BALL2London Lions produced their best result of the season and arguably their best performance of the season, beating high flying Hertford Town from the league above them in the Challenge Trophy.

Challenge Trophy Second Round:
London Lions 3 Hertford Town 2
Wednesday, 7 January, 2015

TABLE

There is no substitute for experience and quality and Lions had both in abundance, mixed in of course with the exuberance of youth. What made the result even more impressive is that they won having played the last 30 minutes with 10 men following David Soutar’s red card.

It was once again pleasing to see the old guard of Sam Sloma, Guy Morris and Soutar wearing the Lions shirt on a night where 18-year-old Leo Kaye and Ben Binder also made their first team debuts, with the latter putting in a terrific performance.

Hertford Town probably arrived at Hemel a little complacent, expecting to roll over a very inconsistent Lions team. However, Lions have found some great form in recent weeks and their last few results should have given warning to their visitors, that this wasn’t going to be as easy as they may have first thought. In actual fact, in the first 15 minutes any neutral watching, would have found it difficult to differentiate between which side was the one flying high at the top of the Spartan Premier League. Both sides had a great tempo to their football especially in forward areas, and Hertford’s front three were incredibly lively all night. Lions then shifted up a gear and in a dazzling 20-minute period found themselves 3-0 up. Remaining composed at the back defending against an awkward, strong wind, Morris and Soutar imposed a calmness and strength in the heart of the Lions defence, winning 90 percent of headers and tackles supported superbly by Zac Rose and Jamie Nagioff in full-back areas.

Where Lions grasped the initiative was without doubt in midfield. Andy Glynne, Josh Kennet and Sloma were at times unplayable and it was the latter that opened up the scoring. Kennet found time and space to release Sloma who timed his run to perfection to break free of the visitors back four. With only the visiting keeper to beat, Sloma dragged the ball past him and slotted the ball home coolly and as composed as you like. With no time to rest on their morals Lions made it 2-0. Debutant Binder went on a great run down the Lions right, surged past the Hertford full back driving into the box. With Sloma unmarked in the middle, everyone was expecting the ball to be played across the goal for a simple tap in, but Binder had the confidence and self-belief to take the shot on himself and he didn’t disappoint, with an exquisite finish across the goalkeeper and into the bottom corner of the goal.

Hertford looked shell shocked and five minutes later they looked in disarray as Sloma added his second and Lions’ third with a fantastically taken free-kick which left the goalkeeper with no chance. The only negative of the half was the late goal the home side conceded on the stroke of half-time, keeping Hertford’s glimmer of hope alive going into the second-half.

That goal certainly galvanised the visitors and they came out all guns blazing in the second period. The game continued to ebb and flow but the visitors started to initiate the upper hand. That initiative was enhanced 15 minutes into the half when Soutar received his marching orders for a professional foul in the Lions box, with the visiting forward deemed to be last man. Adding to Lions woes, the referee awarded a penalty and it was the perfect opportunity for Hertford to get that foothold in the game that they so desperately needed. Ross Weinrabe in the Lions goal stood tall and pulled off a magnificent save to deny the spot kicker.

The sending-off resulted in a change, the tiring Binder was replaced but another debutant Leo Kaye who moved into the back alongside Morris. Even with the one-man disadvantage, Lions still managed to carve out several good opportunities. Max Kyte who had a quiet night given the standards he has set this season, spurned a good chance to make it four as did Sam Shooter and Sloma. Those earlier misses from Lions kept the visitors in touching distance and Lions conceded a poor second goal by their standards, especially given the ease in which it was scored as Hertford went for broke in the final 10 minutes.

Great character and resolute defending ensured Lions would not concede again and following a few hairy moments in injury time, Lions held on for what was a really terrific team performance and result. manager Tony Gold said: “It was a typical cup game, very competitive, high tempo and quick. Taking chances at crucial moments in games is key and having earned the right to play and taken the initiative we did that.

“We didn’t ever look in too much danger, but with the sending-off and the fact that Hertford had several very talented players, the game was always on the edge. Credit to our defence because they defended resolutely throughout.

“The habit of winning football matches is a good one and with a greater player availability in recent weeks, mixed in with a greater level of quality, has enabled Lions to produce a run of four games unbeaten.”

The victory sets up another mouth-watering tie next Tuesday, against Spartan South Midlands Premier Division league leaders and old foes Kings Langley.