The teams were on the pitch and having a last warm up as the referee tossed a coin, and the spectators along the touchline - from both sides - were debating the likely outcome of the match. It wasn’t easy to predict.
Bar’s form so far had demonstrated strength at both ends of the field. Up front, the strike partnership between Eoin Casey and Michael Murray had conjured up an impressive 28 goals. At the other end they’d conceded only 22, giving them the fourth best goal difference in the Division, with only leaders AFC Hornchurch, third place Canvey Island and fourth place Bowers & Pitsea boasting better records. Their home form was also exceptional, with only one defeat. Did that make them favourites? Undoubtedly, and yet The Hall had already demonstrated what they were capable of when not expected to do well, and looking at league form were better away than at home, twelve of their nineteen points coming away from Recreation Way.
The match kicked off, and the pattern for the first half was set within the first five minutes. Bar passed, passed and passed some more, Mildenhall chased and harried, closed down and denied the home side space in which to work, whilst looking to break at speed. The Scholars patient work wasn’t pleasing all of their supporters, however. “Quicker, quicker, quicker,” came a shout from the touchline as they probed for an opening. Behind the away goalkeeper there was more of the same.
“Move it forward, forward, NO, forward!”
“Come on Bar!”
“No, forward, forward, that’s not good enough!”
They were a difficult bunch to please. Perhaps they’ve been spoiled recently.
It was the away side who created the first clear cut chance with twenty minutes gone, and it could have been a thing of beauty. A free kick around five yards inside the opposition half was taken quickly, and the entire Potters Bar team switched off, with one exception. Nicholas Ingram for Mildenhall, entirely unmarked and ignored, received the ball on the left hand side of the box and only home keeper Berkley Laurencin was awake to the danger. He charged out, made himself big, and managed to somehow deflect Ingram’s shot wide for a corner. Seven minutes later Bar tried a similar trick, and the outcome was the same, Ismael Ehui being thwarted by Jacob Marsden, as the Mildenhall bench came close to apoplexy whilst shouting at the defender who had played the forward onside.
The match remained even as we approached the break, and then in the thirty ninth minute some lovely skill from Michael Murray led to a breakthrough. The striker, operating in midfield at this point, held up the ball, stepped inside a challenge and then played an inch perfect pass for Ehui to run on to. Keeper Marsden tried to get to the ball, but only managed to trip the forward and the referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Murray himself placed the ball, and confidently fired home goal fourteen of his season.
Mildenhall heads didn’t drop. They provided some pressure of their own, and right on the stroke of half time almost got back on level terms. Matthew Green received the ball on the edge of the box, controlled it and moved it to his right, and then fired a beauty which was just about to drop under the bar when Laurencin, arching his back and stretching to his full length, managed to get his fingertips to it and direct it onto the bar and out for a corner.
Bar could have extended their lead three minutes after the break, a flicked header from skipper Lee O’Leary cleared off the line, but then the away side began to dominate. Sadly for the travelling contingent, however, they dominated in all the wrong areas, not once forcing Laurencin into a save. Time and time again they moved the ball forward, showing some lovely passing interplay on occasions, only for the move to break down and the ball to be cleared. A cold mist had descended over the stadium and it almost seemed as if you could see steam rising from the players as they worked themselves into the ground, Hall trying to get back into the game, Bar looking to remain strong and catch them on the break. The home fans had by now massed on the covered raised terrace at the far end of the ground and were attempting to encourage their team, with chants of “Bar Army,” and “Scholars, Scholars,” but neither side really looked like scoring despite their efforts.
Hall used all three of their substitutes as they chased the game, but despite much effort expended couldn’t create a single clear-cut chance and had the final nail hammered home with one minute to go. A free kick was played quickly into George Nicholas twenty yards out, and the playmaker turned the defender paying him attention inside out, sending him both left and right before firing a fabulous shot into the bottom corner from the edge of the box. Two nil, game over, and the cue for a number of yellow scarved supporters to head towards the exit, as the home fans sang of “Super Michael Murray.”
As we wandered away into the cold Hertfordshire night, PA Announcer/Club Secretary/Programme Editor/Press Officer/Safety Officer and today Matchday Secretary Jeff Barnes was just announcing the attendance - 115.
Team: Berkley Laurencin, Chris Doyle, Andy Lomas, Lee O’Leary, Carl Pearce, Sean Grace, Sandro Costa (Joakim Ehui 74 mins), Billy Adcock, Michael Murray (Femi Ogunsola 85 mins), George Nicholas, Ismael Ehui
Subs (not used): David Sota, Paul Symes, Darren Brown-Merrick
Goals: Michael Murray 39mins George Nicholas 90 mins
Man of the match: Carl Pearce – impressive debut at centre half
Updated 12:30 - 19 Aug 2018 by Steve Ringrose