Report By: DEAN THOMSON
I suppose you could call this one the battle of 'The Best of the Rest'. With Hermiston Vale and Redhall Star all but sealing first and second spot prematurely this season, it was between one of the associations oldest members, Civil Service, to host newly formed LBG Strollers in a clash of the 'Strollers' That said, league newcomers - Mashucubia FC - are hot on the heels of both clubs for the bronze medal, after a great spell of form recently. Three very tough remaining fixtures will take a miracle to catch the winner of today's fixture however...
It would also be safe to say that this was very much a warm up for the much anticipated League Cup Semi Final, which sees these two clubs meeting again to battle it out for a coveted place in the final, this coming May. 2 big games, 2 very different outcomes to a season it could be for both clubs...
Civil finally 'welcomed' the Strollers to their home ground at Marine Drive - a pitch that has been plagued with postponements all season. Whether these pitches are genuinely unplayable or Civil are too over-protective of their long standing home ground is yet to be known. No let up in the Westerly winds that seemed to suit the Strollers last week but all-in-all, the conditions weren't bad on this crisp Spring afternoon. Judging by the size of the pitch, fitness would play a key role in the outcome of today's game...
LBG would line up in their usual 4-2-3-1 formation today.
The first half felt like a lifetime of the Earth. Both sides appeared cagey, in particular LBG, who Manager Campbell commented at half time looked like "a team who has never played together" It was clear that this was an unfamiliar line-up taking to the turf today.
The departure of familiar first 11 faces in Tom Reade (career move to London), Captain Greg Wallace (groin injury) and Euan Watt (emigrated to Australia), seemed to have an adverse effect in the opening stages.
Vice Captain Thomson still shaking off a dead leg from a first minute bull-dozing by the original 'Big No. 9' found it difficult, along with fellow defenders Carson, Tomarelli and Langstaff to deal with the early spells of pressure created by the Strollers midfield and forward lines not retaining possession well enough. This initial shaky spell for the Strollers was lifted after an absolutely world class save. Good footwork by the Big No 9 brought the ball nicely on to his favoured right foot on the edge of the box. His curling effort was top-corner bound was it not for the Strollers resident No.1 Allan, who got his footwork spot on here, and sprung to his top left to tip round the bar. A big let off for the away side who needed to start creating the kind of football that have hurt many teams at this level throughout the campaign.
Right winger David Hitchen showing glimpses of class at times but lacked early support from his peers to hurt the Civil back line. At times the young Englishman appeared to defy physics, and the standard of the amateur game, in the way he expertly demonstrated grabbing the ball from a very windy sky. Left winger Andy Langstaff also looked menacing at times. Refusing to settle for being an old-fashioned left back, opting to play a more left-wing back role, created some nice moves with Gaunt down their own touchline.
Many say a goal just before the break is the best time to go ahead in these kind of games, and that's exactly what the Strollers achieved. The team in all red drawing first blood, when a rare bit of good football in the first 45 minutes from the Lloyds lads lead to left winger and today's Man of the Match Matty Gaunt curling home a terrific finish. A nice 40 yard drilled pass from Thomson found the feet of midfielder McPherson who's excellent first touch found an already anticipating Gaunt on his left, who showed great skill in wrapping the outside of his weaker left foot around the ball from around 20 yards, to bury the spinning Mitre in to the far corner of the opposition net. The strike being uted so early catching the bewildered goalie cold, and rooted to his six yard line.
The lead didn't last long. Strollers lined up for the second half with the same 11, with Campbell's firm but fair words still resonating in their ears. LBG hardly had time to roll up their socks before the score was level again. A standard long ball from Civil catching the wind and bouncing menacingly allowed the Big No 9 to somehow squeeze between defence and goalkeeper to bullet a header at the bar which bounced across the goal-line, only to be tapped in by the same number after a series of comical errors from LBG players to attempt to clear the second-ball properly.
The game resorted back to the sleepy pace seen throughout most of the first half and Campbell saw the opportunity to make much needed changes, calling on veterans Davie Scott and Steven Willison to shake off the competitive cobwebs and inspire their younger team mates. And what an impact they made!
Today's Right Back Gregg Carson, who has been unlucky to miss out on a regular place to Club Captain Greg Wallace in this position, had a solid performance today, but gave way for Willison on 70 minutes. A little bit of jiggery pokery to the team saw, Willison fill the gaping hole that had been present in midfield for much of the match. He was eager to get on the ball from the word go and this desire to act as play maker shifted LBG in to a higher gear all of a sudden. Hentges - who, as usual, never stopped running all day - was given a break also, with Scott replacing Clement upfront, who took on a classic No 10 role for the remainder.
It is when the Strollers play like this that makes them a joy to watch, and has seen them blast through their points tally by almost 3 times as much as last season! The deserved chances started to roll in thick in fast from all areas of the pitch but a few missed chances, most notably a fresh air swipe inside the box from Clement, maybe got the Strollers thinking it would be another Melville Rovers-like day in front of goal.
One thing that will never desert this seasons Top Scorer is confidence. Minutes after this golden chance came three moments of magic which made his peers forget all about the chance wasted. The first; a curling free-kick that was top corner bound was it nor for another excellent save to force a corner. 'G' was then presented with an identical opportunity, which this time found the back of the net. The second strike was admittedly weaker than his first but the lower height deceived the frustrated goalie, who couldn't get down to it quick enough. A crucial goal to regain the lead.
Within ten minutes of this came his screamer of a second. Not many would attempt a dig from this angle and distance, and some are probably still questioning whether it was a cross. Nonetheless, it was another spectacular effort which sailed over the marined goalkeeper. 3-1.
The Strollers were up in fifth gear now and Civil seemed to be in reverse, resorting to late tackles and squabbling tactics, but zero football! Davey Scott showed his usual tricky feet and bagged a late fourth for LBG after blasting straight at the goalie with his first strike, but latching on to the ball and drilling in to the near post to wrap up the win for the visitors.
A comfortable win in the end for an unfamiliar Strollers side. Some uninspiring football played at times today, but the teams desire to win never seems to falter lately and they look to have secured a third place finish for the campaign.
It is vital that the boys do not let this win get to their heads when meeting Civil again in the semi final. Although outclassed today, this team caused some problems early on for LBG today and they cannot be taken for granted...