1st Team Match Report – Abbey Rangers 1 Reigate Priory 4

Priory made the trip up the M25 to Chertsey to visit Abbey Rangers. Rangers, promoted from the Surrey County Intermediate (Western) League last season, have enjoyed a positive start to their first season in the Elite league. They currently occupied 4th in the league and had only lost twice all season so it was going to be a tough ask for Priory following their poor display the week prior against Coulsdon.
The Reigate side were able to welcome back Travis Purnell (from injury), Steve Beckett and Rob Stratton (from unavailability). With both Liam Hogg and Karl Paddley unavailable, there were starts for Dan Benson and Michael Walker – making his first team debut. With Jaime Philcox unwell, Steve Payne started on the right hand side. It was also bad news for Luke Reid. Following his timely return to the club, a horror tackle from a Coulsdon player last week had broken two bones and fractured another in his foot. He will be a big miss until the new year. Strange considering the Coulsdon player claimed he “never touched him”…
Gaffers Davies and Winterburn insisted on an improvement from last weeks display, which had “been the worst game we have been involved with since joining Priory”. With the warning ringing in their ears, Priory took to the field and started the stronger of the two sides. Surprising considering the amount of changes to the starting 11 but Priory took a deserved lead with only 10 minutes on the clock. Jamie Williams was released in behind the backline and managed to lift the ball over the onrushing goalkeeper with Chris Byrne sheparding the ball over the line. Unfortunately, Priory could not keep up the intensity and were pegged back after the goal by an Abbey side looking to get themselves back into the game. After a large period of increasing pressure, Rangers were back level. A quick throw on and one-two left Beckett out of position and, in his absence, Abbey found the space to slip in the forward who made no mistake lifting the ball over Travis and into the unguarded net. 1-1 and game on. The Abbey goal gave Priory the kick they needed as they started to stamp their authority on a game they had had the better of. The final 15 minutes of the half would be the most important. First, Travis made a world class double save, saving point blank firstly and then launching himself at the feet of the striker to preserve the teams on level terms. Then, a few minutes later, the turning point in the match. Travis rolled the ball out to Walker who in turn moved the ball onto Williams. He was upended in the centre circle but his quick thinking saw a quick free kick taken into the path of Byrne. With Byrne through on goal, a mis-timed tackle from the Abbey centre-back left the referee with no choice but to send him off straight red for a professional foul and being the last man. Despite the players protests, it was the correct decision and the lack of argument from the Rangers bench said it all. What followed was some sustained pressure from the 10 men and Priory trying to force the ball forward too early which meant the game went into half time all-square.
The Gaffers and Skipper Beckett asked for my patience in getting the ball forward in the second half and to wear out the opposition as they had only 10 men. Those words did not go unheard and Priory put in the type of display that needs to happen more often. They got the ball on the floor and used the strengths of Williams, Stratton, Payne and Byrne to great effect. Firstly, Williams fed Byrne inside the box who turned his marker inside out and fizzed a shot in at the front post which was too fast for the keeper to get down to and Priory had a deserved lead. The midfield pairing of Walker and Ndazi were working overtime to protect the back five and this was no more prominent then when one through ball managed to get past the centre back pairing of Beckett and Leask, Walker was there to time his tackle to perfection and preserve the lead. Further last ditch tackles from Doick and Benson would keep Priory’s noses in front and left the front men to inflict more woe on Abbey Rangers. The marauding Williams was having his best game of the season to date and it was from another of his lung-busting runs forward that Priory got their third goal of the game. As the keeper came rushing out, he slipped the ball past him at pace with the defender on the line unable to do anything but help the ball into the net. At 3-1, the game appeared dead and buried but the back five still had to be alert of the threat from set plays and counter-attacks. Travis made some timely catches and saves to keep Abbey at bay and when his defences were breached, Beckett cleared from in front of his goal with an own goal looking the more likely outcome! Stratton came off following a slight knock but could be happy with his days work. He was replaced by Danny Roberts. There was still time for the goal of the game with 10 minutes remaining. Wes (who had come on as a sub for the impressive Payne) fed the ball into Byrney. With Wes making a run for the one-two, a defender was dragged away and from 25 yards out, Byrne let fly an unstoppable shot leaving the helpless Rangers keeper with no chance. Not known for his goals outside the box, this was definitely one to savour for all in attendance.
An excellent second half performance that, in fairness, probably would have been too much for Abbey had they had 11 men on the pitch. When Priory hit this kind of form, they will be tough for anyone in the league to beat. The key is consistency which has been lacking throughout this season. Some might say this has been down to injuries, unavailability and a different side every week. What must be consistent is the workrate and desire from the 14 people there for that game. We must ride this wave into the next game against neighbours Bletchingley in the county cup. Another big game and an opportunity to string two wins together for the first time this season. The gauntlet has been laid out…
Squad: Purnell, Benson, Beckett (c), Leask, Doick, Walker, Ndazi, Stratton, Williams, Payne, Byrne, Roberts, Wes, Philcox