Neale at the double
Sutton Common Rovers moved to within one point of second placed Bedfont Sports, in the chase for promotion to Step 4, after a 4-1 win over AFC Hayes on Saturday.
There has been much talk over whether or not 3G pitches should be allowed higher up the leagues, but of the local games that beat the weather, five were on 3G, so surely the powers that be need to look at that. Without 3G this fixture would never have taken place.
Onto the game, and Hayes came into the game without a win this year, but showed in glimpses that they have plenty of ability, and that elusive win, which they need to help them stave off relegation to step 6, is not too far away.
Rovers started brightly and should have taken the lead after only two minutes when a dangerous cross by Matt Tanton found Asa Rixon-Nicholls at the back post, but the talismanic midfielder could only direct his volley over the bar, and a minute later the lively Matt Auletta fizzed an effort wide of the right hand post.
Hayes were gifted a chance on seven minutes, when debutant Zach Powell and skipper Aaron Bogle got in a muddle, and the ball transferred forward to James Charles, but Rovers keeper Michael Eacott was out sharply to make the save.
Mourais Jardar then had a gilt edged chance to give Hayes the lead, but when faced one-on-one with Eacott, tried to lob the giant keeper only to see his effort comfortably gathered by the Rovers keeper.
Auletta did superbly on 13 minutes to pick the pocket of Daniel McDonnell but opted to pass to Daryl Cooper-Smith rather than shoot, and the chance went begging. It should have been 1-0 on the quarter hour when a great run and cross by Malachi Thomas found Cooper-Smith, but he was unable to direct his header on target and Hayes were able to clear.
Rovers took the lead on 16 minutes when Cooper-Smith picked up the ball ten yards outside the Hayes area, drove forward and drilled a low shot beyond Samuel Szymczyk's left hand for 1-0.
Cooper-Smith had a shot from distance comfortably gathered by Szymczyk, and on 20 minutes Matt Farrell was fortunate to escape without a booking after a poor challenge on Dean McDonnell. From the deep free kick, Owen Davies did well to clear the Rovers lines.
Auletta went close on 22 minutes, after a delightful floated pass by Craig Nelson, and a minute later Cooper-Smith thought he had increased the lead when he latched onto an Eacott clearance rounded Szymczyk only to be flagged offside. Back at the other end, and Dean McDonnell fired wide when it looked odds on for an equaliser.
Just after the half hour and Rovers should have increased their lead, but Cooper-Smith was denied by a stunning challenge by Haluna Masembe and from the follow up by Farrell, Masembe did superbly to block again.
On 33 minutes it was 2-0, this time Tanton found Auletta who drifted across the area before setting up Thomas, and his deflected effort beat Szymczyk to give Rovers some breathing space.
Hayes, to their credit continued to play, and almost fashioned a way back into the game on 38 minutes but a well timed challenge from Tanton stopped Lusunga Ndivol from getting a shot away.
The half ended with a flurry of chances, Eacott did well to turn a low drive by Jon-Jo Bates wide of the right hand post, Rixon-Nicholls had an effort chalked off for offside and Bates followed up a goalbound shot by Jardar but his effort was also ruled out for offside, and Rovers went into the break with a 2-0 lead.
A word from referee Mr Pinto Nunes calmed both benches, after an altercation as the sides left the field for the half time break, and we were ready to go for the second half.
Rovers started the second half brightly and should have increased their lead inside the opening minute. Man of the match Nelson did superbly on the right and dug out a deep cross which Szymczyk misjudged, but from seemingly an inch out Auletta was unable to apply the finishing touch, nor was Cooper-Smith, in part thanks to excellent defending by Daniel McDonnell.
Hayes excellent Masembe hit a superb crossfield ball to Ndivol on 48 minutes, but his cross was turned behind for a corner, which was well defended and cleared.
Rovers had another goal chalked off on 52 minutes, this time Thomas did well on the right, set the ball back to Nelson and his deep cross was volleyed home by Auletta who was again flagged offside.
Hayes replaced Ndivol with Spencer Main on 56 minutes and two minutes later were gifted a way back into the game. Bogle underhit a back pass to Eacott, forcing the keeper to pull down Dean McDonnell and give Hayes a penalty. From the spot kick Eacott went to his right to turn aside the effort by Ryan Phillips.
Darren Salmon made his first change on the hour, replacing the influential Rixon-Nicholls with Tom Neale.
Almost immediately though a hopeful cross by Main drifted in at the back stick to make it 2-1, and game on.
Rovers responded positively, and Neale found Auletta but his curled effort drifted over the crossbar. Bates forced an excellent save by Eacott on 67 minutes, the big keeper diving away to his right to turn the fierce strike away.
The two goal advantage was restored on 71 minutes, although it was almost 2-2. Bogle was caught overplaying in the middle of the park, and from the quick break looked odds on to score, only for Nelson to get back with a timely challenge. Rovers broke quickly through Thomas and although his cross was half cleared by Szymczyk, Farrell picked up the loose ball found Auletta and his cross was turned home by Neale.
Salmon replaced Cooper-Smith with the returning Michael Campbell on 72 minutes. Almost immediately Campbell beat Charlie Howes, saw his low cross turned goalwards by Charles, who then recovered to clear off the line.
Hayes replaced Dean McDonnell with Adshish Kharas, and with fifteen to go Neale almost found Campbell but the latter was just unable to reach the through ball.
Thomas made way for the back from suspension Matt Ferdinando on 80 minutes. Eacott made a great save from Bates on 88 minutes and the follow up by Main was blocked by Davies.
Scoring was completed in stoppage time when a dinked Auletta pass found Neale who calmly lobbed Szymczyk to seal the win.