Battle of the Som
Crusaders win battling point away to champions.
It's fair to say that if you're after a master class of fine, technical football skills, your first point of call would not be hilly Kings Somborne Rec on a wet blustery November afternoon. Sure enough, this game was all about grit, determination and battle and had few of the finer points of the beautiful game on display.
Through holiday and late illness and injury, Crusaders were whittled down to the bare 11 by kick off and found themselves defending the bottom of the hill in the first half. Particularly light on defenders, Gareth Taylor was converted into a makeshift centre half, whilst Loz Wilmot and Andrew Sanders were similarly asked to fill in as wing backs.
Despite these setbacks, Crusaders started confidently, with Gareth Taylor, Guy Bewick and Wayne Barlow dealing confidently with the host's direct attacks and Jon Vowles feeding debutant Sam Carr and Jack Barlow with some dangerous balls on the counter. With the returning Dan Kempson commanding his box and adding extra defensive solidity, all looked good for the visitor's hopes of reaching half time with their goal intact.
With 10 minutes to go before half time, things got even better for Crusaders when Sam Carr latched onto a loose ball, drove at the home defence and lashed home a shot into the top corner from just inside the box - quite a debut goal! With their efforts now re-doubled, a couple more decent chances for Crusaders came and went before the half time whistle, but the score remained 1-0.
With the wind and slope in their favour in the second half, Crusaders hoped to push on to victory. However, with no subs to use on such a heavy pitch, Crusaders remained vulnerable to injury and tiredness and when Loz Wilmot tweaked a hamstring early in the half, he was forced to sit in as a full back, limiting attacking options down the right. Crusaders were increasingly drawn into playing a little longer and with the hosts still adopting direct tactics in search of an equaliser, the match turned into and even scrappier end to end affair. More half chances came and went, but with Andrew Sanders adapting well to his makeshift role, Crusaders still looked unlikely to concede. This changed midway through the half, when the home striker chased down a backpass, Dan Kempson got his legs in a muddle and in the ensuing two man scramble the ball trickled over the line. Despite the suspicion of a shirt pull from the forward, the goal stood and Crusaders were back at square one.
The game was now increasingly stretched, with neither side retaining possession for any length of time. A goal could have come at either end, although neither team were overly convincing in their attacking threat. With the game heading towards a draw, a through ball saw Dan Kempson sharply off his line to collect at the foot of the home striker. Unfortunately, the strikers challenge was somewhat over enthusiastic and the Crusaders keeper was forced off with a gashed face and swollen knee. Crusaders therefore had to play the last 5 minutes with no recognised keeper and 10 men. It would have been an injustice had they conceded in this spell and the defence held firm to secure the draw.
The last two weeks have seen improved league displays from Crusaders. However, they remain draw specialists and in many ways should have come away with 6 points instead of 2. With such a small league fixture list, wins are crucial to secure a place near the top of the league. Net week sees a trip to Sutton Scotney, where Crusaders resolve will be tested further.