MOLTEN SPARTAN SOUTH MIDLANDS LEAGUE RESERVE DIVISION ONE
ST MARGARETSBURY 1 LONDON LIONS RESERVES 2
A hard fought three points earned at in-form St Margaretsbury ensured that Lions enter the winter break sitting proudly atop the league, a fine achievement for this young side in their first season competing at this level.
The result was all the more impressive in that Lions were without Ben Lauffer, Kyle Bentwood, Dave Cohen, Dan Green, Liron Mannie and Daran Bern, players so influential in Lions' recent fine run. In their place came the youngsters Jordan Marks, Harry Hatchwell, Ollie Craig and George Fierstone while Jon Ellis anchored the midfield in his usual commanding way.
A bright start from the visitors led to some early openings, the closest of which saw Fierstone's corner headed goalwards by Craig, only for the keeper to make an instinctive parry of the ball onto the crossbar. Marks and Shai Revivo both had sighters of the home goal before Fierstone was given time and space 25 yards from goal, but his delicate chip went inches wide.
Playing a little too deep, Lions allowed their hosts a bit of time on the ball, and as they grew in confidence they began to pose more of a threat, delivering some dangerous balls into the box that had the Lions back four stretched at times. That said Jordan Davidson, debuting in goal following the departure of Danny Berliner, had little direct action.
Controversy then reigned on the half hour at both ends of the pitch. Another Fierstone corner was this time directed on goal by Marks. To all and sundry (and as admitted by the home defenders) the ball crossed the line by some distance, but the referee, saying unable to clearly see it, was unable to award Lions the opening goal.
Perhaps that may have been playing on his mind when a rare error by Judah saw the home no. 9 break clear. Under challenge from Hyman he went down on the edge of the box, but with Hatchwell covering round the referee showed only yellow despite the calls from the home side and supporters for a red. The subsequent free kick was curled goalwards but Davidson did enough to turn it over the bar.
However, when the resulting corner was only half cleared, a fine ball to the far post saw three home players attack it, one burying past Davidson from a tight angle to give the hosts the lead.
As if though to demonstrate that this was harsh on the Lions, the visitors really upped it and they strove to level things up before the break. Hatchwell was driving Lions forward and Fierstone's vision and passing were a constant threat.
A swashbuckling Beerman run was crudely halted before Goodman hit the sweetest of volleys from fully 25 yards that grazed the bar.
There was great belief therefore in the away dressing room at the interval. Revivo succumbed to a groin injury meaning that Ben Lampert made a long awaited return to the pitch after almost six months out and he worked superbly with Craig down the left.
Marks switched flanks and Fierstone was pushed further forward as Lions, after a tentative opening 10 minutes, really pushed on. Hatchwell fired one narrowly wide before his next effort crashed back off the bar, the keeper somehow coming up with the ball in the melee that followed. Marks then headed Lampert's cross over the bar and also shot into the side netting after outpacing the home defence.
The goal was coming, but it arrived in a strange manner when Fierstone whipped in the sweetest of corners that flew over the keeper and directly into the top corner - knowing him it was deliberate!
If there was any doubting his intentions though with that one, there was nothing about what was to prove the winner as Fierstone intercepted a pass and drove on before firing the sweetest of finishes into the far corner to the delight of his team mates. With 75 minutes gone and Lions had turned it around.
StM looked to come again, but Hyman and Judah, protected by Ellis, were simply rocks at the back. There was no getting around Craig or Beerman and young Davidson showed a clean pair of hands whenever required.
Lions looked a constant threat and thought they'd sewn up the match when Goodman slammed home from close range after Marks' shot was fumbled by the keeper, only for the goal to be ruled out by an inexplicable linesman's flag.
An Ellis piledriver stung the keeper's hands while another Fierstone corner should have been headed home by one of the Lions.
In the end, while the scoreline remained at just 2-1, there was always a doubt, and Lions were served a warning when an equalising 'goal' was ruled out for offside. But they saw it through and ensured their Xmas night out was anything but a damp squib!
A home match with Stotfold, themselves flying up the table with five wins in six, awaits Lions at Rowley Lane on January 5, as the squad look forward to trying to match their efforts of this first half of the season.
Lions Reserves: Jordan Davidson, Shai Revivo (sub: Ben Lampert), Frank Hyman, Laurence Judah, Myles Beerman, Harry Hatchwell, Jon Ellis, Ollie Craig, George Fierstone, Nick Goodman, Jordan Marks
Scorer: George Fierstone (2)
Man-of-the-match: Harry Hatchwell
1. London Lions Reserves Pl. 14, Pts. 32
2. Cockfosters Reserves Pl. 14, Pts. 26
3. Hadley Reserves Pl. 11, Pts. 25
4. Stotford Reserves Pl. 13, Pts. 24
5. London Colney Reserves Pl. 13, Pts. 23