MOLTEN SPARTAN SOUTH MIDLANDS LEAGUE RESERVE DIVISION TWO
Winslow United 0 London Lions Reserves 2
A young Lions reserves team - featuring five teenagers in the starting XI - boosted their hopes of a top two finish with a 2-0 victory at Winslow United.
The Reserves travelled to Winslow for their last away fixture of the season, without skipper Nick Goodman, back in Glasgow for the holiday weekend, manager Dan Jacobs, who might have been able to sneak away from wife or mother but not both. TJ Keterman had not recovered from last week's injury and Dan Green woke up ill, so Lions went with a squad of 13 and, with five teenagers in the starting 11, it was a youthful side even by Reserves' standards but undeniably high on quality.
Although the pitch was hard and uneven, with the opposition centre back standing 6’7, Lions had plenty of incentive to try and keep the ball on the floor.
Jack Franks returned in goal and Ollie Craig came in at left back, captain Frank Hyman was partnered by Laurence Judah, back after suspension and David Cohen continued at right back. The midfield was anchored by Myles Beerman, Jordan Nathan and Guy Helman prompted the attacking threat of Harry Franks, George Fierstone and Adam Stolerman. Adam Hakimi and Dan Lipman started on the bench.
The first 30 minutes were scrappy with play repeatedly halted for niggling fouls, offsides and, particularly, throw-ins as both teams struggled to control and pass the ball on the difficult surface.
Lions certainly carried the greater goal threat, with Fierstone looking particularly lively. There seemed no danger on 15 minutes when he collected the ball, under pressure, wide on the halfway line but he wriggled past two players, outpaced the covering defender and whipped in a low cross that just eluded Stolerman. The uneven bounce was causing problems even for Stolerman, whose first touch is usually exemplary and his cause wasn’t helped by too many balls being played for him to chase rather than to feet but he worked tirelessly to close down defenders, setting an example for younger teammates.
Behind him, Beerman was winning his headers and tackles and, on the few occasions Winslow did get behind him, the attacks were broken up by Judah and Hyman.
On the one occasion the home threatened, Franks made a superb reaction save from a point-blank header, though the linesman’s flag would have saved Lions anyway.
Just as it was looking like the half would finish goalless, Lions struck twice in five minutes. First Cohen collected a diagonal ball from Helman, galloped forward into the box and drove in a cross that the home ‘keeper diverted into his own net.
Three minutes later, Fierstone went on yet another run down the right flank, tricked his way into the area and picked out Stolerman, who elected to help the ball on square to Franks. With virtually his first meaningful touch of the half, Franks killed the ball dead, with his second he curled a delightful chip into the far top corner.
Lions came out for the second half under instruction to work harder off the ball and to have more composure on it and immediately Helman and Nathan were seeing more of the ball in midfield, the former's mazy run into the penalty area halted only by a full stretch tackle.
Hakimi was introduced with 35 minutes remaining and announced himself immediately with some well-timed tackles.
Lipman replaced Harry Franks as Lions went in search of more goals and burst clear impressively, but his shot from distance lacked conviction.
In truth, despite playing controlled football, Lions failed fully to test the home goalkeeper and, in the last 10 minutes, had to withstand some late pressure. From one of a series of corners, the giant Winslow centre back crashed a header against the crossbar, but the defence held firm and the game finished 2-0.
The Reserves' final game is at home next Saturday v Buckingham. Win lose or draw, there will follow an anxious wait over the following two weeks as Ampthill Town complete their remaining four fixtures, which will decide runners up spot and promotion to Division One. Congratulations, meanwhile, to Kent Athletic who clinched the league title on Saturday.