Cranleigh 1 Keens Park Rangers 2 (semi-final of League Cup)
Goals: Josh Bullen, Lucas Atkin
Man-of-the-match: Courage Moda
Bookings: Too many to keep track of. But Niall got a red.
If all roads led to arch rivals Cranleigh this week, for a keenly anticipated League Cup semi-final, many were wondering if it was worth the trip until the final whistle confirmed KPR’s victory.
Having got out of the blocks quickly, the early signs suggested KPR had learnt from the previous week’s scrappy win. But they soon found themselves on the back foot as the opposition – as the home side – utilised the vast dimensions of the pitch far better. They certainly maintained a far better shape, whereas the KPR players looked a tad jittery and failed to produce any of the sweeping moves the team have become synonymous with.
In certain cases this may have been down to their choice in footwear as the pudding-like surface left a number of players (predominantly KPR’s) slipping and sliding about. Even Doug, one of KPR’s most consistent performers, slipped up and, in doing so, presented the opposition with their first shooting opportunity.
If that went over the bar, Ben Wicherek crossed the line to become the first of many bookings. Early in the piece, the massed supporters (no exaggeration this week as the ressies had no game) were concerned this might effect his game, but there were no worries when it came to man-of-the-match Courage who was doing the work of three men up top.
And it was he who created KPR’s first opportunity with a well placed pass inside the full-back. Setting Aidan free down the left, he may have struck the first defender, but his second chance from the rebound was going to loop into the net were it not for a last-ditch intervention on the line by a defender.
With little or no sign anyone would score in the half, it seemed as if Courage was single-handedly taking the fight to the opposition. And he unselfishly turned provider once again in laying the ball off for Michael Wicherek. If his shot went awry, Courage seized upon the loose ball and popped it off for the oncoming Doug to have a go of his own. But before he could a desperate lunge from behind resulted in a penalty that Bulldog slotted home with aplomb.
A real ‘smash and grab’ manager Gary looked to add a bit more steel in the second half by swapping Aidan for Niall. Except it didn’t really work as KPR found themselves under even more pressure with Woodsy in particular being targeted. Twice in quick succession he was caught out by incisive passes and he was grateful to keeper Kieran for a great save with his leg. The danger wasn’t over, however, and there was a collective sigh of relief when the ball skimmed the crossbar from the rebound.
Overall, the game had become something of a shouting match. Players and supporters – despite bar manager El Boy’s earlier claim he wasn’t going to engage – were howling when kicked and their teammates badgering the referee for bookings. The beautiful game this was not! And the poor referee will have some serious paperwork to do.
KPR appeared incapable of getting the ball out of their own half, and they were grateful to Kieran and the woodwork again after a good save from a corner was whacked into the post with such fury it actually set Bulldog off on an attack! That was until he was scythed down for yet another yellow card.
The physicality of the match was trumping any attempts at football with Simmo, and then Niall, getting booked. It takes two to tango of course. But the more the opposition attacked, the greater KPR’s opportunities to counter and Bulldog set Courage free for yet another lung bursting run that required a good save to keep him out.
Bruce then hit a shot a fraction over from the resulting corner. And as much as KPR’s period of pressure was extremely brief, it proved effective. A break in play following a foul in midfield gave Gary the opportunity to bring on Lucas for Bulldog. Largely unnoticed by the supporters, he miraculously appeared from nowhere to nod the ball in from close range after Niall had used his strength to stop the centre back heading Simmo’s free kick clear.
His first touch of the match, pandemonium ensued! The second goal was always going to be crucial. However, the game anything but over, El Boy, Crouchy and Woo started the piss-taking a little too early for other supporters liking. And as amusing as Woo’s mocking ‘biggest village in Europe’ comment was, there was still plenty of time for the wheel to fall off the ‘banter bus’.
It was certainly wobbling as Niall got himself sent off just before goal hero Lucas conceded a penalty having blocked a free kick with his arm. With Kieran as much a spectator as the rest of us, one goal margin was concerning. Moreover, the stop start nature of the match ensured nobody was certain how much longer the ten men had to hold out. So, when it came, the final whistle was greeted with great relief as much as jubilation.
The lads have to be happy, however. Not only because there’s a cup final to look forward to, but they’ve won two matches in succession without ever producing the play the squad are capable of. Luckily, with Luke Mitchell set to return after his op, the chances of rediscovering their mojo are looking very good indeed.