MOLTEN SPARTAN SOUTH MIDLANDS RESERVE LEAGUE
Harpenden Town 2 London Lions Reserves 3
Two goals from TJ Keterman helped Lions reserves claim a hard-fought victory at Harpenden Town in an action-packed contest.
A rock hard pitch, tough opponents, two late cry-offs, a debutant in goal and some eccentric refereeing gave Lions plenty of excuses for coming away from Harpenden with nothing, but in a performance of significant character they ground out a victory with the game graced by without doubt the goal of the season.
Teenager Jake Doffman answered an emergency call at 11am when regular keeper Sam Castle was forced to withdraw through illness, coming in to make his debut in a team that saw several changes from that that beat Bletchley last week, with only Frank Hyman remaining in a defensive line that saw Rob Blackman, Cameron Most and Cohen return to its ranks. Teenagers Jordan Nathan and George Fierstone were alongside the outstanding David Soutar in midfield with Dan Lipman and TJ Keterman supporting Nick Goodman up front.
With Max Kyte withdrawing unwell shortly before kick-off Lions were only able to field James Stanley and Dan Green, neither of whom were fully fit, on their bench.
The pitch really made life hard for both sides, but the visitors started the better and for 15 minutes made all the running. With the breeze at their backs they needed no second invitations to shoot, with Keterman twice firing powerfully but wide.
Soutar was next to try his luck, he forcing the home keeper to tip his piledriver over the bar, the Harpenden No. 1 then doing well to claw the resulting corner behind again from under his own bar. Lipman then had a chance, but elected to pass when a well placed.
And as has happened too often this season, from their opponents first notable opportunity they scored, but in the most controversial and ultimately bizarre circumstances. A hopeful ball over the top saw Cohen having to chase down the attacker on the far side of the box. As the ball skipped out of play the two collided. Some half hearted penalty appeals were quite clearly waved away, but a shout or two of derision from the home fans inexplicably saw the whistle blown and referee point to the spot, fully five seconds later.
In what seemed an eternity of discussion the referee admitted to Lions skipper Goodman that he'd made an error yet said he felt he couldn't change his mind again. At the end of it the decision stood and the penalty was despatched.
Pretty much every decision was understandably contested from here, although credit both sets of players for not losing their cool and allowing the game to be played out in a decent spirit.
Already a goal down Lions' cause wasn't helped when skipper and leading goalscorer Goodman was forced off with a hamstring strain meaning Green was asked to give more like an hour than the 15 minutes he'd wanted! He was though on his mettle instantly, and having had a couple of good early touches burst into the box were he was upended by the home keeper - no argument about this one. Up stepped Keterman to blast the equaliser home from the spot.
With this renewed confidence Lions attacked again, Lipman dragging wide while Keterman drilled at the keeper. Fierstone then won Lions a corner which he took himself, and from it Lions took the lead in the most spectacular fashion. Spotting Nathan alone outside the box he drilled the kick out to him, the young midfielder shaping his body and executing a quite stunning volley that quite simply flew into the top corner. When the opposition are applauding you know you've seen a really quite special goal.
Leading at the break the visitors knew they'd have to weather a storm, but weather it they did. Soutar was outstanding as were Hyman and Most at the heart of the Lions defence, while Cohen exacted a superb covering challenge at the far post that would have otherwise have seen a tap in.
Just as they'd seemed to have done enough, on the hour mark a corner was whipped in, deceiving young Doffman in goal and dropping over his head for the equaliser.
Lions somehow managed to muster a response, and from a free kick awarded 25 yards out Keterman's trusty right foot did the rest, the ball nestling in the bottom corner from another cracking strike.
Moments later his race was run as he too felt his hamstring. Lions were forced to battle their way through and could have wrapped things up when first Green lobbed over and then Lipman, having spun his man, struck just wide. Fierstone then lit the game up with a wonderful mazy run that made a mockery of the pitch, his audacious 30-yard chip kept out only by the fingertips of the back-peddling keeper.
Harpenden applied pressure throughout, Doffman making a couple of solid catches to atone for his error.
Harpenden lost their manager, unable to keep his cool as the refereeing decisions continued to flummox both sides and then six minutes of injury time somehow ended up being nine.
Lions, though, saw it out for an excellent win in trying circumstances, with this young side showing a maturity that belied its years.
Lions have just two games left to play and they'll be hoping to back up this performance with more of the same in both of those.