Lions snatch a draw from the jaws of victory

MOLTEN SPARTAN SOUTH MIDLANDS LEAGUE DIVISION ONE
Ampthill Town 4 London Lions 4

London Lions extended their unbeaten run to five games, but they have only themselves to blame after conceding a 4-1 advantage in the final few minutes against fellow high-flyers Ampthill Town following an eight-goal thriller.

The 90-strong crowd at Ampthill witnessed an incredible game of football that literally had it all. Great weather, good pitch, eight goals, crazy defending, clinical finishing, controversial decisions, penalties and a sending off - no other game over the weekend anywhere in the country would have produced a more pulsating match.

Lions travelled to an in-form Ampthill Town who have sat second in the table for most the season due to a consistent run of form which has seen them lose only four games all season. They are also a team that made it to the fourth round of the FA Vase, eventually going down 2-1 to Oadby Town. Earlier in the season they inflicted Lions heaviest defeat - beating them 6-1.

With Lions reserves gunning for promotion, which is still very much a possibility, the first team sacrificed several players who in normal circumstances would have travelled with the squad.

However, on the day of the game Lions had two late withdrawals leaving them with only one substitute. Other team news saw Lions keeper Mario Cenolli miss out on the trip after injuring his fingers in the midweek win against St Albans, meaning Max Shields, who had played the last few reserve team games, stepping up and being the sixth keeper this season to wear the No. 1 jersey. Paul Hakim, who missed out through work commitments, was replaced by Sam Sloma.

The game, as you would expect, started at 100 miles an hour. The hard ground made it difficult for both sides to get the ball under control which contributed to a scrappy first 10 minutes.

As proceedings settled down with both sides finding their rhythm, it was the host’s goal that came under siege as Lions peppered it with numerous chances. The one player who seemed to be in the thick of all the action was Sloma and it was the former Dagenham & Redbridge man who gave Lions the lead.

With 20 minutes on the watch, Sloma created the space and time before expertly clipping the ball over Tom Kemard in the Ampthill goal - showing great vision and awareness.

Playing arguably their best attacking football of the season, Lions had several further opportunities in the remaining 25 minutes to put the game to bed and be out of sight. Dean Nyman, Ben Ellis, Josh Kennet and Sloma were all denied.

Lions' relentless assault on the Ampthill goal was finally rewarded when they doubled their lead. Kennet swung in a dangerous corner which the Ampthill defence failed to deal with. The ball fell invitingly to Sloma and his effort on goal was turned in off the unfortunate Robbie Goodman.

Sloma then had an opportunity to complete his hat-trick, but his trusted left foot failed to connect with the ball 10 yards from goal and he ended up with an air shot.

Ampthill pulled a goal back 10 minutes before the half-time interval. A long ball from Christian Lester caught Adam Myeroff the wrong side of his man and with Kyle Bentwood unable to cover, Lea Coulter was given the room to lash the ball home.

At half-time, had Lions gone in five or six one up, the home side could not have had any complaints. It truly was an outstanding half of football from London Lions. Aron Barnes, Craig Ellis, Sam Sloma, Dean Nyman and Josh Kennet were particularly impressive as was Max Shields kicking in the Lions goal.

No-one in the ground could have foretold what was to unfold in the remaining 45 minutes, but suffice to say that if you were an Ampthill supporter or player it would live long in the memory.

It would be fair to say that although Lions soaked up a lot of defensive pressure, especially in the first half, they never looked comfortable throughout the 90 minutes and eventually that uncertainty and hesitance would cost them what should have been a well deserved three points.

In a cracking 30-minute period, Nyman took his season’s goal tally to 18 scoring two goals to put Lions 4-1 up. His first of the afternoon and Lions third came when he burst through the Ampthill defence and calmly slotted past Kemard. His second and Lions fourth a neat finish on the turn after great work involving Barnes and Kennet.

Some moments in football are unexplainable and although in the final 15 minutes a couple of decisive factors contributed to changing the course of the game, Lions will forever wonder how they let a three-goal lead slip so easily.

Craig Ellis, who had an excellent game, could no longer take the pain in his troublesome back and had to be replaced. However, the big turning point came courtesy of the linesman. Bentwood was accused of handling in the box when it was quite clear the ball came off his chest. The referee, who had clear sight, didn’t think so until the linesman, who was further away, put his flag across his chest. Clearly unable to ascertain what he initially thought wasn’t a penalty, he took his colleagues word and awarded the spot-kick. Shields got a hand to it but the power of Shaun Cooksley’s penalty kick just did enough to creep in.

With Lions clearly shaken by the decision and a handful of players out on their feet, Ampthill picked up the momentum they had been desperate for.

In the final five minutes Ampthill scored twice to quite literally steal a point and leave Lions feeling like they had just lost the game. To add insult to injury, the referee, who seemed to lose complete control of proceedings in a final melee, sent off Nyman for misconduct after the official awarded a contentious free-kick which lead to the equaliser.

"Given who we were playing and where we were playing that was arguably the best attacking display from a Lions team this season," Lions manager Tony Gold said after the game.

"Of course, the final 15 minutes were the craziest 15 minutes I have ever been involved in and have ever witnessed. The lads were quite literally shell-shocked to have drawn a game they could have quite easily won three times over.

"A lack of options, several players out on their feet having worked extremely hard and some very contentious late decisions ultimately contributed to us not getting what would have been a superb three points.

"In truth, although defensively we soaked up a lot of pressure which was backed up by some tireless work from Aron and Craig in midfield, as a back four we looked like an accident waiting to happen all afternoon.

"All in all it was still a tremendous team effort and an excellent point. To exceed last season’s final points tally with four fixtures to go shows the improvements we have made.

"We have shown in the last three months that we are capable of mixing it with the best and three defeats in 21 games more than highlights that point."

Lions: Max Shields, Ben Lampert, Aron Barnes, Kyle Bentwood, Adam Myeroff, Craig Ellis (sub: Tony Gold), Josh Kennet, Sam Sloma, Ricky Engleman, Dean Nyman, Ben Ellis

Man-of-the-match: Sam Sloma

    Last updated: 1:01pm, March 30 2012