The early signs were positive for Hartley; our shape was good and our hunger out of possession impressive. We were unfortunate not to take the lead after 5 minutes following a probing attack orchestrated by the midfield duo of Jones and Parfitt. SCR encountered difficulties in their attempts to penetrate through our defence, but the lively Francois Gabbidon, who has already scored 11 goals this season, was always on the front foot looking to nick the ball ahead of our defenders. The impressive partnership of Liam Eagle and Shane Hollamby kept him mostly at bay.
Hartley willed themselves to a precious victory on Tuesday evening beating a stubborn Sutton Common Rovers and securing all three points.
There was a moment early on when the SCR winger jinked his way inside the box and leathered the ball across the face of goal; it fired ferociously off the post and back across the goal, luckily for the Row into the arms of Atkinson.
Ten minutes into the game and winger, Steve Duff, pulled up with a slight injury. In a bid not to worsen the problem we decided to take him off. Now, a little insight that wouldn't normally get publicised but it's probably worth noting. Before the game we were unfortunate to lose one of our players, Jake Maddock, as he was unable to make the game in time. I had promised Ross Cook the opportunity to go on the bench should a place appear; obviously, before that point, I'd been confident that we had a full bench so were unable to fulfil Rossi's adamancy that 'he was ready'. Rossi's eyes lit up in the changing room upon news that Jake couldn't make it.
Anyway, back to the game, with Duffers getting injured, the obvious replacement at that point was Cook - which would enable us to put Everiss in his more natural wide position. It was a gamble as his injury was relatively untested, but we decided to go for it and trust Rossi's judgement. I must have spent a good two or three minutes explaining that he was to be reasonable with his expectations, not only his fitness but in his performance. Six weeks out, we (nor he) could expect to hit the free-scoring heights he had repeatedly performed at the start of the season, straight away. It was explained in detail and agreed.
8 minutes later he scores his first of the evening.
"Am I ready, Brownlie? Am I ready?"
What made it 'worse', was that he already put the ball in the net 4 minutes before, only to be called offside. It was a welcome sight and a much needed goal. Toby Jannaway played a great pass through the centre of midfield which found Cook near the edge of the box. Cook took the ball on the outside of his foot, pushing the ball in the opposite direction. Upon facing the defender, he created a yard through a piece of trickery and placed the ball in the bottom corner.
At one up, we felt comfortable that we'd win the match. Credit to SCR, who pop the ball around nicely, but their striker became quite isolated because of our dominance on the ball and our possession within their half. Hartley continued to create chances on what was quite a difficult pitch to play on. To save time in the future, if you are a regular reader of these reports, from now until the end of March, take it that it goes without saying that we are playing on a 'relatively difficult pitch.'
It took just four minutes later for Cook to double his tally. Callum Eagle took a short throw which he played to Parfitt, who turned and spread a 50 yard pass between two defenders, which landed on Cook's chest. Cook, in one motion, swivelled and struck a fine shot passed the goalkeeper.
Ten minutes later SCR formed an attack down the left hand side. The winger got to the byline where our defenders were convinced the ball had gone out of play, but the ref played on. It took us too long to react as the ball ended up at the feet of the opposite winger, who plucked out a classy poke finish into the top corner of the net. We should have got out quicker to the ball, so we were disappointed to concede.
The ref had created a bit of pressure for himself after missing some obvious fouls and stopping the game for some seemingly innocuous tackles. Their striker was booked for 'kicking the ball away', despite being 2-1 down, being through on goal and him hitting it almost on the whistle. It was a card that didn't need to be shown. He also gave an indirect free kick when our goalkeeper picked up the ball back from a header. It was a strange one.
Shane Hollamby had a fantastic game at the heart of our defence. A controlled, solid and calming influence on the game. He made some important challenges high up the pitch that thwarted any further attacks from the SCR forwards. The whole defence had a sturdy display but his performance really stood out.
It was a shame to hear that one of the SCR players had spat at one of our strikers. The actions that followed shortly after the game were equally disappointing, but it is by no means a reflection of the spirit of the game nor the majority of the players in the SCR team, they were a good footballing side who played in the right manner. They have some very good players within their team, certainly not represented by their current league position, and no doubt the players are frustrated but will be working hard to better their position, which I am sure they will, they have enough quality and intelligent players to find a way.
It's another three points in the bag against a side that have already taken points off top teams this year. Could we have been better? Absolutely. We said after the match that those are the games you can look back at the end of the season and be more pleased with your night's work. There will be plenty more of those across the course of the season, but I'd like to think we can improve our game dramatically for the fast approaching weekend. Three points, wrapped up ready for the busy christmas period. Well done boys. [DB]