Dave Newman fired the winner to boost SPEC FC's promotion hopes in the battle between the 3G specialists in Hatfield.
In a Guardiola vs Mourinho esque tactical battle, it was SPEC’s stand-in manager Michael Rhodes who outwitted his counterpart and good friend Oli Shorts as the Bananas edged a tightly contested encounter over their former pitch sharing foes to enhance their chances of back-to-back promotions.
SPEC started brightly and almost took the lead five minutes in; Berman lofting a free-kick into the box before Ricky Lawrence fired a header low and hard into the corner that the keeper did well to parry away from close range. From the rebound, Dan Amram rattled a shot against the post to show SPEC meant business.
This, however, seemed to stir Raiders into life and they soon forced Dan Pike into early action denying Esterkin one-on-one by forcing him wide.
Further set-pieces from an array of Banana boys caused the Raiders defence all kinds of problems. Before half time, Laurence Rosenthal had an audacious 45-yard free-kick tipped over expertly, whilst Ricky Lawrence again came close with a 40-yard thunderbolt of his own that ‘stayed hit’.
However, it was after the break that they finally made a set-piece tell. This time, the prized right foot of Nick Berman swung in a sumptuous cross, which was met by the head of a Newman, returning to the team after a spell in the MLS, the frontman sent his header crashing into the corner of the net with aplomb.
After the goal, SPEC began to sit back and as Raiders grew in confidence they began to create some clear-cut chances. The best of which again came to Esterkin but once more the attacking midfielder was thwarted by the prowess of Pike who denied him smartly by standing big and catching the attempted lob.
The Bananas were playing on the counter attack and had chances of their own; Amram and Cohen both had shots well saved whilst Wallis will be ruing blazing his shot over after incisively cutting open the Raiders defence with a trademark run from the left wing.
As a final throw of the dice, player-manager Shorts subbed himself on, and almost had an immediate impact. With the seconds ticking away, Shorts curved his run expertly and was through on goal, only to be stopped by a late off-side flag. There is no doubt that had the flag of stayed down, Raiders would have exited the Cinderella Hairena with an extension of confidence and a point in hand. Alas, it wasn’t to be as the impenetrable Simon Lee and new centre back pairing of Rosenthal and Hayman ensured SPEC held tight for another clean sheet - their sixth in their last seven home ages.
Raiders Manager Oli Shorts tweeted “The lads couldn't believe Rhodes had a suit. That was the difference.”