Rovers fail to break 10 men Raynes Park, but pick up a valuable point
Rovers make the short journey to St George’s Playing Fields to face local rivals Raynes Park Vale, for a 1pm Boxing Day game. Raynes Park have much to celebrate so far this season, hovering in and around the top 3 clubs in the league; having won 13 of their 18 games, losing twice, and only once at home. So this will be another tough encounter for Rovers on the road, but one that again gives them the chance to prove their worth.
Our line-up includes replacement keeper James Shaw, due to Oshane Brown’s unavailability, Tariq Straker, Antonio Simeone, Bertie Lloyd and Isy Nzelo in defence; Ben Holden, Ashley Sheppard, Maxwell Oldham, Nabeel Ghannam and Lindell Stewart in midfield, and striker Aaron Jenkins. On the bench, Matt Tanton, Matthew Feeney-Hill, Noah Africa, Charlie Martin and debutant Samuel Williams.
With the Christmas Day indulgence a long forgotten memory(!), the early start kicks off. In the first two minutes Rovers stamp an air of authority on the game. Isy Nzelo putting a great ball down our right side for Max Oldham to run on to. Oldham passes inside as he approaches the box, plays a one-two with Nabeel Ghannam, but couldn’t get his shot away. Ashley Sheppard this time, picking up a Raynes Park clearance, setting Oldham off on the right wing, breezes past his man, putting a great cross into the box, but is headed away for a corner. Ghannam takes, but directed into the side-netting.
Raynes Park then go on a break, Brad Sweeney putting a through ball to Matt Drage, but his first touch is too strong and James Shaw drops on it. The hosts start growing into the game with a number of hard presses on the Rovers defence. A good exchange outside our box from Jerry O’Sullivan and Sweeney, seeks out Jordan Gallagher on the left. His decent cross into the box is headed over by Charlie Penny.
From a long ball into the Rovers’ box, a defensive header from Nzelo finds Oldham on the left. Again, Oldham beats his man for pace, but the pass inside for Ghannam was just too long. Rover’ build-up play at this point was good, but the game still even in terms of possession. Oldham, Sheppard and Aaron Jenkins working the triangles outside the right of the Raynes Park penalty area, the through ball for Jenkins out of reach, keeper Billy Bishop getting there first.
An Antonio Simeone free-kick is floated from just inside the opponent’s half to the edge of the box and is headed on by Nzelo. Ben Holden’s cross blocked by the Raynes Park defence. On 20mins, Rovers were guilty of not clearing their lines effectively, leaving James Dickson free to shoot, but just past the post.
Again, Sheppard wins his midfield battle and drives forward, passing on to Ghannam. The tricky number 10 works himself some space, his shot drawing a great save from Bishop. On the half hour, a ball over the top from Bishop, leaves Tariq Straker wide open, and with no real choice, giving away a free kick on the left. Gallagher takes, but is majestically headed away be Simeone. The loose ball is fired back into the box, but Straker clears it away.
In the 33rd minute, Rovers are awarded a free-kick. From distance, Ghannam floats a great ball in, but is headed out by the Raynes Park defence. Falling to Simeone, his fierce shot is deflected out for a corner. Ghannam floats his corner kick into the goalmouth, but is headed out by O’Sullivan. Simeone picks up the loose ball feeding it to Jenkins, who wins a throw. Holden’s long throw reaches Bertie Lloyd, heading it back to Holden. The square ball finds Ghannam, but his shot is well block at point blank range.
Two minutes on and a potential game changing moment. Ghannam is taken out from behind by Gallagher. Perhaps seeking retribution for an infringement on him moments earlier, and uncharacteristic from what we know of the Raynes Park number 10, he’s given a straight red. It clearly seemed harsh by the Raynes Park faithful, and it may have been, but I guess it’s about what angle you viewed it from.
With 5 minutes left on the clock, Ghannam is caught out in midfield, leading to a break for Raynes Park. With players chasing back, the ball is ushered out for a Raynes Park corner. The kick is lofted onto the 6yd box, and punched clear by Shaw, but the ball bounced badly for Oldham and he was adjudged to have controlled it with his arm. The free kick from 20yds is blasted over the bar by Penny.
As the second half draws to a close, a great interception by Holden in the middle of the park puts Jenkins through. Oldham is then brought down in the 18yd box, as he stretches to reach Jenkins’ onward pass, with claims for a penalty, but waved away by the Referee. From the goal kick, Nathan Lewis is free on their left, breaking into the Rovers half. As he reaches the 18yd area, his cross is bravely headed out by Sheppard.
Rovers go into the break wondering how they have not scored against the Raynes Park ten?
The restart saw substitutions for both sides, Jermaine Green replacing Louie Downey for our hosts, Noah Africa replacing the injured Sheppard for Rovers. Young Africa got in the mix immediately with a good through ball to Jenkins approaching the Raynes Park penalty area. Jenkins lays off to Africa on the overlap, but his cross is deflected out for a corner. Ghannam’s corner kick is headed out, but Stewart’s return cross wasn’t accurate.
A free kick on Ghannam is floated to the edge of the 18yd box by Oldham, and Ghannam’s shot is headed away. Straker picks up the loose ball but his cross is blocked allowing Aaron Lamont to break. Last man Lloyd excellently slides the ball away from Lamont, Africa clearing the ball away. Shortly after, a handball is awarded to Raynes Park just outside the penalty area, a cheeky flick from Jermaine Green glancing up onto Straker’s arm. Lamont takes the free kick well, but Drage blasts the rebound wide.
Leading up to 70mins, Raynes Park substitute James Dickson for Jake Gallagher and Charlie Martin replaces Stewart. Although a man down, it was still nip and tuck with Raynes Park still able to put Rovers on the back foot. A great build up move, with a pass from Africa finding Holden, who slides the ball through for Oldham, but is cut out by a Raynes Park defender. Rovers have the possession, but unable to find a way through. In the 78th minute Holden is cautioned for throw-in debacle, that really should have gone to both players involved. With 10 minutes to go Samuel Williams is brought on for Oldham.
Again, enterprising play from Charlie Martin, Africa, Nzelo and Ghannam create opportunities, but nothing in the final third. Raynes Park still creating their own chances, a nice cross from O’Sullivan is just out of reach for Penny, but so close. On 81mins Palace Francis replaces O’Sullivan. A free kick by our keeper Shaw doesn’t quite reach Martin, and Raynes Park catch us on the break, only another crucial tackle by Lloyd spares Rovers’ blushes.
In the closing minutes the game descends into chaos as frustrations rise, yellow cards brandished to Benjamin Dyson, Jake Gallagher and Samuel Williams for Raynes Park. In added time, there were still chances for both sides; Rovers’ with a free kick blasted over the bar, Raynes Park with a corner punched clear by Shaw. Not the prettiest game of football to watch, to be sure, and for the travelling support a sense of relief when the Referee brought it to a close.
Common in most games, when a team goes 1 man down they’re galvanised and motivated to cover for each other. Raynes Park certainly showed this today, and made it very difficult for Rovers to exploit the man advantage. Neither keeper was troubled to any great degree, maybe on another day they would have been.
As draws go, the Chertsey game was thrilling in comparison. Both goalless, but Rovers were a shadow of their former selves against Raynes Park. However, three points in three consecutive games, without loss, only conceding once, against three sides hotly tipped to do well this season.
I’ll take that.