RPFC A made their way to Court Lodge for a preseason friendly against the newly promoted RH123 A which promised to be a tough test for the team with several key players missing. The As lined up with a few familiar faces from the reserve team in Ali Bance and Lee Wilmot to bolster the back four in the absence of regulars Gilo and John Braund. Ken Yau also made his first start for the As having worked hard all preseason and impressing during the Bs first two friendlies. Luke Smith made up a sturdy back line with James Naylor making his first appearance for the A team this year in goal.
The midfield also saw a couple of injury forced changes with Steve Gardner stepping up from the Bs to play along side Aaron Lawrence, Tom Babbs and Dave Hall. The forward line was unchanged from the closing stages of last week’s game, Ben Vezza supporting the in form Sean Doyle.
The As started the game slowly seemingly unaware of the physical battle that the game promised to provide. Neither team created any clear cut chances in the first 20 minutes with the ball sticking in the middle third for large periods of the opening exchange. The deadlock was finally broken by the RH123 attacking line thanks to a slip on the edge of the box by the Priory defence. The ball was flashed across the box and tapped in neatly passed James Naylor into the bottom corner.
RPFC had to respond quickly in order to get back into the game and the substitute Martin Baxter provided the attacking spark that was needed. Thanks for a delightful ball out wide by Aaron Lawrence, Baxter was put through into the box. Baxter shot early, low and hard, however his shot was blocked by a last ditched lunge by the RH123 left back only to bounce up for Sean Doyle to tap into the open net. The first half finished 1-1 but not until the RH123 centre back and captain got himself and the RPFC goal scorer sent off. The referee, Ray Connelly, taking the opportunity to defuse a potentially violent situation by making both players take an early break, forcing their substitution.
As predicted, the second half proved to be too much for RH123 and RPFC began to control the game more and more as the minutes rolled on, fitness the major factor. RH123 managed to defend well for the first 15 minutes of the second half until Martin Baxter popped up in the box for the simplest of headers to put the home side into the lead for the first time in the game. Shortly after the game was put to bed with a sweet finish from Doyle as he latched onto a cracking ball over the top of the RH123 back line played by Baxter. Doyle found the bottom corner beating the keeper at his near post having struck the ball from outside the box unopposed.
Naylor did well in the closing minutes of the game picking out a number of crosses and corners as the away team pressed for a foothold in the game after Doyle and Babbs squandered two good opportunites to really put the game beyond RH123 late on, the keeper and defenders doing just enough to put the two attacking players off at the crucial moments.
The game finished 3 – 1 to RPFC, a well deserved victory for the Priory and a great workout made possible by the effort put into training throughout the preseason period.