, the referee somehow managed to book 10 players and send one off. However, much to the relief of Lions boss Tony Gold, goals from Sam Sloma and Daniel Stanton ensured Lions kept up an impressive start to their league campaign.
The home side made several changes to the side that lost to AFC Dunstable, with Guy Morris came back into the side at centre-half, Ricky Engleman moved into right-back, Ben Ellis played down the left and Sloma replacing the suspended Adam Bolle up top.
The rain pelted down just before kick-off and continued for the first 15 minutes, making the playing surface incredibly quick and slick.
As the game reached the 25th minute, Lions should have had a substantial lead but they were incredibly wasteful in front of goal, missing opportunity after opportunity.
Eventually their pressure told and Sloma found space and time to turn, run at goal and slot home a tidy finish to give the home side the lead.
Lions certainly looked far more assured defensively with Morris back in the heart of the defence. Guy Helman and Ricky Engleman both continued to push forward from the full back areas causing Bedford endless problems.
The hosts then created a second bit of magic to double their lead. Daniel Stanton used his skill and class to manoeuvre an opportunity after some great build up play to smash the ball home.
Both sides went in at half-time looking to approach the second period differently; Bedford focusing on how to get back into the game and Lions ensuring they stayed disciplined building on the lead they had worked hard to establish.
Little did both sides know that the referee was to become the star of the show for the final 45 minutes as the game descended into chaos with some appalling decisions and ridiculous bookings leaving the players, management and supporters of both sides incredibly frustrated.
One decision the referee did manage to get right was the sending off of Lions keeper Mario Cenolli on 55 minutes. A rush of blood to the keeper's head saw him throw out a ball to Andy Glynne. Unfortunately it was too straight and short and the Bedford forward pounced and broke clear. Cenolli, desperate to make up for his error mistimed his dive at the ball and brought the player down in the box. Not only was a spot-kick awarded but Cenolli was sent packing.
A quick change saw the unfortunate Stanton replaced by David Soutar. Soutar's first piece of action was to go in goal and face the penalty kick. Incredibly, the versatile Souter pulled off a brilliant save to keep Lions clean sheet intact.
Following that terrific save the game then descended into farce. The referee, who seemed to lose complete focus of the game, branded nine yellow cards in a crazy 20-minute period.
The game ended very stop start with Lions defending stoutly to see the game out keeping a deserved clean sheet and taking three well earned points.
Lions manager Tony Gold said: "This would have actually been a decent game of football had it been allowed to flow. It doesn’t happen often but tonight the referee made it all about him. At times it was embarrassing.
"However, I don’t want to focus on that my players once again showed a terrific spirit against the odds to win a tough game and keep a clean sheet even after our keeper was sent off.
"Souts came on and pulled off a game-changing save, had they scored that spot-kick the match would certainly have tipped in Bedford’s favour.
"We still have a lot to learn and a lot to improve on with regards our ball retention as without doubt we will face far sterner tests moving forward."