The First Team concluded an impressive Premier Challenge Cup Group campaign with a 2-1 win away to Cranleigh. It was the third time the Golds had faced the team from the division above this season and the third time they had won against them.
Dave Harris and Gary Mitchell’s side dangerously knew that anything better than a 3-goal defeat would guarantee qualification and a point would guarantee top spot.
Luckily, there was no complacency on the sand laden pitch and the away side tried to assert their dominance from the start. Cranleigh arguably fielded their best side of all three encounters this season, with two deep-lying midfielders playing behind a 10.
Keens Park’s light-press worked well, with Cranleigh lacking the creativity to make use of their time on the ball and the Golds looked dangerous on the break whenever the home side relinquished possession.
It seemed like Vic Hamilton should have been able to get the constant beating of the left-back but, after a heavy session the night before, he looked like he didn’t really know where he was. He was promptly dragged within 30 minutes after throwing up on the pitch. Vic would later solidify his Baby of the Week Award after refusing to do the line and making his dad do it.
The away side took the lead from a set piece(!). Dan Way’s drilled corner was to Ben Wicherek, who was able to attack his own initial flick-on to power home with his head. “He simply wanted it more”.
Shortly after, the lead was doubled. A diagonal James Crouch free-kick was put on the boot of Ryan Wallis to crash home a first-time volley. Wallis celebrated with the confidence of a player who had just scored his 30th goal of the season… It was just his fifth.
With Cranleigh already out of the competition, there was a possibility the game could turn into a Keens Park rout, but to their credit they battled hard and got a goal back, albeit in controversial fashion. Bruce McPhail was initially penalised for simply winning a header and from the resulting free-kick, he conceded yet another dubious foul, this time in the penalty area… Tom Coles guessed the right way, but the sides went in at half-time with the score 2-1.
The second half was well contested and both sides somewhat cancelled each other out. Tom Coles made a brave stop from close range and Danny Way had Keen Park’s best effort but his incredibly well struck volley could only assassinate a helpless squirrel in the tree behind the goal. Seamus Leonard tried to make sure he moaned at every teammate at least once.
It was an impressive way to bounce back from last weeks’ disappointment and the result concluded yet another successful Cup Group finish. Two Quarter Finals await after the First Team won eight of the 12 Cup Group games, losing just three.It would be good if they can now start grinding out results in the league once it finally gets going again.