Premiership Hopes Disappear.
On a glorious day at JTC Park, the First team’s hopes of sustaining a Premiership title challenge died a cruel death in the Spring sunshine. With three fixtures remaining, nine points would have secured the title for us for the first time since 1990, and first up was Jersey Scottish.
With the exception of top scorer Jamie Savory (injured), the squad was at full strength with Jamie Brewster returning between the sticks and Nafkha, McKenna, Andrews and Buchanan making up a solid defensive unit. Bennion, Thompson and youngster Josh Daniels returned to midfield, leaving Romeril, Mourant and the ever improving Lorne Bickley in attack.
A slow start would be a generous description as within 20 minutes Jersey Scottish found themselves three goals to the good. Within 30 seconds from the kick off, Buchanan and Andrews collided while attempting to head clear and from the resulting corner, Scottish’s towering centre back, Rob McBey firmly headed home into the top corner of the net. Nervous defending by Nafkha in his own penalty area gifted Max Thompson the chance to make it two and, after Bennion conceded a cheap free kick, the impressive Gallichan glanced Pestana’s well taken free kick past the helpless Wanderers keeper, it was three, and any dreams of title success were all but gone.
But credit where credit is due. After the shell shock had passed and the Wanderers Manager had kicked the first aid bag into the Rugby Club, we found some composure and started to string some passes together and play to the game plan which we had clearly failed to do from the off. Bennion’s free kick from the right was smartly met by Romeril’s pinpoint header to pull one back, after impressive work by Mourant on the left, his floated cross was met by Bickley and a superbly executed lob over the stranded keeper by Bennion brought the score level to the dismay of the now dejected Scottish players.
Now in the ascendancy, half time came too soon for Wanderers and with the score at 3-3, the healthy crowd had witnessed one of the strangest 45 minutes of football – soon to be heralded by all as the game of the season.
With both sides complaining about the inconsistency of the referee in awarding free kicks, it was another set piece that led to Jersey Scottish’s fourth. Pestana’s free kick was firmly struck around the Wanderers wall and Brewster was only able to parry the shot into the path of Jordan Rae who reacted quickest and managed to side foot the ball into the unguarded goal.
But the drama hadn’t ended there and after more excellent work by Bickley, who had been a handful all afternoon, his directed header fell into the path of the oncoming Mourant who done well to lift the ball past Fletcher in the Scottish goal to level the scores again.
With the game now evenly balanced, both sides went looking for the win with half chances being created at either end. Most notably Bickley with another headed effort for Wanderers and Gallichan for Scottish who’s shot was smartly saved by Brewster.
They say football can be a cruel game, and none more so than on this occasion. After coming on to the replace the injured and somewhat hot headed Nafkha, Ben Blacker stretched to head clear another Scottish set piece only for the ball to skim off the top of his head and sail into the bottom corner beyond the reach of the outstretched keeper.
In the final minutes Wanderers pushed for their fifth equaliser, but on the counter attack, Gallichan broke clear and Jack McKenna, who until then had been solid, was left with little choice other than to abruptly halt his progress and was duly show a red card. Without further incident the game finished 4-5 to the delight of the Scottish players and bench.
After conceding five goals to set pieces, one of which was an own goal, Wanderers manager Andrew Johnstone said: “We’re clearly disappointed to have given them a three goal lead after a terrible start but, in fairness, we showed great character to pull things back level and half time probably came too early, as I thought we were in control of the game prior to the break. To score four against a good side like Scottish but not get anything from the game is a little disheartening, but we only have ourselves to blame for the manner in which we conceded from dead ball situations and the own goal is just one of those things that happen. All told, the lads should be proud of themselves as they have contributed to a good quality, entertaining game of football and as a squad we are progressing in the right direction”.
With two league games remaining, Wanderers have secured third spot for the fifth consecutive year. With a meaningless fixture against Trinity to come first, there is still a big part to play in deciding the destination of the league title. Assuming Scottish beat St John in their last remaining game, St Paul’s would need to beat Wanderers in both teams’ final fixture of the season to force a play-off with Scottish.