FORM IS TEMPORARY, CLASS IS PERMANENT
Highwaymen grab the spoils in second-half assault
This fixture has a habit of producing high-scoring end-to-end matches and the latest episode in the ongoing saga of Club vs. Oaks encounters was no exception. The visitors contributed richly to an excellent game played in a highly competitive yet sporting spirit, but BEHC eventually ran out comfortable winners as the game got stretched in the second half.
The core of the team remained largely unchanged from the previous pre-season friendlies and first league match, but it was also bolstered considerably by the long-awaited return of Club legend Andy Rose and a first showing this autumn of last year’s team talisman Ali Burnett. The bench too looked strong, boasting the assorted talents of David Leverton and Paul Whitney, the latter both adding to the slap-head quotient of the squad and resplendent in his asymmetrically-coloured Puma boots, presumably necessary so that he can work out which one is left and which one right. Once again match-day manager Mark Ainley had to be imaginative with his line-up as he was not blessed with having many natural defenders at his disposal, so he was surely relieved to see the ever dependable duo of keeper Tom Conway and Phil Kinch on the team-sheet. He elected to be bold with a 3-5-2 line-up, withdrawing Richard Cleall to the heart of defence where he turned in yet another sterling performance, and packing the midfield with the usual array of talent, including Greg Dowse and Chris Bernard in the wide berths, along with Ravi Wickramasuriya who was carrying an injury into the match but battled on bravely regardless. His cause was probably not helped after half-time when he was bundled to the ground by more of a barge than a legitimate challenge, although the subsequent protracted tumble was very reminiscent of the use of a light roller on a deteriorating fifth-day pitch at the Oval.
Even though the team started well enough and carved out a plethora of decent opportunities and short corners from the off, it did have the look of a slightly constipated camel about it, with a couple of players starting to get the get the hump and nobody quite managing to squeeze out that all important opening goal, so it was a considerable relief when the deadlock was eventually broken by some excellent work down the right flank, culminating in a great cross from Chris Bernard and a very tidy finish from the rejuvenated Pat Gainey, who is looking back to his very best. The team missed his contributions for practically all of last season and looks so much better for his inclusion this year. Some sloppy defensive work on the left-wing, however, led to a scrappy and eminently avoidable equaliser ten minutes later, before the one-goal advantage was eventually restored going into the break by a carbon-copy second from the home team, this time via an equally deadly effort from Ali Burnett.
The game turned on the introduction of David Leverton from the bench, who not only shored up the left-hand side of midfield but also allowed those around him to display their full range of talents. His laxative effect opened the floodgates as the home team raced into a 5-1 lead, courtesy of another goal by Pat Gainey and a brace by David Leverton, the first of which proving just how deadly he can be from one yard out. He may have ultimately deprived his colleague of a deserved hat-trick, but in fairness he had to make sure to make the game safe. Not surprisingly, some “champagne” hockey flowed from Mr. Grand Cru Andy Rose’s stick, underlining once more that whereas form may be only temporary, class is most definitely permanent, a judgement that the Highwaymen’s correspondent is particularly well-placed to make on the basis that he has never remotely possessed either. If he and Ali Burnett remain on board, then the team may yet have a decent season after all.
In typical Highwaymen fashion, the four goal margin meant that the deck-chairs, port and stilton came out a little too early, enabling the visitors to spark back into life and score an equally avoidable second goal with five minutes remaining. The excellent Tom Conway was getting so cross that he became both vocal AND audible, which spoke volumes … literally … but the final whistle went, and so 5-2 it ended. Even if the team is a bit leakier at the back than it was previously, this will matter little as long as the Highwaymen make the most of their goal-scoring opportunities as they did here. It has been the failure to score enough goals that has cost the team promotion in both of the last two campaigns, so it is to be hoped that the squad can avoid injury, field a settled team and keep both Pat Gainey and the missing Graham Green fit, healthy, and firing on all four cylinders.
Next up is the tricky away trip to Holcombe which will be a true litmus test of how good the 2017 – 2018 vintage is likely to be.
Tom Conway (G), Phil Kinch, tim walters, Richard Cleall, Chris Bernard, Ravi Wickramasuriya, Greg Dowse, Andy Rose, Pat Gainey, Paul Whitney, David Leverton, Ali Burnett and Stephen Gilbert (C).
A great “team” performance, but the ephemeral Richard Cleall oozed class from every pore. Good players always look like they have more time on the ball than everybody else, and he almost looked like the pipe and slippers would be coming out any minute soon.
Matt McGhee and Rhys Edwards did a grand job and kept the game moving well, with no back-chat, no cards and no hassle.