London Lions breezed into the quarter-finals of the Anagrams Records Trophy after beating MK Wanderers 4-1.
Up against opponents from the South Midlands League, the Lions came out on top in a game where they had 10 first team players unavailable mainly due to injury.
Goals from Guy Morris, Ben Joseph, Adam Stolerman and Aron Barnes saw them home.
Lions manager Tony Gold had a selection nightmare. Alex Levack came in for his first game of the season at right-back, Danny Berliner kept goal after some impressive performances for the reserves, young James Stanley kept his learning curve going starting wide right, Ben Joseph made his first start of the season and Aron Barnes who had been out for six weeks with injury also featured but neither were ready for 90 minutes or potentially 120.
Matters were made worse an hour before kick-off as Lions lost Aron Freeman due to a severe asthma attack meaning Lions only sub, manager Gold, now had to start.
The teams emerged from their respective dressing rooms on a bitterly cold and windy day with Lions sporting their new European short-sleeved fluorescent yellow kit.
Unsure of how the game was going to pan out given the forced changes in personnel and positions, it was surprising at how well the Lions settled. From the first whistle they Lions remained disciplined and used the ball with intelligence and urgency.
Having forced MK Wanderers into giving away a free-kick after a foul on Stanley in the wide right position, the ball delivered perfectly by Adam Stolerman to allow Guy Morris to head home and give Lions the lead.
For the next 20 minutes Lions played some of their best football this season with Joseph, Stanton, Lauffer and Stolerman interchanging passes with movement to boot which the home side just couldn’t handle. In fact Stanton and Stolerman both missed great chances to extend Lions grip on the game.
However, with the Lions back four holding firm marshalled brilliantly by captain of the day Guy Morris, it allowed the attaching flair of the visitors to continue the good work.
Goal number two deservedly arrived thanks to Joseph after a tenacious run gave him the opportunity to pick up a loose clearance, not needing a second invitation he coolly placed his shot past a crowd of players into the goal.
With half time arriving Lions knew this was far from over and playing into the wind they had to be extra vigilant.
MK Wanderers, who always looked threatening on the counter, came out flying and for the first 20 minutes of the half Lions backs were firmly to the wall. This wasn’t helped by the fact that Stanley was virtually playing on one leg and Aron Barnes who had run himself into the ground in the first-half was blowing like the great Western train.
The pressure finally told as MK pulled a goal back after Levack was slow getting out, onside and not a defender in touching distance the MK forward must have thought Chanukah had come early as he slotted the ball home.
Game on and what a response from the visitors. But Barnes battled through the exhaustion and was to play a leading role in the foyrth goal.
The game was effectively over as a contest when goal machine Stolerman burst through one on one with the MK keeper after a delicious through ball from Stanton and fired in his 15th goal of the season.
Three was soon to become four thanks to Barnes who managed to muster one last run into the box slotting the ball home from close range before collapsing and being carried from the field of play on a stretcher
After reaching the last eight for the first time, manager Gold said: “Given the players we didn’t have here today and the performance the lads that were here have just given shows what a tremendous strength in depth the club has right now.
“Every year we get a week where we struggle to get a 14 out it is the nature of the beast today however it was a bare 11 this week. The key is discipline and mental strength and the players have to take a considerable amount of credit for the way they conducted themselves today, they got what they deserved.”
Looking ahead to the remaining league fixtures of this year, he added: “There seems to be a lot of talk about massive games coming up. Every game is important but the players need to realise that if they perform to the levels I know they can they have absolutely nothing to worry about.”
Lions: Danny Berliner, Aron Barnes, Guy Morris, Alex Levack, Ben Lauffer, Tony Gold, Ben Joseph, Andy Myers, James Stanley, Daniel Stanton, Adam Stolerman