Raiders B swept aside AC Mill Hill at Chase Lodge with a 5 star display befitting of Champions to clinch the 2nd Division title and close out a remarkable unbeaten league campaign.
Raiders went in to the game knowing that only a win, in this their final league game of the season, would guarantee the title. With the 3G pitch at Brunel on standby, the rain relented for just long enough for the Chase Lodge pitch to be deemed playable.
Raiders have made a habit of starting games fast and despite playing uphill, against the wind the and with the pitch cutting up quickly making passing football challenging, the men in Orange dominated the early stages all be it without creating a clear cut chance. A series of Adam Posner corners and Anthony Goodmaker long throws were repelled by the resolute Mill Hill defence, and when Nicky Woolf slipped the buccaneering Rafi Addlestone through in the 17th minute, his effort was smothered by the keeper.
With the game settling down in to a pattern of incessant Raiders pressure ironically it was Mill Hill who nearly broke the deadlock. Hot shot Ben Zloof was put clean through but as he bore down on goal, Raiders’ keeper David Simnock spread himself and produced an outstanding save diving at the feet of the striker to push the ball to safety before being cleared by Richard Bloom. The save proved to be a pivotal moment in the game as Raiders eventually scored the goal their pressure deserved. It came on the stroke of half time when a Danny Bloom throw from the left was flicked on by Matt Greene to David Esterkin who arched his back dispatched a deft back header in to the roof of the net to the delight of the travelling Raiders fans. Esterkin had been immense in the centre of midfield alongside the equally impressive due of Simon Buchler and Gilad Kestenbaum in what was a full blooded first period where midfield supremacy was always going to be key to the outcome of the game. The Orange trio seemed to win every arial dual and seemed to surprise Mill Hill with their strength on and off the ball. In front of them Adam Posner’s guile belied the poor conditions underfoot and the men in light blue never got to grips with his clever movement.
Mill Hill came flying out of the blocks in the second half but they couldn’t test Simnock on the rare occasions they were able to escape the attentions of Goodmaker, Greene and Richard Bloom who were rocks at the back. As the game wore on, Raider’s dominance finally translated in to goals. On the hour mark a touch of class from Kestenbaum saw him pull the ball out of the air and spread it wide to Richard Bloom, his ball down the inside right channel was weighted perfectly in to the path of Simon Buchler who was scythed down as he burst towards the box. Danny Bloom whipped in a pacey in-swinging cross from the resulting free kick and Esterkin rose highest to head majestically home for a remarkable 13th goal in just eleven appearances.
Mike Hershman and Jeremy Elster replaced Kestenbaum and Addlestone in the 64th minute and it was Elster who forced home the 3rd after Danny Bloom’s low shot squirmed away from the Mill Hill keeper. The goal and the result were especially sweet for Elster who finally broke his final day duck - the all action midfielder having failed to secure silverware at the final hurdle on no less than 7 previous occasions. The assist was Danny Bloom’s last contribution as he was replaced by Rob Samuelson down the left.
The fresh legs were needed when, with just under a quarter of an hour remaining, Green pulled up with a hamstring injury. Hershman, and Richard Bloom nominally dropped in to the full back positions as Raiders went 4-4-1 with Posner slotting in to midfield. The numerical disadvantage didn’t seem to make a difference to the ten men in Orange as they continued to storm forward with menace. With the final whistle beckoning Posner capped his display with a glorious defence splitting pass to release Woolf. Raiders’ top scorer and skipper who didn’t stop running all game kept his cool, rounded the keeper and slotted home his goal-a-game 17th of the season to make it 4-0. With bottles of champagne being readied on the touchline as the game entered injury time, a long throw down the left from Goodmaker found Richard Bloom deep inside the Mill Hill half. With his manager imploring him to remember he was supposed to be playing at full back, the composed defender worked his way in to the box and shot low past the keeper for the 5th before wheeling away in delight to put the seal on a comprehensive win and sensational season.
The final whistle sparked jubilant celebrations from all those connected with Raiders’ with Manager Jonathan Adelman full of praise for his team “What a way to win the league! From the moment the boys turned up today you could see their fierce desire to get the 3 points and walk off the pitch as Champions. We didn’t want to be sitting around for weeks on end waiting to see if FC Team dropped points, we wanted to go out there and win the trophy. The players have worked so hard this season and they deserved that moment of absolute elation when the final whistle went. There’s no better feeling in football. I’m just disappointed that I wasn’t able to bring on two of my five subs and that I wasn’t able to accommodate everyone that was available in to the match day squad especially because everyone in the squad has played their part this season. I thought Simmo’s save was the crucial moment in the game today, had Zloof scored that who knows what could have happened – and that’s been the story of our season, every game someone different has popped up with a crucial goal or a tackle or in this case a superb save. No matter which players we have put out on any given Sunday they have all shown the collective desire, mental toughness and quality of football required of Champions. Today was the icing on the cake and they deserve all the plaudits they get for going the league season unbeaten. It’s a remarkable achievement in an 18 game season and despite managing Raiders teams of the past to divisional titles and a cup win at Wingate over the years, there’s no doubt that from a personal perspective, this title caps them all.