Following Saturday’s humdinger at Lewes was always going to be a tough ask. One that was met with relish though, as Danny Barker’s hamstring injury led to a recall for Will Seager and Dajon Golding swapped places with the newly-benched Reece Myles-Meekums. Another returnee came in the form of Pat Webber who joined his colleagues ready to enter the action at any time.
The game was barely a minute old when Ollie Pearce stung the palms of Arthur Janata, after Joel Colbran’s shot had deflected off Golding and fallen kindly for him. Although JC would get a second bite of the cherry, only for Curtis Ujah to put his body on the line and deny the wing-back again.
Defence soon turned to attack, as Ujah stretched to try and get on the end of Ruben Carvalho’s free-kick, that an incoming Harry Hope behind him sent crashing into the side netting but the far side Assistant had his flag up for offside in any case.
Sadly for the struggling hosts, that would prove to be Ujah’s final contribution to the cause, with his evening ending early due to injury.
Set-piece number two had Stansted Airport on red alert rather than giving visiting ‘keeper Harrison Male any cause for concern. Johnny Ashman not as dangerous on this occasion.
Speaking of danger, Pearce presented a poser for the home team by juggling, swivelling, then lofting in a high ball that Golding struck first time as it dropped nicely for him but Janata pulled off a fine save to keep him out.
A quickly-taken free-kick then released Ashman on the right; his low cross into the penalty area seeing a touch and turn by Carvalho force Male to gather at his near post.
Unable to play their usual free-flowing football, Reds changed tack by going long, opening up new opportunities. One in particular leading to Jasper Pattenden robbing Ben Wyss and still having time to pick out Kealy, who hit the crossbar at close range. Golding managing to avoid the same piece of apparatus by some distance, when attempting to hook an awkward rebound from behind him.
Early into the second period, sound defending was the order of the day once more, after failing to clear James Beresford’s initial delivery. Kealy twisting and shooting goalwards, with the towering Ryan Dear blocking his drive and Janata bravely denying Golding on the follow-up.
Less taxing for the host’s number one came via the right boot of Pearce, with his dead ball demanding nothing more than a routine stop and hold. This emanating from a brief bout of Greco-Roman wrestling that ended with Dear penalised for bringing down Dajon, just outside the eighteen yard box.
Janata then threw his name into the ring for save of the season not once but twice in quick succession.
Golding’s left wing cross was headed back at the far stick into the danger zone by Beresford, where Pearce lurched forward to divert the ball on target off his own dome. Producing a superb one-handed stop from Janata, who also stunned and frustrated Pattenden in equal measure when beating his effort away with the same right hand, before his defensive colleagues finally scrambled the ball to safety.
However, The Rocks’ custodian would be powerless to prevent Kealy bulging the net from around six yards, moments later.
Wyss v Pattenden round two went the way of Jasper again, as he got up to send in a set-piece that Kealy gobbled up after Colbran had risen majestically to meet with his bonce.
It took the trickery of the impressive Ashman to finally get the better of JP and Male to watch closely to palm away his ball into the box that threatened to creep in. Seager’s chest taking the full brunt of Carvalho’s rebounding blast.
Penalty appeals were rightly ignored when Ashman went to ground following what looked like the minutest of touches from Pearce, who then tried, in vain, to catch out Janata at his front upright. Combining well on the left flank with Webber, Ollie reached the corner of the eighteen yard area before unleashing an attempt that the wily Janata always had covered.
Less than ten minutes to go and one last chance to add to the scoreline resulted in a tightly marked Colbran performing his best Superman impression; flying in to come within a hair’s breadth of heading Jesse Starkey’s flag-kick spectacularly home.
A goal-kick and an inordinate amount of added time later, three very welcome and hard-earned points were on their way back to West Sussex.