A chilly, windy Saturday afternoon at the Fortress Grists, welcomed Clissold Park Rangers for a double header. Six vital points up for grabs with both teams having the league title in their sights.
“Khaj Lets Flats” and part time boxer Tom Flynn the two noticeable absentees for the boys in Orange, which gave an opportunity for newcomer Josh and the Lewis brothers to show their worth on the battlefield.
The skipper decided to continue with five at the back that would see the world’s smallest centre back George Sullivan sacrificed to fill in, in a centre back trio of the skipper and D’Lundz, aiming to protect 3s number 1, Connor Wooley who has continued to show his class week in week out. The jobs of the wing back fell into the hands of The Careless Whisperer Harry Littlejohn, after a superb display last week and Rob “Sub 20” Palmer the handsome set-piece specialist. A midfield trio of Jez “3 lungs” Eggar, Aaron “always gets moaned at” Elwood and Dylan Brillante. Billy “the iceman” Zeqiri aiming to build upon his 10 goals in 9 games to claim that golden boot at the end of the season, with Ash “2 trees” Birch-Ruffell leading the line up top making it a nightmare day for opposition defenders. Vice-Captain Owen Kirk, Josh, Zak Lewis, Sam Lewis & Ben Lewis all waiting patiently on the bench ready to risk their lives in the trenches.
With the first game underway, it was a tense atmosphere with both teams fully aware with what was on the line. Clissold Park were looking like a composed team and it was certainly going to be a battle that neither team wants to lose. Eggar and Elwood covering lots of ground from the get-go with the fullbacks Littlejohn and Palmer continuously getting forward to join the attack. The tiffs started strong, which saw the Iceman continuously dribble past their defence and play it out to Palmer on the right hand side, looking for the head of the target man Birch-Ruffell. It was a promising start and it was all Tiffs for the first 10 minutes of the game before a long over the top Burnley style ball was played toward our number 1 who suddenly thought he could head the ball further than he could which unfortunately resulted in Clissold taking a 1-0 lead. The boys in Orange were determined to show their resilience and give the fans (the Lewis family) a performance they can be proud of. Every player on the pitch battling it out on the pitch in search of an equaliser, 5’7 centre back Sullivan showing his class and despite having a small head, continuously heading the ball away from potential danger, as well D’Lundz and Skipper Edgar doing their best to protect.
An opportunity arose when Tiffs picked up a freekick almost 30 yards out which most players would see as an opportunity to cross the ball… Not this full back, up stepped Rob Palmer the specialist, who struck the ball with elegance and as it looked like it was sailing in, it unfortunately smacked the post, so unlucky. Just as you thought the momentum was with the mighty tiffs, after a delivery into the box from Clissold, and a few fortunate bounces of lots of different players, it fell into the path of their striker who doubled their lead just before half time. 2-0 down, half time, it was certainly a mountain to climb.
A couple of changes at half time saw the fresh legs of Vice Captain Owen Kirk and debutant Josh come on. Elwood and Eggar continued to do the dirty work in the middle of the park, having already covered every blade of grass and never pulling out of a challenge, with every Tiffs player pulling their weight. Over halfway through and Tiffs win a corner, the big boys of the squad flood the box, the question to Palmer is: who to aim for? The answer is the goal, an exact repeat of last week saw the handsome specialist score directly from the corner! Too much whip on the ball gave the keeper no chance, it is now 2-1! A potential comeback is on the cards with the Clissold Rangers quaking in their boots. Fouls flying in left right and centre, it truly was a battle at Grists, with the next goal surely going to be the decider in this game. Clissold throw-in near the Tiffs goal, they certainly had lady fortune on their side, as they somehow through a load of bodies managed to wiggle the ball into the goal. Three jammy goals is certainly an understatement, heartbreak for the boys in Orange. Some negative energy started to rise in the team, but this team does not give up, despite the score now being 3-1.
Tiffs on a counterattack, Flynns replacement Josh holds up the ball 25 yards out after Elwood does fantastically to break up the attack of Clissold, with options to the left and right of Josh. Instead of playing it safe he laces the ball with his left boot and it flies into the top left corner, Van Persie-esque, a truly sublime finish to give the Tiffs a lifeline in this fight, 3-2, game on! Only a couple minutes left with Tiffs throwing absolutely everything at them, every player in the Clissold third, until a ball is played into the path of 3s Skipper Sam who is through on goal, surely he is going to bury it!? Until he is viciously brought down in the box with screams for a penalty echoing the ground, surely a pen!? But the referee very controversially says no! The penalty would have been the last kick of the game, and the referee blows for full time, a heart breaking 3-2 loss to Clissold, the penalty not given the biggest talking point. However, there was still another game to play, 3 points still up for grabs.
All to play for in the second game of this double header, and a very proud moment for the Lewis family with Zak, Sam & Ben all in the starting 11, with the boys (still) in orange going back to a more familiar back 4. The man in form Harry Littlejohn, makes his way into the midfield after a man of the match performance in the first game down that left flank. He started off very strong showing his trademark guilty feet, dribbling past opponents for fun before unfortunately the lack of potassium caused the star to pull up with cramp 10 minutes in, turns out two knee pads do not prevent cramp. It was going to be a tough time, with both teams looking tired and looking very stubborn. Littlejohn was not the only player to go down, with 3s Number 1 Wooley and Zeqiri also following suit. Which meant Birch-Ruffell had to slot in at centre back with dead ball specialist Palmer going in between the sticks, a position he adores. With Eggar and Elwood continuing to put in the effort they have all season, doing the job of three men, as Brillante was supposed to be in there with them. Brillante decided to create his own position, and drifted out on the left, staying as a forward player. Some (Aaron) may call it lazy and just an excuse to not defend, and I would totally agree with that. Nevertheless, the problems for Clissold were coming down the Tiffs left wing as well as Kirk causing problems down the right with his two-foot dribbling, creating lots of chances for Tiffs but unfortunately unable to bury any of them. Clissold were leaving gaps, and the vision of D’Lundz was able to pick out the runs of both Brillante and Sam Lewis multiple times down the left flank, with Sam causing real problems and coming very close to scoring from the left back position, showing a great attacking attitude on his return to the 3s. After so many signs of a winner, it ended a frustrating second game at Grists with the game finishing 0-0.
Time to reflect for the 3s, but also a fantastic opportunity to bounce back next week as the boys take on Reigate, a chance for redemption.
Man of the Match brought to you by Sam the Handyman
Game 1 – Harry Littlejohn
Game 2 – Dylan Brillante