Three points, three goals, 3G for Raiders

By Rob Samuelson, February 18, 2009

NL Raiders B 3
NW Neasden C 0

North London Raiders B laid down a promotion gauntlet to their Division Two rivals with a dominant 3-0 victory over rivals Neasden C on the third-generation pitch at Brunel University, Uxbridge.

After a pulsating first half Raiders clinched victory with three goals in twenty minutes leaving Neasden shell-shocked and Raiders jubilant.

Coming off the back of a hard-fought 1-0 win over Rapid Banta two weeks previously, L’Orange made it two clean sheets in a row, with a display full of poise, craft and determination.

With teams at the top regularly taking points off each other, and Raiders fighting off their earlier winter blues to put together form reminiscent of their title win last season, Division Two looks set to go right to the wire.

North London Raiders and North West Neasden have been at loggerheads for two years now, and this game, between two sides who were promoted last season, promised much. An entertaining 2-2 draw in October in Bricket Wood was accepted by both sides as an early-season sighter for what was to come.

Since then, Raiders have been infuriatingly indifferent at times, while Neasden have shown their promotion credentials, with just two defeats all season, and a last-gasp 4-4 draw with top of the table Southgate Harmen A last time out.

Raiders boss Robert Richman dubbed the crunch match as the club’s ‘cup final’, and will have been delighted by the response of his players.

In the build up to the game a lot was centred on the players both teams would be missing from the encounter. Neasden went into the fixture without influential keeper Simon Beresford and Division Two top-scorer Steve Bloom but they could call upon Matt Sofier part of the all conquering Neasden A team.

Raiders too had players missing with no less than eight players unavailable including centre back Stuart Haring, who pulled out just hours before kick off.

The opening exchanges were scrappy, with both sides failing to settle into a decent rhythm. Neasden’s considerable physical strength made it difficult for Raiders to find their passing game, and David Simnock, reigning Goalkeeper of the Year for L’Orange, was forced into some smart stops from the bustling Ben Wulwik.

As the half progressed, however, Richman’s boys began to pick at the Neasden back line.

Nicky Woolf, all neat touches and changes of pace, shook off an early knock to threaten from distance, while Darren Russell and Dan Miller began to push forward from the flanks with considerable pace.

It was clear to the assembled capacity crowd why these two teams so utterly dominated their division last season, and why they are both right in the mix again this time round.

A key member of the victorious Raiders squad of season 2007/2008 was Nick Kenton, and how Richman must have revelled in having the tricky attacking midfielder available for selection again after a serious of injuries. Kenton was a constant menace, forcing Neasden’s Gary Dymant to drop deeper than usual to protect his defenders from Kenton’s mazy runs and passes.

Neat interplay down the right-wing by Blitz and Russell opened a gap for Kenton midway through the first half. Kenton swivelled on the ball, feigned one way, rode a tackle, before thundering a shot that whistled just past the Neasden post. It was a sign of things to come.

It was Neasden, nevertheless, who had the best chance of the half. A superb cross from the right-wing evaded every single Raiders defender, but the ensuing header from Nick Davis flew over the crossbar, much to the relief of a visibly angry Raiders captain Rick Sherman.

As the second half got underway, the general feeling was that if one team could break the deadlock they would surely go on to claim the points.

Neasden came out the stronger side and threatened from a number of set pieces but time and time again Green, Sherman et al held out. Greene, who had picked up a hamstring injury minutes before half time, and Sherman, who was playing despite a bruised foot, repelled everything Neasden could through at Raiders.

Then in a flash it was Raiders who took the lead. A long throw from Blitz on the right was flicked on by the omnipresent Woolf, landing perfectly into the path of Darren Russell. The speedy winger took the ball down well, held off the challenge, before lifting the ball expertly past the Neasden keeper and in to the goal, much to the delight of the Raiders following.

Neasden were shell-shocked and quickly readied Matt Sofier for his C team debut. Sensing the danger Raiders re-shuffled their tactics dropping Silver into a more holding role. For the next 10 minutes Neasden went full throttle to get something from the game but the Raiders midfield held strong.

As the game ticked towards the 75 minute mark, Kenton’s moment had come, and after neat work down the left from the returning Jamie Freed and Dan Miller, Kenton found himself with options in the centre, halfway into the Neasden half. With Silver behind him and Samuelson tearing down the right as an outlet, Kenton took the ball forward, jostled his way past Neasden challenges, before striking a beautifully-judged shot high over the Neasden keeper’s head and down into the far-left corner of the goal to put L’Orange 2-0 up and within touching distance of an important win.

Neasden again came back hard at Raiders forcing some of their best chances of the game, the best of which a swivelled half-volley whistling inches past Simnock’s right-hand post.

Pushing men forward to get back in to the game inevitably allowed Raiders to counter-attack, and the game swung from end to end in the final few minutes.

Indeed, chances fell to Raiders on numerous occasions before the game was wrapped up, with Woolf firing at the keeper from outside the box, Silver shooting wide from distance, and Samuelson nearly on the end of a pinpoint Kenton cross.

The gaps left by Neasden full-backs, understandably pushing forward to assist their attacking options, allowed Raiders plenty of space out wide, and it was from the left wing that the three points were sown up for L’Orange.

Dan Miller powered forward and angled his run towards the Neasden box. With Woolf, Russell and Samuelson all awaiting a cross, Miller struck the ball with the outside of his right-foot, swerving it away from the despairing dive of the Neasden goalkeeper, and into the far corner of the net for a wonderfully well-taken goal, making the score 3-0 to Raiders in the 88th minute of the match.

There was time for little else and as the final whistle sounded, Neasden heads dropped, and Raiders players rejoiced at victory.

Both sides know that key battles lie ahead, but this was a game played out in impressive spirits for two such well-documented rivals, with the quality of football on display deserving of higher leagues than the one both sides currently occupy.

After the game Richman had this to say: “Yesterday was the best performance by the team since I have been in charge and probably in the B team’s short history. We knew how crucial this game was and how only a win would do. We are back in the picture for promotion but it will be tough and we know we have to keep performing to our optimum to really stand a chance.

"We fully deserved this win and I’m delighted but now our attentions turn to another crucial game versus Lions this Sunday."

North London Raiders B: Simnock; Blitz, Sherman, Greene, Freed; Russell, Silver, Israel (sub: Samuelson 60), Miller; Kenton (sub: Richman 89); Woolf

Last updated: 3:43pm, February 18 2009