Essex Olympian League – Premier Division
Venue: London Road
2020-21 Season: Match 34
Saturday 8th May 2021 – 2.30pm KO
Rayleigh: Navy Blue Shirts, Navy Blue Shorts, Navy Blue Socks
Harold Wood: Claret & Sky Blue Shirts, Claret Shorts, Sky Blue Socks
Rayleigh dig deep to grab a hard-fought win at London Road
Rayleigh Town 2 – 1 Harold Wood Athletic
Match Report & Photos by Scott W [Twitter: @ScottMHC14]
The seccond match of the double-header day at London Road on Saturday 8th May saw Harold Wood Athletic visit to face Rayleigh Town in the Essex Olympian League Premier Division. Paul Higgins’ side knew they needed a better performance than last week in their loss to Leigh Ramblers but fielded a strong starting eleven here. Mark Brown retained his place in goal, with wing-backs Charlie Seaden and Harry Higgins supporting forwards Bailey Moss and Ruari McIntyre, with George Neller breaking from midfield. Ben Baxter and Alfie Larkin were the hosts’ options from the sidelines here. Harold Wood fielded a back four of Jacob Roberts, Jack Baines, James Ishmail and Matthew Donovan. Their forward line was led by experienced striker Robert Whitnell, with Josh Steel and Max Shepherd supporting him. Ben Dosad and Jack Sykes-Brown were among the bench for Alex Goldstone’s side.
The swirling wind was still harsh enough to really affect proceedings here and the hosts had the first chance of note as a fierce strike from tricky support forward George Neller forced visiting goalkeeper Steven Reynolds into a reaction save with two minutes played. Minutes later, Reynolds was called into action again as Town wing-back Charlie Seaden made a good run down the right channel before firing a strike from a narrow angle though the ‘keeper was up to it. Those warnings were not heeded by the visitors but you have to say they were a little unlucky as Rayleigh took the lead on eight minutes as a floated corner from skipper George Vile caught the wind and swirled straight into the far corner, evading everyone. Athletic were frustrating their dug-out a bit as it took them longer to settle and found Town centre-back Jack Long in good form, making a couple of good interceptions early on.
On 19 minutes, a good set-piece by Vile found Long but his finish unluckily hit a post and the visitors had a minor let-off. And that moment was to be telling at this stage of the game as with 23 minutes gone, good work from Max Shepherd ended with home custodian Mark Brown bringing him down which saw a caution for him and a spot-kick for Harold Wood. Designated penalty-taker Robert Whitnell stepped up and confidently struck home to level the score. Town were perhaps guilty of forcing the game too much in the next ten minutes or so as they were caught off-side on a few occasions, as the match got a bit scrappy but at the same time, there was no lack of effort by either side as both sides perhaps realised the importance of the points here.
Town had perhaps the one half-chance of note before the break as from another Vile set-piece, forward Bailey Moss’ header was deflected out of danger. Rayleigh were showing spirit in droves but couldn’t find that final pass which unlocks defences and therefore, it was even-stevens going into the interval.
Half-Time: Rayleigh Town 1 – 1 Harold Wood Athletic
As we began the opening phase of the second period, Harold Wood utilised their long throws and from one of those, Shepherd couldn’t quite get enough purchase on his strike to make it a difficult gather for Brown. Ath defender Matthew Donovan was again showing his commanding style of defending, though his side were nearly behind on fifty minutes as Town forward Ruari McIntyre evaded the visiting defence though unfortunately couldn’t find the right pass into forward Bailey Moss on that occasion. However, the physical Rayleigh forward did make a telling contribution with fifty-seven minutes gone as after another good move involving Seaden down the Town right flank, with Reynolds making a good save from Seaden’s strike, the following corner saw Moss force the ball over the line to give Rayleigh the lead for the second time.
Athletic needed to build momentum and possession and they did respond well. Just past the hour, midfielder Dan Johnson fired wide to remind the hosts they had a lot of work to get through to win this tie. Brown showed good handing again in the tricky conditions to deny Whitnell’s crisp strike and then tipping over another good effort from the impressive Shepherd. Rayleigh did exactly what they had to, they put bodies on the line and cleared their lines, despite the odd nervy moment.
Brown’s afternoon got better for him as he pulled off another smart save with fifteen minutes remaining, as a good strike by substitute Jack Sykes-Brown forced the Town goalkeeper into a good save low on the ground. Ultimately though, Rayleigh held on to claim a much-coveted win in this hard-fought encounter.
Full-Time: Rayleigh Town 2 – 1 Harold Wood Athletic
In summarising this match, Rayleigh boss Paul Higgins will be happy, not only with the result but with the energy and grit in the performance of his side today. Harold Wood were a threat today but they were denied a number of times by solid defending and pace on the copunter-attack as well. For the visitors, they will likely be disappointed that they didn’t gain a firmer foothold on the game after their leveller before the half-hour mark. All in all, it was the right result as you had to admire the sheer effort expended by the hosts to garner the three points.
I can only begin the ‘stand-out’ performers with Rayleigh skipper George Vile who showed exactl why he is highly-thought of here at the club. His sheer energy, tenacity in the tackle and work rate drove his team on and made it tricky at times for Ath to build attacks in midfield. Other worthy mentions in my view have to go to goalkeeper Mark Brown who again performed well, showing good handling skills in the choppy winds and a few good saves as well. Right wing-back Charlie Seaden also had a strong afternoon, charging down the flank with purpose and also showed good passing too. Finally, centre-back Jack Long had a good afternoon in a tough central defensive trio alongside Patrick Mills and Will Baldry. For the visitors, right-back Jacob Roberts stood out for me, showing his rapid pace down the flank and also doing his defensive duties well. Forward Max Shepherd was also a near constant threat to the home backline and was unfortunate not to get on the scoresheet today. Midfielder Dan Johnson and centre-back Matthew Donovan also put in good, rugged performances today too as they looked to get their side going from the back.
The win sees Rayleigh up to ninth spot, and they are a point behind Harold Wood in eighth spot. Both sides have three matches remaining as they look to secure a mid-table finish. Best wishes to both teams for the rest of the campaign.
If you’d like to look at the rest of the weekend’s action in the Olympian divisions, my round-up is here: https://survivor16b.wordpress.com/2021/05/09/s20-21-round-ups-essex-olympian-league-sat-8-may-eofl/
Rayleigh Town | Manager: Paul Higgins | Assistant: Del Lamon
Starting XI: 1 Mark Brown (GK), 2 Charlie Seaden, 3 Harry Higgins, 4 Will Baldry, 15 Patrick Mills, 16 Jack Long, 8 George Vile (Capt), 11 George Neller, 6 Paul Morris, 9 Bailey Moss, 10 Ruari McIntyre
Goal-scorers: George Vile [8′], Bailey Moss [57′]
Booked: Higgins, Brown | Subs Not Used: Baxter, Larkin
Harold Wood Athletic | Manager: Alex Goldstone | Assistants: Joe Benson & Stuart Williams
Starting XI: 1 Steven Reynolds (GK), 2 Jacob Roberts, 3 Jack Baines, 4 James Ishmail, 5 Connor Goldstone, 6 Matthew Donovan, 7 John Bradley, 18 Dan Johnson, 9 Robert Whitnell (Capt), 10 Josh Steel, 16 Max Shepherd
Goal-scorer: Robert Whitnell [pen 23′]
Subs On: 12 Jack Sykes-Brown [58′], 15 Harvey Cooper [80′], 8 Ben Dosad [80′]
Booked: None | Subs Not Used: Benson, Williams
Referee: Matthew Pointer
Assistants: Adekola Adeyemi & Philip Clarke