Cricklewood Wanderers 2 v 3 Kensington Dragons Firsts
1st vs 2nd in this top of the table clash saw the manager De Souza ring the changes yet again. Normal CB pairing Hamilton Bowler (sub as he was due to run the marathon the next day) and Gilbaut Batousol (serving a suspension for a previous red card) meant Maddy Mkoloma and Dean Humphrey started as the CB’s with Pav Bhangoo and Jonathan Kasongo either side of Luke O’Donoghue in a 3 man midfield. Ricardo Ramos started in behind strikers George Mariner and Geoff Nalu Mosa. De Souza came equipped with a game plan, to stifle the opposition and leave no space in behind for Cricklewood’s creative players. Consequently, Dragons adopted 2 banks of 4 without the ball and sat 11 men behind the ball for the whole of the first half looking to hit Cricklewood on the break.
Cricklewood accepted the lion share of possession as a result but were forced to play the ball around in their own half showing little attacking endeavour. It was Dragons with the first good opportunity. Winning possession the counter was on and Ramos drove past 3 players laying the ball wide for Nalu Mosa to put Mariner through who rounded the keeper only for the last defender to make an excellent last ditch tackle and prevent Dragons taking the lead. Several other promising breaks occurred but the Dragons striking 3 were too often isolated or failing to show the right level of quality in their decision making to capitalise. Consequently, very little else happened in what became a wearing, physical battle until 5mins before halftime and a throw in on the Dragons left side was received by a Cricklewood midfielder just inside the box. A one touch turn and some tight attention from Kasongo and the player went down. Penalty said the referee. A soft decision that in truth could have gone either way but the Cricklewood striker made no mistake and a slightly disheartened Dragons went in to the break 1-0 down.
De Souza praised the tactical discipline and that the plan had worked until the penalty but bemoaned the lack of quality in the final third. He asked the same level of discipline but asked the lines to move up 15 yards and press Cricklewood slightly higher up the pitch and for Kasongo and Bhangoo to get forward in support. The players welcomed being let of the leash and all went out determined to not let their season slip away.
Sure enough, Dragons saw a spell where every player played to their potential and left a shell shocked Cricklewood to find themselves 1-3 down within 20mins of the restart. The first goal saw a fantastic move from the back into midfield and wide to Kasongo who played through Nalu Mosa who with a one touch finish arrowed the ball into the corner from 15 yards. Game on! The second came from a set piece with Kasongo drifting the ball in for Mkoloma to control past his marker and poke home from 2 yards. Dragons kept the best until last with a contender for goal of the season from Dean Humphrey. Mariner won a free kick 25 yards out to the left of the box and Humphrey strode up confidently to whip a ball straight into the stanchion with his right boot. He couldn’t have hit a cleaner strike and the game had now tuned in Dragons’ favour. Cricklewood made substitutions and the fresh legs in midfield slowly got them back into the game. The referee was showing leniency to both sides as the opposing midfielders battled hard against each other. Their best opportunity saw the forward brush through two Dragons challenges and in one on one situation with keeper David Hills who spread himself admirably to block the shot.
At the other end, Dragons had the chance to put the game to bed. Zaine Gungadeen came on for Kasongo and Soussi for Nalu Mosa. It was right back Billy Maxwell who attacked down the right and released Gungadeen through with only the keeper to beat but as he lobbed the ball over the keeper, the Dragons saw the ball hit the top of the cross bar and bounce agonisingly behind for the goal kick. Cricklewood did get themselves back into the game with 10mins to go. A poor clearance was snapped up and some quick interplay released the striker who fired in past Hills from 12 yards. Bowler then came on for Ramos to sure things up and release Humphrey in to bolster the midfield and Dragons pressed their opponents back to see out the game and take the valuable 3 points.
4 games left with Cricklewood 13 points behind in 2nd with 4 games in hand and so Sporting Hackney remain the biggest threat although having to play 13 games in the next 4 weeks and only 15 points behind. Looks like this race will go all the way.