HIGHWAYMEN MINT IT AT THE POLO FARM
By tim walters
Daylight robbery in smash’n grab raid
Canterbury Friars 1 BOEHC Highwaymen 2
An early start at Canterbury where the team has previously never gleaned so much as a solitary point may not have seemed an enticing prospect, especially against hosts as defensively parsimonious as the Friars, who may not exactly be free-scoring, but who do not leak too many at the other end either. However, it was the visiting Highwaymen who left with the booty after the perfect smash-and grab raid against a Canterbury team that absolutely dominated possession, particularly in a territorially one-sided first half where the home team laid siege to their opponents’ D. But even if they felt that the points had been pick-pocketed by the visitors, it was hard to begrudge the mental toughness and obduracy of the BOEHC team who currently boast the best defensive record in the division.
However, a massive defensive reshuffle was necessary for the visitors, with Richard Cleall turning in a virtuoso performance in the centre, and ably supported by the ever resourceful Peter Robinson. Chris Bernard put it a fantastic first 35 minutes before the break, and Greg Dowse once again proved he is the man for all seasons after an excellent display in an unfamiliar right-back berth. But that was pretty much all there was to write home about in a first half where a very experienced and talented home team barely let the Highwaymen escape into the opposition half, such was their metaphorical grip on their opponents’ throats. It was indeed some achievement to make it to the break goalless, but the wise old heads in the team had somehow kept the Highwaymen in the hunt. It was wonderful to witness captain Stephen Gilbert leading the line again on the field of play, but it was his “Fergie Hairdryer” at half-time which really set the tone for a cracking second-half. In truth the verbal berating of his troops may have been less the virile invective of a Scottish football manager than it was a Vidal Sassoon accessory of Prince Andrew’s ex-wife, but it certainly did the trick.
It is no coincidence that the team’s upturn in since the beginning of December has coincided with the arrival of the excellent “Super Seagull” Ali Burnett, but at last his promptings of the first half met with greater response in the second, as the visitors starting winning loose balls, stretching their opponents’ defence and gradually wearing down their visibly flagging counterparts, even if the likes of Steve Garth were still forced to feed off scraps in terms of attacking options. The short corner count was about two-to-one in the home team’s favour as it started to near double-digits for the Friars, but still the visitors’ defence held firm. Briefly the game threatened to turn into a form of martial arts ten-pin bowling on the rather lively water-based astroturf. Richard Cleall had already copped one in the small of his back, before Ravi Wickramasuriya was felled from the front ... and that was before he took an inadvertent forearm smash to the jaw. Poor Peter Robinson was hit square on the knee leaving him in such severe transient pain that he could not find any sufficient swear words at all to utter, but the best was reserved for man-of-the-match Josh Clark. As the ball rocketed into his midriff from a distance of about ten foot, the headline writers were already juggling with puns about the Polo Farm and players with holes in them, but to his eternal credit the Highwaymen’s young talisman carried on undeterred.
When the deadline was eventually broken, it took some high-class play from three of the away team to change the course of the game. Ali Burnett’s goal-bound effort from a penalty corner was parried to the right by the keepers’ pads, where the ever alert Simon McDonald did a great job of fielding the loose ball and returning it quickly into the middle for sammy chana to apply a smart finish. He could even have added a second a few minutes later after putting the ball into the net again, only to have the “goal” disallowed for dangerous play, as the initial ball into the D had arrived via a supposedly dangerous trajectory. Again the team were indebted to another of the team’s best performers this season, goalkeeper Tom Conway, for keeping out what looked like a sure-fire equaliser with his right pad, before the game was finally settled by a special piece of play from Josh Clark. After robbing the ball from Canterbury’s last man 25 metres from goal, a quick turn saw him one-on-one and gun barrel straight with the home keeper, whom he casually nutmegged to make it 2-0. The smart finish was not quite so well matched by the resulting goal celebration which was curtailed when the scorer collapsed in a heap on the ground after realising he was still in pain from the previous incident in the paragraph above.
In true Highwaymen fashion the visitors elected to keep it interesting by conceding a late goal with 90 seconds still left on the clock, but nothing could stop what was the team’s most notable victory on the road for a couple of years. Only goal difference is now keeping the team out of third place in the table after three wins and two draws in the last five fixtures, although the run-in looks hellishly tricky. Second spot is still technically within the team’s grasp, but three of the next four matches are against the three teams at the top of the table, so the season’s end will be a testing one. The general standard of Division 3 has been high this season with Old Bordenians bolstered by one of their higher teams folding, Gravesham much improved through the merger with Wellcome, and Brombecks a much tougher prospect than last year. But it is all to play for ...
Tom Conway (GK), tim walters, Chris Bernard, Peter Robinson, Greg Dowse, Richard Cleall, Ravi Wickramamsuriya, Alastair Burnett, Josh Clark, sammy chana, Simon McDonald, Steve Garth and Stephen Gilbert (C).
Josh Clark … a great all-round display, although the whole team deserves a pat on the back for the second half performance.
Both from Canterbury, and both fine in a game played in a great spirit by both teams.