Sutton strike hands Potters pre-season win over Five Oak Green
A Taylor Sutton free-kick midway through the first-half handed Potters a 1-0 away win over Tonbridge League outfit, Five Oak Green in Saturday's pre-season friendly.
An abundance of holidays and other commitments within the Potters squad has seen the clubs' 2016 pre-season plans scaled down, meaning the away friendly vs Five Oak Green on Saturday 20th August was Potters first pre-season game ahead of the new 2016/17 season which kicks off on 3rd September (Potters' opening fixture however, is not until 10th September).
Whilst Tonbridge League side Five Oak Green were able to name six substitutes on their bench, the Potters matchday squad was somewhat smaller. The squad was made up of trialist Matt Johns and new signing Rob Leaver, new club captain Bradley Bowman who was playing his first game in 14 months following ACL surgery & rehabilitation, and Adam Roxburgh, who only made the game at the last minute due to his cricket match being rained off. Johns and Leaver were named as Potters' two substitutes.
The opening half-hour was a somewhat scrappy affair with the home side throwing their weight around a bit more than Potters, however Henry Willard's side displayed plenty of promise in their build-up play with deft touches and some neat interchanges across the midfield that Green seemed unable to cope with.
The Potters midfield trio of youngsters Harry Clapp and Taylor Sutton, and driving force Tim Stephenson all appeared to be working on the same wavelength from the first whistle, which was encouraging to see.
Rarely did the home side threaten on a dangerous level, restricted largely to long-range efforts that either sailed high and wide, or were comfortably collected by Potters 'keeper Max Bridges.
At the other end, Craig and Adam Roxburgh were having a somewhat frustrating afternoon with very little falling for them as Potters got into the final third on plenty of occasions, but were unable to find the key to unlock a stubborn Five Oak Green defence.
Craig Roxburgh had the best early chance, finding himself one-on-one and lifting the ball over the goalkeeper, but the chip just had too much on it, and dipped just over the bar and out for a goal-kick.
Midway through the first-half the deadlock was broken, and Potters' 21yr old central midfielder Taylor Sutton grabbed the goal direct from a free-kick that was driven low towards goal and evaded everyone, leaving the goalkeeper rooted to his line as the ball nestled into the bottom corner.
The final fifteen minutes of the first half saw Potters settle down somewhat and play some more attractive football. The three-man midfield continued to dominate in the centre of the park, with good support behind them and in the wing back areas through Connor Jeffery and Matt Mills who occupied the wide areas.
Potters carved out further half-chances before the break through Adam Roxburgh and a succession of corners, but went in at half-time with just the single-goal lead.
The visitors made two changes at half-time, replacing Bradley Bowman and goalscorer Taylor Sutton with Matt Johns and Rob Leaver, whilst shuffling formation in the process.
The second-half saw Potters dominate the majority of the remaining 45 minutes. Five Oak Green tried in vain to counter attack where possible, but so often let themselves down with little ingenuity in the final third resulting in all their attacks breaking down and fizzing out.
Potters continued to play some dangerous football going forward, whilst also looking very comfortable at the back with the central pairing of Craig Bowman and Stuart Stone.
Still Potters could not quite find the exact key in the final third to add a second goal, but their build-up play continued to show promise with new signings Rob Leaver and Harry Clapp both looking good on the ball - Clapp in particular having a very good game in the centre of midfield.
Henry Willard's men came within inches of adding a second goal as a chipped effort saw the goalkeeper parry the ball onto his crossbar, before the ball bounced back down just a whisker away from the goal-line before being cleared.
Craig Roxburgh and Matt Johns both saw efforts wide of the post and Harry Clapp also put a shot from just inside the box, over the crossbar.
Goalscorer Taylor Sutton came back on to replace Connor Jeffery for the final fifteen minutes, with Jeffery having an excellent game on the right wing, running himself into the ground.
The game came to its conclusion with Potters comfortably seeing out the win, without needing to defend their 1-0 lead with all 11-men behind the ball.
Manager Henry Willard will be pleased with the display from his young midfield, and happy with his defence who restricted Five Oak Green to little in the way of clear-cut chances, with Max Bridges never being forced into a diving save.
The Potters Manager will however be looking for more from his strikers once the season gets underway, but with a very talented, and tight squad at his disposal, there will be no doubts that Potters can find the back of the net on a regular basis this forthcoming campaign.