Brandon late show stuns Lions
MOLTEN SPARTAN SOUTH MIDLANDS LEAGUE DIVISION ONE
LONDON LIONS 1 HODDESDON TOWN 2
Tony Gold, the London Lions manager, believes that a lack of fitness cost his troops a point as they succumbed to a late winner from Jamie Brandon in a pulsating contest against Hoddesdon Town.
A healthy-sized crowd witnessed two evenly-matched sides playing good football. Leading at half time, courtesy of a header from defender Michael Sacks, the Lions were edged out of an enthralling contest at Broxbourne Borough as Hoddesdon snatched the points with the result on a knife edge until the final whistle.
Missing central defenders Guy Morris and Kyle Bentwood, along with David Soutar, Matt Stock and Ben Ellis, Gold called up Michael Sacks, Ben Lauffer and Ricky Engleman, with Sam Sloma and Danny Berg returning from injury.
For Hoddesdon, manager Andy Crawford took the opportunity to introduce new signing Barrington Brotherton in the absence of suspended skipper Gary Simmonds, Dan Pett started at right back and Tom Boxer also started alongside Tom Massey in central defence, with Damien Thomas unavailable through work commitments. A strong bench of five also included another new signing, Dave Ayres, and Ben Darwin took the captain’s armband for the afternoon.
The Lions had the better of the first half exchanges, although it was Hoddesdon who had the first three attempts on goal within the first few minutes, all well off target.
The home side then carved open the Hoddesdon defence on the left hand side of the penalty area, and Kieron Extence pulled off a great save at his near post to deny Sam Sloma who fired in a fierce effort from close range.
Lions’ pressure eventually paid dividends as Josh Kennet’s perfectly delivered corner was powered home by the head of defender Michael Sacks midway through the half.
Hoddesdon did not let their heads drop and they came close to an equaliser when Ben Andreos rattled the crossbar from 25 yards with Lions keeper Mario Cenolli rooted to the spot.
Sloma should have been doubled the lead minutes later, but after rounding Extence, he was unable to guide the ball into an empty net from a tight angle.
Hoddesdon finished the half strongly with Cenolli forced into an acrobatic save to keep out a curling free-kick from the dangerous Andreos.
Crawford decided to make some tactical changes at half time to give the Hoddesdon attack more bite, and so Ben Hart came on to replace George Nicolaou, with Colin Metivier switching from right to left for the second half.
Hoddesdon stepped up a gear at the start of the second half when their superior fitness and the predatory instincts of Jamie Brandon ultimately left Lions deflated.
For the first 20 minutes of the second half, Hoddesdon took the game to their hosts with some excellent football, and were finally rewarded on 63 minutes as that man Andreos took control of a short pass played inside towards him and then touched the ball to Brandon who made space inside the area before drilling it low and just inside the left hand post to finish off a terrific passage of play.
Lions were clearly on the back foot and Gold decided to make a double substitution with 15 minutes remaining. Ricky Engleman and Dan Lipman were introduced for Andy Glynne and Sloma.
Hoddesdon continued to threaten as the Lions struggled to keep the ball and it needed a goalline clearance to deny Andreos.
Crawford made his second change after 70 minutes, bringing on new signing Dave Ayres for the excellent Tom Boxer. It was a more attacking option that showed Crawford’s intent to go for a winner, with the game so finely balanced.
Hoddesdon then hit the woodwork for a second time as a speculative effort from dangerman Brandon smacked against the post with Cenolli beaten.
It was clear neither side was settling for a draw, and Hoddesdon were frequently being stretched by the attacking intent of the home side who looked dangerous on the counter-attack.
With three minutes of normal time remaining, Lions spurned a great chance to forge ahead as a drilled effort from Kennet was brilliantly blocked by the feet of Extence.
It proved to be a defining moment as a Lions defender Adam Myeroff conceded a cheap free-kick for a shove on Andreos in dangerous terrority. A great delivery from Hart found the head of Brandon who nipped in to score the winner.
Lions manager Tony Gold said: "A draw would have been a fair reflection over the 90 minutes, but not for the first time this season we paid the price for a lack of discipline and concentration at a crucial time attributed to fatigue.
"Not many teams have been fitter then us this season but it is fair to say Hoddesdon finished the game stronger than us and in the end that proved decisive.
"Our first half performance was up there with one of the best this season, but we failed to build on that in the second-half which was disappointing.
"In truth I knew this game and our game on January 2 were always going to be a lottery due to player availability and the amount of changes that were and are likely to take place.
"We will pick ourselves up for Welwyn and do our best to get three points there."
With the team lying 13th in the table, Gold is challenging his troops to finish as high as possible.
"With 17 games to go, we still have a lot of points to play for, but we've got to start winning consistently.
"We finished eighth in the table last season and it'd be fantastic if we could improve on that.
"I believe that if we had the strength of squad at the start of the season that we do now, we’d be a top six side without doubt.
"I would like to wish all our dedicated supporters a very happy New Year and thank them for their continued support the players and especially the management really appreciate it."
The Lions travel to Welwyn Garden City on January 2.
Lions: Lions: Cenolli, Berg, Lampert, Myeroff, Sacks, Lauffer, Glynne (sub: Engleman), Stanton, Sloma (sub: Lipman), Kennet, Nyman (capt)
Hoddesdon: Kieron Extence, Dan Pett, Kevin Metivier, Ben Darwin (capt), Tom Massey, Tom Boxer (Dave Ayres, 70), Barrington Brotherton, Colin Metivier, Ben Andreos (Guiseppe Crimaudo, 90), George Nicolaou (Ben Hart, 46), Jamie Brandon
Scorer: Jamie Brandon
Lions MOM: Ben Lampert
Hoddesdon MOM: Dan Pett
(Report with contributions from the Hoddesdon FC website)