Going into today's game we knew if there was any chance of chasing the league leaders all the way we would need maximum points for our remaining fixtures. Pex Hill had proven to be a very good side when we last faced them in October, and we needed to be at our absolute best if we wanted to come away with maximum points. Like on a number of occasions this season however we had to cope with injuries and player absences which ultimately will be what will cost us this campaign.
Skipper Paddy Clegg returned to the squad following his ankle injury sustained against All Boys Woolton but he was by no means 100%. This meant for only the second time this season our hand was forced to start in a 3-4-3 formation. Given it worked in the cup game vs Athletico and took us within 90 seconds of getting a 1-0 victory there was much to be optimistic about. It was the lack of depth in the squad however and only 1 substitute that we will look back on and without using too many excuses be the main factor for not taking something from what was already going to be a tough game.
Alex McDonald who had arguably hit his best form of the season was missing alongside both Ethan Danku and Kaleb Sweeney who were all representing their college sides in Dubai. With attacking options of that calibre missing we were always going to miss their involvement. What we didn't expect however was arguably our worst performance of the season which seen us outfought and outworked.
Pex Hill went into the break with a deservingly 1-0 lead, the only positive was it wasn't more. Frustration had kicked in also which saw Charlie Hacking sin binned for dissent although the referee didn't help the situation by failing to give us a number of clear decisions. Gift Sibanda should have been awarded a penalty for what looked like a blatant foul and there was a clear handball which denied Hacking a one on one with the keeper which led to his outburst. Our luck took another turn for the worst when Sam O'Neill's strong challenge just before half time saw him clash with Antowne Duke and forced his centre back partner to leave the pitch.
We set up in our more preferred 4-3-3 in the second half with Clegg replacing Duke. And within 2 minutes we had drew level. Gift Sibanda was again fouled in the box but the decision this time was penalty and up he stepped for his 20th goal of what has been a great season for him personally. It was massively disappointing to concede just 2 minutes later.
Although we had improved in the second half you could see things weren't clicking and it was going to be one of those days. Ben Devlin's well taken free kick was driven hard and low but very well saved by their keeper. Jude Carroll followed up the rebound and arguably should have scored but he was denied by a second excellent save. Gift Sibanda then had a goal chalked off for offside and Zico Williams hit the post late on. The visitors had several clear chances of their own which were squandered with their talisman left with an open goal but putting wide. A late penalty appeal for what looked like a trip on Zico Williams was waved away and the final whistle was like a dagger to the heart as we knew it was a result that could end all hopes of catching Athletico.