HERC Saints 3 v Elim 3 (14th September)

Elim’s first away game of the season was also ironically at their new home pitch Foxford Leisure park, against Herc Saints. The teams met three times last season resulting in both teams winning their respective away games and a draw in the cup. The last time these teams met was at War Memorial at the very start of January 2019, with the New Year opening with a crushing 4-1 defeat for Elim.

Between then and now, Elim have said farewell to long serving players such as Dean Smith and Ryan Ireland who have both retired from the sport after serving the club for over a decade each. I want to wish both good luck in the future and thank them for their service. Elim also lost top scorer Lee Bennett over the summer to today’s opposition and would like to wish Lee a speedy recovery from a knee injury.

The opening games seen very different fortunes with HERC scoring 5 on their travels against Christ the King and Elim going down 4-0 to relegated St Fisher’s. Elim made 5 changes to the starting line-up with Watts, Baldwin, Hassan, Reid and Clark starting for the club, with a completely new goalkeeper and backline. Watts was handed the number 1 top and guarded the goal for Elim, whilst Clark, Reid and Baldwin were the experienced backline of 3. Elim as usual packed the midfield from left to right was Titman, Hughes, new appointed captain Jones, J Smith and Kyreke. Watkins and Hassan were up top in the classic 3-5-2 formation.

Herc kicked the game off, with Les Wright the man in the middle after 35 refs turned down this fixture. (I’m sure they were all busy). The game was also the early kick off in Christian football and there was a very quiet start to the game, probably as everyone was very sleepy. HERC tested Watts on the 15 minute mark with the first opportunity to note. The strike coming hard from 20 yards into the bottom right hand corner for Watts to pull a smart save to his left and tip the ball for a corner. Elim sat deep and nearly cost them when the ball ricocheted off the bar from range 5 minutes later, Watts was stretched but wouldn’t have kept this out if slightly lower.

Hassan was played down the left wing shortly after and the keeper came a long way not getting the ball and in the ref’s opinion the man, the ball went out and the ref pointed for a goal kick with Elim expecting a foul. Elim made their first corner count with Hassan crossing a high ball in for Reid to score a header passed the keeper and make it 1-0 to the away side. That is now 4 goals in 2 games for the centre back and all goals past the same keeper. 33 minutes on the clock and Elim were in dreamland with Jones doubling the Elim’s lead. The captain stroke a hard half volley low and hard into the bottom corner from the edge of the box with Elim’s stat showing 2 shots on target 2 goals.

HERC needed a response but Elim kept the ball well spraying the ball from left to right in a 15 pass sequence. Elim again rode their luck with a ball coming in and a man unmarked to not connect with the ball from 5 yards and then shortly after Saints hit the post. Despite the pressure HERC found that goal just before the half with the ball landing to the feet of the midfielder to hit a curling shot from range round the keeper to set up an intense second half. Les blew for half time with Elim frustrated to concede so late and HERC optimistic of a comeback.

Kyreke and Titman were praised for their work on the wings and Baldwin and Hughes told the wingers to exploit those channels more in the second half as Saints were dominating the middle. Sadly in the second half a coming together left Reid struggling to carry on. Elim were forced into the first change with Home replacing the centre back. Hughes moved into the backline with Home in the middle. Elim’s big man was missed with two corners in the second half given Saints the lead. Firstly Deano powered a header low with Titman and Smith both getting touches to stop it crossing the line. After Les had a long discussion with the linesman the goal was given and it was 2-2. Elim didn’t learn and another header from another corner went in to give the home side the lead and complete the comeback. 3-2 HERC.

Elim had 15 minutes left and made a double switch with Hassan and Watkins coming off for Benni and Mangan. This allowed Smith and Kyreke to lead the line with Mangan in the middle and Benni on the right wing. The change had a quick effect as Smith slotted home his first goal in an Elim shirt to level the scores at 3-3. Both teams didn’t rest and Smith almost found a winner chipping the keeper but also the goal too with the ball about 4 yards to high. Baldwin was caught on the knee and ankle and with all three subs used played the last 8 minutes injured. Both teams ran out of energy to find a winner, but the whistle stopped the game and marked the first Elim point of the campaign and kept HERC undefeated.

Few mentions, firstly thank you for Les for refereeing the game. Congratulation to Mark Jones on man of the match and this game marked Josh’s first Elim goal and Andy Home’s debut for the club. To the long list of injured defenders we had, get those ice packs on we go again next weekend against last season’s division 2 champions CLM.