An enhanced line up, improved performance and first goal of the season for Akhtar was not enough to prevent Orpington losing to Elmstead Strollers this weekend, 3-1.
Following last week’s dismal defeat to Loughborough, manager Matt Utton and his team clearly put in the yards in training and exercised a much greater level of control and possession with the ball. A strengthened five man midfield, aptly supported by a strong back four were led at the top of the field by Akhtar, making his bow as lone striker. Orpington play well at home and the improved line up and formation gave them something extra that hasn’t been evident this season. Controlled play and passing was augmented by greater composure and desire to create movement, rather than sit back and expect it.
Orpington, perhaps cruelly, were behind after 20 minutes, when a quick break from Elmstead resulted in a very fortuitous goal. After a solid save from Utton, the rebound cannoned off the Strollers striker’s face and luckily found the back of the net. Not to be deterred, Orpington set about the game again with great skill and constructed some fine moves. The defence pushed up and closed the gap between the midfield and themselves and allowed attacks to flourish. Moments after going behind, the ball was headed forward by Rob Utton in to the feet of Haden who’s quick shift around the defender allowed him to play in Turner who crossed the ball to the edge of the area to the awaiting Akhtar. The resulting left foot strike was inch-perfect and levelled the scores up brilliantly.
Orpington could have increased their tally and were unlucky to go in at half time level. Haden had a great shot saved by the ‘keeper and Akhtar almost doubled his own haul, only for his header to go straight into the ‘keeper’s hands. Moments before the half time whistle, Rob Utton prevented a clear goal scoring opportunity, when his well-timed tackle whipped the ball away from the ever threatening Strollers forward in the penalty box.
Utton, famous for a half time switch, resisted the temptation to alter the line-up and Orpington started at the same pace they ended the first half. More good movement and link ups with the middle three of Adamou, Haden and Facer were to be marvelled, but Orpington’s defence was unlocked for a second time following a set piece. The Strollers attacker headed the crossed dead ball to the near post, which somehow seemed to pass through Duggan who had replaced Martin moments before.
With the game stretched and a few tired legs, Utton started to bring on further substitutions but, following a counter attack from Orpington, Strollers broke down the wing, played the ball into the box and converted the cross. A big shout for offside, but with the Sky cameras unavailable for the day, it was impossible to review.
Orpington pushed hard towards the final whistle, with Akhtar continuously finding space to have a shot on goal. The lone striker role is clearly a position that he can make his own and the chances will continue to come. Rob Utton had to make another goal saving challenge, similar to the first half when the rapid Elmstead number 8 broke once again. Orpington controlled most of the play towards the end of the match and with Adamou and Haden working well back in midfield together, there was always a belief that something could be salvaged. However, it was not to be and Orpington conceded all 3 points.
The first half performance was one to be heralded today and Orpington should use this to springboard their campaign. With more than winnable fixtures on the horizon, this new approach looks promising.