Honours even in thrilling local derby
Ightham 2-2 Potters FC
Potters made the short walk across the road (literally) to Wrotham 3G to face local rivals Ightham in the first Premier Division meeting between the two sides this campaign.
Always a fiery tie, never short of controversy and passion, Potters went into the game with a somewhat depleted side, losing both Gary Weller and Adam Roxburgh to injury midweek, joining Mike Beverley on the treatment table, along with long-term absentee's Bradley Bowman and Will Millins.
Stuart Stone and Joe Jarmyn, both carrying knocks, were included in the matchday squad regardless, but there were also numerous faces unavailable including Dom Hibberd, Luke Foad, Olly Hayward, Fergus Farmer, Glenn Bunn, and Max Jones.
Two subs were named for this game, one being 20yr old Taylor Sutton who only signed for the club on the morning of the game, and the other being striker Matt Bunn who could only get to the game for half-time.
Despite so many faces missing, Manager Henry Willard welcomed back 18yr old Connor Jeffery to the side who had missed the previous week, as well as first-choice goalkeeper Max Bridges, and long-serving clubman, Jim Cook.
A bright opening start to the game saw Ightham get in behind the Potters defence with a long-ball over the top within the first 30 seconds, but thankfully the early danger was cleared.
Potters took control of the game up until the 9 minute mark, finding good space in midfield and playing some neat football, but Ightham struck first from a quickly taken set-piece just before 10 minutes had been played, whipping in a quick free-kick with Max Bridges coming off his line but failing to meet the ball, whilst Ightham's spare man ghosted towards the ball unmarked, planting a free header into the back of the net.
Following the goal it was Ightham who looked on top, seeing plenty of the ball and always looking for the killer pass through to their lively, lone front-man, but the Potters defence stood up strong, going in with no fear to snuff out any danger with Liam Turner and Joe Jarmyn both putting their bodies on the line, whilst the Potters midfield continued to impress, with 18yr old Connor Jeffery in particular controlling the centre of the park, continuously dropping off into space untracked and creating angles to move the ball about well.
The main area Potters were lacking a killer instinct was in the final third, with Tim Stephenson doing a great job of finding space in the #10 gap and holding the ball up well, but the tall, Ightham defence were proving tough to beat for last-man Craig Roxburgh, who lacked physical support to really breakthrough.
Roxburgh did get in behind on one occasion, played through brilliantly by Connor Jeffery, with Roxburgh rounding the 'keeper to the side of the box, but at such an acute angle and still a way out from goal, the goalkeeper recovered well, to dive onto the ball as Roxburgh attempted to cut back onto his right foot.
Ightham had another two good chances of their own at the other end as they clipped the outside of the post direct from a free-kick, and saw the ball hacked off the line from a corner, but Potters were growing into the game, looking resilient, strong and assured in defence, and starting to make a bit more use of the wings with 18yr old Harry Paternoster on the right wing finding good space, whilst Jim Cook on the left flank was showing some deft touches, linking up particularly well with Craig Roxburgh.
Tim Stephenson, Stuart Stone and Connor Jeffery all continued to work brilliantly together to break up play and control the midfield, and Potters were rewarded for their good play on 38 minutes as they grabbed a deserved equalizer with half-time looming; Some excellent direct running from Harry Paternoster on the right wing resulted in the youngster forcing a corner on the far side, and with Paternoster himself swinging in a dangerous ball from the corner flag, Craig Roxburgh got to the ball first, initially mishitting his first attempted volley, instead controlling the ball with his thigh, but as the ball dropped down, Roxburgh slammed home an equalizer for his fifth goal of the campaign.
The second-half started somewhat quietly, with Potters taking five minutes to get going again as Ightham pressed early on with some long-balls forward from midfield, but Henry Willard's side soon found their stride again once they got moving, with the addition of Matt Bunn upfront who had come on at half-time for the injured Stuart Stone, posing a threat with his pacy runs keeping the Ightham defence on their toes.
Credit where it is due, when Ightham were in full flow, they played some stand-out football, making clever off-the-ball runs and playing the ball out from defence well, but this was certainly not the title-winning Ightham of previous years, as Potters' bare bones side rallied together and put in a fantastic shift to continuously break-up play, with Ollie Burman shining at right back to shut out anything down the left-wing, and the central midfield duo of Tim Stephenson and Connor Jeffery continuing to dictate play in the centre of the park.
With an hour on the clock, Potters took the lead for the first time in the game; Bursting down the right wing, youngster Harry Paternoster, who was still playing Junior football in the U18's a mere six months ago, found space on his right foot to get a powerful shot away just inside the edge of the box, and striking a low shot at goal, a howler from the goalkeeper saw the ball go straight through his legs and into the back of the net, giving Paternoster his third goal of the season and his side a 2-1 lead.
Ightham were rattled, struggling to play the dangerous, good football they had shown in spells earlier in the game, putting long-balls out of play and sending over-hit passes out for goal-kicks, whilst also talking themselves into trouble with the referee on numerous occasions.
Taylor Sutton was brought on midway through the second-half for his debut in place of Jim Cook on the left hand side of midfield, making an instant impact with some neat footwork and looking composed on the ball.
Potters had not created too much in the way of clear goalscoring chances, but in similar fashion to the victory over Sevenoaks Town Reserves two weeks prior, the key chances they did have, they took.
Legs were visibly tiring all over the pitch, with the 3G artificial surface sapping energy from all 20 outfield players as the minutes ticked by.
Potters were looking good value for their lead, working brilliantly as a team, desperate to build on their lead and find a third goal.
There were claims for a penalty turned down as Tim Stephenson weaved his way into the box and beat the full-back to cut inside and bear down upon goal before being tripped by a late tackle, but the referee allowed play to continue, allowing Ightham to break away, albeit with the counter-attack coming to nothing.
As the 90th minute crept ever closer, Ightham naturally began pressing more and more in search of an equalizer.
Max Bridges had to be alert to make a good diving save across to his right to palm a shot away with 10 minutes left on the clock, but on 82 minutes the scoreline was brought level again as Ightham were allowed the space to swing in a cross from the right wing which was brought down and stabbed home by the home side to make it 2-2. A tough blow to swallow for Henry Willard's men who had worked so hard, but they picked themselves up and dusted themselves down, refusing to crumble or give in that easy.
Ightham did more of the pressing in the closing stages, whilst Potters counter-attacked with Tim Stephenson and Matt Bunn looking particularly threatening going forward, but even after six minutes of injury time, neither side could find a winner, and this local derby was to end in a draw - Probably a fair result based on the ebbing and flowing of play, but even with a depleted squad and a starting XI that included two 18yr olds, both of whom played the full 90 minutes, Potters can be extremely proud of their resilient performance, putting themselves about, going into challenges with strength and passion, and coming out with the least they deserved after a very pleasing team performance.