So nearly a point in the face of adversity and a situation which was (nut) crackers.
Having had a skeleton squad in recent weeks, last night’s was missing at least a limb, and one of our (very) longstanding committee couldn’t remember such a desperate plight regarding team selection. As well as the long list of injuries and suspensions, two other players were unavoidably absent. We had just twelve players at kick-off, with one more player making it 15 minutes into the game due to an horrendous journey, and Ben found himself having to name Leo, Elliot and Nathan in the starting line-up.
On a slippery pitch with a diagonal crosswind, our patched up side had a nightmare start. After seven minutes Josh Crawley touched home a corner, and a minute later he added his second by neatly tucking home a right wing cross at the near post after their winger kippered one of our defenders. Despite our best efforts we should probably have gone four down within the first half hour, the most obvious opportunity coming when a forward was clean through with just Tyler to beat but, inexplicably, he squared the ball to an offside colleague.
Gradually, the lads got a foothold on the game and starting asking questions of the Rovers defence and, in the 42nd minute, we grabbed a lifeline when some sterling work on the wing by Jack was finished off tenaciously at the second attempt by Jabir ten yards out. We should have had the chance to equalise on the stroke of half time when Max was clattered by a high tackle in the box but the spineless ref refused to give the obvious penalty.
Yaya came on at half time, some positional tweaks were made, and we were a changed team after the break. The lads defended stoutly when needed (which wasn’t as often as the first half) and played some lovely passing football and, after a concerted bout of pressure, we equalised in the 70th minute when Will glanced a corner home. At that point, Rovers were looking a bit nervy (they were incensed at not getting a penalty and one of their players handled the ref who – did I say he was spineless? – did nothing about it), and it looked like we might gain an unexpected yet deserved point until a positional glitch by our captain let Jake Newman in for the 81st minute winner. Even then we nearly clinched a draw but home keeper Martin Conway made an excellent stop by the base of a post in the last minute.
Huge credit to the lads for sticking at it after an awkward start and making life uncomfy for Rovers. After their imposing start Rovers probably deserved to win, but our motley crew showed great character and it was cruel on our lads to come away pointless after a marvellous effort. The youth lads acquitted themselves admirably, especially Nathan, who looked green against Bedford Town but who I thought gave a committed display in centre midfield against Kempston. This will have been a steep learning curve for some of the lads, and it was the type of situation which shapes character and confidence throughout the team. We came so close to a draw with a hugely depleted side. Really proud of the lads.
Big thanks to our esteemed chairman for the lift home. Much appreciated. Shropshire Bob will be pleased to hear that, thanks to Google Satnav, we rode through unexpected parts of the Bedfordshire countryside before being allowed onto the M1!