MGBSFL PREMIER DIVISION
NORTH LONDON RAIDERS A 0 OAKWOOD A 1
Oakwood had had "a real up and down week" preparing for the game with Leor Sidle and Zack Collins out, Brad Wine and Thomas Prais major doubts and, Kyle Bentwood fell ill on the eve of the game. Ultimately they didn't risk Wine, but Prais and Bentwood "pulled through to get us over the line". With Guy Helman returning after two months out they knew we had some boys playing through the pain barrier.
The visitors didn't start particularly well, with Liron Mannie and Oscar Wagner causing problems down the right and in the channel. But Oakwood "always looked like" they could exploit the gaps in the Raiders backline and worked the ball well on occasion.
Jake Doffman was Raiders' stand-out player, according to Blank, making several outstanding saves. Raiders were the better side for the opening 20 but Oakwood went closest to scoring. Rafi Stone hit one from 25 yards that produced a brilliant save and Bentwood headed down into the corner from a free kick - only to be similarly denied by Doffman.
From the half hour mark Oakwood "really took control and won the battle in the middle of the park". Up front Sam Cantor was "causing big problems" - testament to his fitness and work-rate considering his recent travails with glandular fever.
Blank believes Oakwood were the "better side throughout the second half" and they missed several chances to take the lead. That said, the best chance fell to Raiders. They broke effectively form our corner with the ever-excellent Mannie leading the charge. The ball across the box was perfect but Dan Rose had made a lung-busting covering run and his lunge did just enough to put off David Dinkin who blazed over under pressure.
From there Oakwood stepped it up and introduced Josh Cuby for his debut. His "liveliness prompted some good penetrative play" and Oakwood cut Raiders open a few times with Cantor forcing another fine stop from Doffman.
Eventually Woolman did beat Doffman - only to see his shot cleared off the line by the covering Josh Morris.
Oakwood were well on top and the goal came with 10 to play - albeit with a touch of good fortune. After great work from Harvey Kaye a fortunate ricochet fell into the path of the grateful Woolman. "He doesn't miss those. Not normally anyway!"
The visitors saw out the remaining 10 comfortably thanks to the outstanding Alex Lee and Dale Bradman. Joint-manager Ric Blank commented: "They were absolutely magnificent at centre half as they have been all season. If they can give us that foundation in our remaining two games we will have a very good chance."
Reflecting on the crucial three points, Blank told JC Sport: "Our next game is a tough one against Redbridge - though we have an equally difficult game against Lions two weeks after that. We've beaten a full-strength Hendon twice and Raiders in recent weeks. If we beat Redbridge and Lions it will be an absolutely unprecedented run.
"What looked like a tricky run-in for Redbridge now has a different feel to it considering how easily they beat Hendon. It's strange they just played each other for the first time in March but I think the game was rearranged several times.
""It would be a shock now if Redbridge dropped points elsewhere so we can't rely on anyone else. We've produced a tremendous run to get into this position and I'm immensely proud of the boys just for that. If we win in Essex great, if not we'll know we have come on leaps and bounds this season regardless."
Raiders boss Dan Shafron told JC Sport: "We adopted a slightly different game-plan and it worked for the most part.
"We were compact, structured and used the ball well. We had some good chances to go ahead in the first half and reduced Oakwood to long-range shots.
"The second half was tougher, we ran ourselves on the ground and whilst we had a clear-cut chance to score to make it 1-0, we allowed Oakwood to get in behind us on a few occasions and gave away too many set-pieces.
"Their goal came from an unfortunate ricochet and we just couldn't find a reply.
"At the end of the day I'm proud of the boys - they battled hard and can take a lot from the performance.
"As for Oakwood, congratulations to them for a well fought win. They've been brilliant this season and I wish them luck in their run-in."
RAIDERS: Jake Doffman, Alex Bloch, Josh Morris, JJ Spiro, David J Cohen, Jono Rochwerger, Oscar Wagner, Jonny Kay, Nick Lewis, David Dinkin, Liron Mannie. Subs: David Rhodes
OAKWOOD: Jonny Blain, Harvey Kaye, Kyle Bentwood, Dale Bradman, Alex Lee, Guy Helman, Thomas Prais, Dan Rose, Rafi Stone, Dave Woolman Sam Cantor. Sub: Josh Cuby