Bare bones Highwaymen ride on
Vital three home points for Club
BEHC Highwaymen 3 Old Bordenians Men's 5s 1
Forget the skeleton in the Winter Olympics, Highwaymen captain Stephen Gilbert had to juggle with a skeleton squad of a bare 12 for Saturday's match, and this despite the fixture being the first (and only) home match of 2017-2018 at the team's nominal headquarters of the London Marathon Ground. Even the returning Peter Robinson, playing his first match of the season and not exactly renowned for his carrier pigeon instincts, managed to find the ground, albeit about five minutes after the official start time, which actually meant that match-day manager Mark Ainley was spared the "Sorry, son, you're starting on the bench" speech altogether, as he only had 11 bodies present for the actual push-back. Last minute cry-offs had shorn him of 20% of the original 15-man contingent and the visiting Old Bordenians squad was actually bigger than that of their match-day hosts.
With some very key absentees (Andy Rose / Pat Gainey / Steve Bowles), and playing against a team who had seen off Herne Bay a week earlier, the auspices were therefore not exactly encouraging for BEHC, even if the team was greeted for once by glorious, almost spring-like weather of solid blue sky, bright sunshine and virtually no breeze. The away support also outnumbered the home fans by two to one ... those are actual numbers, by the way, not ratios. Nevertheless, the ability of some of the men in red, particularly the excellent Graham Green and man-of-the-match Rhys Edwards, to fill unfamiliar midfield roles ultimately made the difference in a good game which the hosts will have been relieved to win. Old Bordenians are a much better team than their lowly league position would suggest, and any latecomers to proceedings (of which there were none, at least in a non-playing capacity) might have been pushed to identify which was the team top of the division, and which was the one propping up the rest, such was the away team's confidence and superiority for the opening quarter.
Fortunately the Highwaymen have been able to field a fairly settled defensive line-up for much of the season, and having Club legend Steve Miller available on a more regular basis has made a significant difference to the backbone of team. Alongside stalwart Phil Kinch and with the ever-maturing Tom Conway between the posts and Richard Cleall tucked in just ahead of the back three, the defence maintained its solid feel of recent weeks. The keeper in particular was outstanding and only missed out on the man-of-the-match plaudits by failing to bribe the match reporter highly enough, while Richard Cleall remains both talismanic and inspirational week in, week out.
Once the initial inertia had been shaken off the home did improve at last, thanks mainly to the promptings down the right from both Rhys Edwards and Ravi Wickramasuriya. A home "goal" following a short-corner was correctly chalked off, but it did not take long for goalscorer supreme sammy chana to tuck one in that did actually count, thus maintaining his excellent scoring run and giving the Highwaymen a barely-deserved half-time lead. The game eventually swung during a ten minute period either side of the break when first Old Bordenians' talented midfield playmaker was forced out of proceedings with a hamstring injury, and then the home team's most consistent performer over the past six months. Greg Dowse, once again found the back of the net only two minutes in to the second 35. The two-goal cushion at last afforded the home team a little breathing space to play some more expansive stuff, and the men in red went on to have far the better of the third quarter, adding a third goal through sammy chana to make things safe, before the home legs understandably tired a bit and the visitors scored a deserved consolation with by far the best goal of the game, although it was not enough to change the tide for a late flourish.
Overall it was a forgettable match in terms of quality, but highly memorable in terms of an absolutely excellent team performance from 1 to 12 ... and by the manager once again making a significant tweak at half time, withdrawing Rhys Edwards to the centre of midfield to force the issue in the vital third quarter. Further good news was provided by another very odd half-term result in the division, with Burnt Ash somehow demolishing third-placed Holcombe by a score of 10-1, a reverse that is so damaging to Holcombe's goal difference (now a negative number!) that it will now be very difficult for either of these two teams to catch the two at the top ... not that the Highwaymen have any desire other than to take each game as it comes and try to finish top of the pile come mid-March.
And so derby day against the BEHC Dynamos looms under a week hence, this time as the "away" team ...
Tom Conway, tim walters, Steve Miller, Phil Kinch, Richard Cleall, Ravi Wickramasuriya, Greg Dowse, Graham Green, Rhys Edwards, sammy chana, Peter Robinson and Stephen Gilbert (C).
Rhys Edwards - hard to believe he has been out of competitive action for so long. Rhys could prove to be a major asset for the team in the season's run-in.
The team has been lucky to have well-officiated games thus far in the second half of the season and Saturday was no exception. Both Annette Golding and Jon Taylor were excellent, set the tone from the start and controlled a fixture with a "lively" heritage without hitch or problem - brilliant.