It was a Raiders performance as bright as the Sunday morning sunshine, as the Division 1 title-chasers grabbed a convincing 4-0 win against second-placed IVR. Despite some tough Saturday matches for many of the squad, all the players showed great energy and commitment to come out of the blocks quickly in this game. With IVR looking light up front, there was a bit of time on the ball for the Raiders back line. This led to some lovely football from the back in the early stages from Parker, Cook and Kobylecki. Parker’s clever long passes were worrying the visitors’ defence, and one such pass led to the first corner of the game. A superb delivery was headed wide after an impressive leap from Everard. Soon after, another through ball from Parker was met by the run of Barrett, whose strike went just wide of the far post. As they searched for the breakthrough goal, it was Horler who came surprisingly close when his long range free kick became a shot that was stopped by the IVR ‘keeper. Next came a through ball from Horler and a clever lob from Everard that left the goalie stranded, but unfortunately flew just over the bar. WIth the away side sitting deep and packing their defence, it felt like it could be a day for the long ranger! Before long, the inevitable opening goal arrived. Some excellent play by Parker in the left back position broke through an IVR press. His ball down the wing was met by the defender, but Barrett robbed him of possession and broke free before cutting in and picking out the onrushing Hugo Andrews. Andrews unleashed a superb first time right-footed strike, which flew into the bottom corner. 1-0. 17 minutes gone. The Raiders enjoyed more possession and created more chances before half time. Notably, there were some ‘nearly’ through balls from Parker and Barrett and a Parker free-kick sailed just over the bar. Then the home fans nearly got the Horler goal they’d been dreaming of when another well-struck free kick clattered the upright. Half-time and the home team had a well-deserved but slender lead. The second half took a while to get going. Whilst it felt like Raiders needed more goals, there didn’t seem any real threat from the IVR attack, who were well-marshalled by any combination of Cook, Heston Andrews, Hibbard, Kobylecki and Clarke. The Raiders continued to dominate possession and play positive forward passes. Any lingering nerves in the home crowd were settled on 38 minutes when a ball from Barrett was met by Parker. Raiders’ number 10 skillfully lifted his shot high above the ‘keeper, whose fingertips touch couldn’t prevent the ball from landing in the top of the goal. 2-0. Deeks, battling bravely in midfield despite carrying a knock, then had a good effort saved but it wasn’t long before the third goal came on 44 minutes. A neat piece of play down the right hand side sent Kobylecki away, before he showed great composure to slot home his second of the season. The home fans were going wild for a perfect performance by the boys in white. But the icing on the Raiders’ cake was still to come. It arrived in the form of a spectacular fourth goal - and a second for Hugo Andrews - in the 50th minute. Finding himself far out on the right wing with a bouncing ball, Andrews opted to pull out his wand of a left foot and his sweetly struck effort flew straight into the top corner. The goalkeeper was stranded and the goalscorer was deservedly congratulated by his ecstatic teammates. The Raiders played out the remainder of the game with almost complete control. There was time for one decent effort by IVR as a well-struck free kick hit the bar…although Horler clearly had it covered.
A huge win in a potentially season-defining game. With other results going their way, the Raiders now have the league title firmly in their sights. But the job is not done and this squad will stay calm and continue to play with the same humility, quality and professionalism that has got them this far. Raiders 4-0 IVR P.S. Heal quickly, Fenton ‘The Rolls Royce’ Arnold. We all look forward to seeing you back out there soon.