Lions Reserves well beaten in cup final
London Lions Reserves were beaten by Hatfield Town in the Spartan Reserve League Cup final.
A 3-0 defeat dampened an excellent first season in the league left them without tangible reward for a season in which they've achieved so much.
On top of a league campaign that saw them finish third, having crammed in nine matches into the final month, saw them fall just short of being able to maintain their title challenge - the real measure of their ability has come in the Cups, where in two competitions they have dispatched teams from higher ranked leagues/divisions on no fewer than seven occasions.
So a game against Hatfield Town, who finished just a couple of points off the bottom of the league above, saw them relishing the game, safe in the knowledge that if this same team could twice beat the Reserve champions Hadley as well as see off St Margaretsbury, Langford and Holmer Green then they had nothing to fear.
However, with the competition's rules only insisting on players making a minimal amount of Reserve Team appearances (and with no limit on first team appearances to further restrict), Hatfield took the opportunity to bolster their normal squad, starting with no fewer than six players who had started their previous first team fixture (they ply their trade in the Premier Division of the Spartan League).
Against this backdrop it was going to be tough, needing Lions, to a man, to be at their best. On the day though they could not quite rise to the challenge put down in front of them, with their opponents just that little bit quicker, little bit stronger and little bit more ruthless on the day.
Lions' cause was not helped when Dan Cohen went over on his ankle in the opening minutes; Lions' pace ace withdrawn to be replaced by Dan Green.
He, Nick Goodman and Harry Franks up front though were feeding on scraps, although one great move saw Green get clear, his attempted cross though ending up as a shot that cannoned back off the crossbar.
The midfield three of Ben Joseph, Ben Lampert and Jason Goldstein were the ones really up against it. They worked tirelessly to try and get Lions playing in the heat of the first half but unlike usual this was an opponent they could not get on top of. That left the back four under pressure, but Jacob Lew, James Stanley, Frank Hyman and Jon Ellis strained every sinew and did so with great effect; despite their control of the football Hatfield barely troubled Ziggy Lichman in goal.
The concession of too many free kicks, all expertly delivered, seemed to be Hatfield's best route to goal, but again Lions were disciplined and kept them out.
Yet just as the storm seemed to have been weathered a hopeful ball forward was inadvertently deflected into the path of Hatfield's pacy number 10 who darted beyond Ellis before firing clinically into the bottom corner.
At half time it was still game on - Lions confident of playing better and being able to muster an equaliser. They made some formation changes, but all those plans were out of the window within two minutes of the restart.
Barely had the crowd settled back down than Hatfield won a soft free kick. Whipped in onto the head of their skipper the ball squirmed through Lichman's grasp to Lions' dismay.
It was game over moments later as another punt forward was allowed to bounce. Hyman seemed to be impeded as he attempted to recover, but take nothing away from their central striker who with great skill volleyed an unstoppable third into the roof of the net.
Lions huffed and puffed - Ellis saw a thunderbolt of a free kick arch narrowly wide, Goodman fired over and sub Cash was just off target - but in truth they rarely threatened to get back into a game that petered out into a comfortable victory for Hatfield.
Lions joint-manager Danny Jacobs said: "It has though been a fine season for Lions, with improvements throughout the squad clear to see.
"The experienced heads have been exceptional - Hyman, Ellis, Lauffer, Lew, Joseph, Lampert and Goodman in particular have all had fine campaigns.
"The youngsters have developed too - Stanley and Pincus, along with the two David Cohens, Goldstein, Newman and Green have all continued to grow when available from university.
"And of most delight to the managers has been the stepping up to the plate of the Under 18's; under the guidance of Nicky Bloom they have provided Jordan Marks, Jordan Nathan, Charlie Cohen and Dan Lipman who have all performed to levels that belie their tender years.
Jacobs and co-manager Jon Green look forward to a few weeks off, but safe in the knowledge that the team has again improved and that the future looks bright.
Chances came for both sides but no further goals were scored and South ran out winners.
Considering their flirt with relegation, a top five place finish is a good outcome and this young team can look forward to next year with confidence.
Thereafter some tight bowling restricted the scoring rate. Andy Hillel worked hard for his 14 before being caught, and thereafter a pattern emerged. Six MAL batsmen reached to double figures, but Landau was the mainstay of the innings.
There were partnerships of 36, 37 and 33 for the 3rd, 4th and 5th wickets - had one of these gone on, a MAL victory would have been all but certain. After 30 overs MAL needed 59 with six wickets in hand. Pakter (3) was stumped, just after having had to call for a runner due to a leg injury.
In the next over Landau attempted to pull Varsani for a boundary, but managed only to find the man on the square leg rope. He had battled hard for his 65 from 99 balls (4x4s).
Though Yoni Schurder and then Gav Lebens each struck two boundaries, SKLP bowled well at the end, and MAL were unable to get the runs required.
A defeat, but plenty of positives to take into next week's game with Wycombe House.
SKLP CC 180-9 (40 overs) Chetan Varsani 35, Landau 4-37, G Lebens 1-17, Schurder 1-18
MAL 1st XI 172-9 (40 overs) Landau 65, Anup 3-29, Varsani 2-28