SPARTAN SOUTH MIDLANDS LEAGUE RESERVE DIVISION ONE
LONDON LIONS 1 STOTFOLD 3
London Lions Reserves suffered a new year's hangover as they were beaten 3-1 at home to Stotfold in their first match of 2013.
Despite trailing 2-0 at half time, the Lions created enough second half chances to have had the game won before the referee ended the contest with 10 minutes remaining via the crazy award of a penalty for handball that even had the opposition manager laughing.
A lack of composure in front of goal - not for the first time this season - ultimately proved costly; Ben Lauffer's sweet strike on the hour proving Lions' only reward.
A much changed Lions side took to the field, with three or four from the first team squad, rusty after a month without any football, taking places in the starting line up. Yet despite a fast start that saw the outstanding visiting keeper forced into a spectacular save from Liron Mannie's first time strike, Lions were generally kept at bay by a well organised Stotfold side.
Careless in possession, so unlike Lions, saw good moments cheaply ebb away with final balls lacking the quality the front men needed to feed on. So whilst Lions had the bulk of the play it was very much in front of their visitors whose goal was ultimately not seriously threatened.
Lions became frustrated and began running with the ball or playing aimless long passes, and this sloppiness gave Stotfold opportunities to break. A poor pass led to a cheap free kick being conceded that Jordan Davidson helped over the bar. The resulting corner was flicked on by the giant Stotfold centre forward where unmarked at the post his strike partner volleyed goalwards, the ball somehow squeezing between Danny Berg, Davidson and the near post to Lions' dismay.
Whilst it almost got worse 10 minutes later, Davidson saving excellently to deny Stotfold, it did get worse moments after when another sloppy square ball was intercepted, Stotfold moved it quickly out to their left where the man over cut back inside David Soutar and planted a rasping finish into the top corner. Three chances, two goals - that's how to do it.
Daniel Stanton and Berg departed at half time, replaced by Lauffer and Glynne and Lions, buoyed by their extra energy and a half time rocket played immediately with more purpose, getting behind their visitors and looking a real threat. Daran Bern was now really in the game, his cross headed over by Adam Bolle before a driven low ball by him was inches away from the sliding Dean Nyman at the far post.
Mannie and Bolle both stung the keeper's hands while Glynne's attempted overhead had the visitors scrambling. It was one-way traffic, Stotfold barely able to get out of their own half. But as long as chances were spurned they were delighted to sit back with their two-goal cushion.
On 65 minutes the goal finally came, and a fine one too, the ball pulled back to Lauffer whose sweet strike first time from 18 yards found the far corner.
Game on. It was now the Alamo - a scramble seeing Stotfold clear four times off the line summed it up. A betting man would have heaped all on Lions getting something from the game. Bolle headed and then hooked a volley over before he met Mannie's cross from two yards only for the keeper to somehow be in the right place to block. Mannie then drove forward himself, seeing two shots held by the keeper and another arrowing inches wide.
The equaliser was coming as the visitors were visibly getting deeper and deeper as tiredness set in. That is until the intervention of the man in middle - quite literally from where he officiated. A rare sortie out of their half saw an aimless cross met on the chest by Kyle Bentwood as he strode out with the ball, completely unchallenged. To the amazement of everyone present the whistle blew and a penalty was awarded; the opposition manager giving a laugh, an apologetic shrug and saying "never a pen in a million years" tells you all you need to know. The spot-kick was put away with great aplomb and with it any hopes of a comeback despite one final push.
Lions' six-game winning streak thus came to an end, their hopes of a barnstorming final 10 minutes cruelly taken away from them by a bizarre decision. Stotfold, to be fair though, were an excellent side and will feel their hard work and excellent finishing were deserving of the points.
For their part, Lions will rue a wasted 1st half and some wasteful finishing that in truth should have deemed the referee's intervention meaningless. Sadly not to be and the side will need to pick themselves up for a trip to Langford next Saturday.
Lions: Jordan Davidson, Myles Beerman, Danny Berg (sub: Andy Glynne), Kyle Bentwood, Aron Barnes, David Soutar, Daniel Stanton (sub: Ben Lauffer), Dean Nyman (sub: Ben Lampert), Liron Mannie, Daran Bern, Adam Bolle
Scorer: Ben Lauffer