Pitching In Isthmian League
South East Division
Saturday 30th.December 2023
Merstham (The Moatsiders) 1 v Lancing 2
These teams met on the opening day of the league season, in sunny August at Culver Road, quite a contrast from the dark, wet and windy Merstham. Merstham were then new to the league, having transferred across from the Isthmian South-Central Division. It was a dominant performance from Lancing but they found Merstham keeper Zak Basey in outstanding form that day and Lancing were restricted to a solitary goal, a header from a corner on 50 minutes from centre back Henry Watson, now on the road to recovery after his serious knee injury in the F.A cup match at Carshalton and looking to be fit in time for next season.
Ex-Lancer favourite Lorenzo Lewis came on as a sub for Merstham that day but started this time along with Jaevon Dyer, who spent some time with Lancing earlier in the season on loan from Dorking Wanderers, making his debut for Lancing that day as a sub. Merstham experienced a difficult start to the season but have made a gradual improvement, as evidenced by an impressive 3-2 victory over Three Bridges on Boxing Day. This sounded a warning bell to Lancing.
David Altendorff made one change from the Burgess Hill starting XI, with Alex Laing in, not in his usual position, but at right back, a very astute decision as it transpired.
Referee Conor Griffin stamped his authority on the game as early as the first minute dishing out a caution to Merstham’s Charlie Greenwood for a foul on Charlie Pitcher. This, fortunately, did not turn out to be a repeat of the high number of cautions issued in the Lancing v Burgess Hill game. Mr Griffin did his best to let the game flow but Merstham’s Greenwood, Ogundega and Lorenzo Lewis did go into the notebook. Charlie Pitcher was Lancing’s only offender, the referee interpreting what looked like a genuine tumble as Charlie burst at speed into the box, as simulation (a dive !!).
The first half was almost a repeat of the Culver Road game. Lancing were the superior team. The greasy grass surface was not conducive to Louis Rogers playing the ball out via the back four and his ability to hit long accurate balls to the front men looked to be the best option. Charlie Bennett was making the most of this, winning the ball in the air and glancing it on to Lukas Franzen-Jones. These two developed a good understanding and produced Lancing’s best efforts on goal. Merstham had a couple of chances but nothing to trouble Louis Rogers. The first came when Oliver Khinda hit a first-time volley from the right touchline into the Lancing box. Korrey Henry got his head to it but put it over. A mazy run by Jaevon Dyer got him to the by-line but his cut back rebounded off Jack Meeres straight to Tom Collins but he hit a weak effort straight at Louis Rogers. Collins had another effort on goal from a free-kick. Although he succeeded in bending it around the wall there was not enough curve for it to hit the target.
Lukas Franzen-Jones did better at the other end but found the aptly named Endurance Johnson equal to his best attempts. The first came when he received a flick on from the head of Charlie Bennett and wasted no time in getting a shot away bringing a fine one handed save. Another flick on from Bennett fell to Franzen-Jones but this time his shot was deflected wide for a corner. Bennett then slipped a clever pass to Franzen-Jones who attempted to turn and hit the ball goal-wards, but was closed down. Bennett then drew three defenders as he twisted and turned his way into the box, setting up Franzen-Jones who struck for goal but Johnson pulled off another excellent save to deny Lancing’s top scorer.
In between, a Charlie Gibson corner had Johnson scrambling at the foot of the upright to keep it out. There was also a good spell of interpassing on Lancing’s right flank which saw Andrew Briggs put Knory Scott in possession in the right corner. Scott evaded a tackle and drove the ball towards the near upright. Johnson allowed the ball to roll from his grasp to Lukas Franzen-Jones but it rebounded from him back to the keeper before he had time to react.
So, halftime arrived with the game goalless despite some fine midfield play from Andrew Briggs, George Taggart and Charlie Briggs. Some sound defending inspired by skipper Alex Laing, in an unaccustomed role as full back, kept a clean sheet for Lancing, with Louis Roger not tested.
Merstham made a half time change bringing on Ben Jordan for Korrey Henry. Lancing began on the front foot with Alex Laing sending George Taggart in on goal but only to finish wide. Merstham looked a different team for 15 minutes or so in the second half and pressure paid off on 55 minutes, when a Lancing clearance was played back towards the goal. Lorenzo Lewis managed to head the ball further goalwards. Jack Meeres tried to reach the ball to clear it but it eluded him allowing Tom Collins to apply the finishing touch from close range.
Lancing redoubled their efforts. George Taggart hit a low drive which Endurance Johnson was able to get down and gather in. This was quickly followed by Alex Laing latching on to a fine pass from Knory Scott. Laing cut in from the right, let fly with his left only to see the ball miss hitting the net a by a few inches.
Charlie Pitcher had held the ball up well on Lancing’s left flank showing some fine ball control, typified by the way he brought a long ball from the back under instant control with the outside of his left foot. He set off towards the bye-line and attempted to deliver the ball in to Lukas Franzen-Jones but it was cut out and put behind for a corner.
Lancing made their first substitution bringing on Harry Heath on 72 minutes for George Taggart. Knory Scott switched to the left flank, Harry Heath took his place on the right and Charlie Pitcher took up a more central role, supporting Lukas Franzen-Jones. This soon paid dividends when Pitcher was brought down on the edge of the D as he was trying to manoeuvre himself into a shooting position. Andrew Briggs took a short run and executed a perfect curl around the wall planting the ball into top right corner out of reach of Johnson, making a desperate effort to keep it out.
Lorenzo Lewis had been kept pretty quiet in the first half, but he came more into the game in the final quarter. Charlie Gibson had his work cut out to try and prevent Lewis from causing a real threat with his forceful runs. With Sam Bull and Knory Scott also sensing the potential danger and supporting Gibson, Lewis was getting frustrated which led to him receiving a caution for a bad tackle. Lancing finally got their noses in front on 80 minutes. Andrew Briggs picked out the run of Alex Laing and put him in on goal from a throw in on the right. Laing brought the ball under control before hitting a low left foot drive into the far-right corner.
Lancing brought on Eliot Jenks shortly afterwards with Charlie Pitcher stepping down and, for the final stages, the defensive know-how of Will Berry to replace Charlie Gibson who had worked his socks off to keep Lorenzo Lewis quiet.
So, the festive period ended on a high for Lancing with maximum points, and 6 goals scored. This puts them in 7th spot, their highest ever in this league with Sevenoaks level on points, just above them but having played 18 games, two more than Lancing. Sheppey sit in 5th spot on 32 points after 19 games. We are at risk of suffering altitude sickness!!!!
This was the first double achieved this season and we are in a good position but there are some tough games ahead and no easy teams.
For once there was no debate about Player of the Match. Our people were quick to impress upon me the name of Alex Laing and I could not disagree but I thought Andrew Briggs was also outstanding, so for the sake of contrariness and to let Andrew he is appreciated, I gave my vote to him.
Something of a coincidence in that Terry Cartwright was match ball sponsor for the home fixture and who did he select as Player of the Match. ?…………..
Alex Laing (There must be something about Merstham that inspires him)
Lancing Starting XI ;
Louis Rogers, Alex Laing (Capt.), Jack Meeres, Sam Bull, Charlie Gibson (Will Berry 86), Andrew Briggs, George Taggart (Harry Heath 72), Charlie Bennett, Knory Scott, Charlie Pitcher (Eliot Jenks), Lukas Franzen-Jones.
Unused subs: Tyrone Madhani, Alex Plummer.