Harrow Borough 1-4 Grays Athletic
Blues make amends for the disappointing midweek result at Lewes with a well deserved, convincing win at Earlsmead against a well organised Borough.
After the disappointment of ending the match with nine men and conceding a late winner on Wednesday night Blues manager Jody Brown wanted a quick response and a repeat performance of the tremendous spirit that saw his depleted side take the game to Lewes and almost earn what would have been a well-deserved point.
On Saturday Blues were up against Dave Anderson's well organised Harrow Borough, themselves looking to bounce back from a disappointing result in midweek. The Non-League Day fixture attracted a healthy crowd of 230 and in warm conditions with little wind and a very good Earlsmead playing surface the two sides treated us to a good spirited and entertaining game.
The home side settled quickest and had two early half-chances but it didn't take long for Blues to stamp some authority on the game with Glen Little pulling the strings and Mark Bentley protecting the back four. At times the patient possession and good forward play wasn't matched by the quality needed in the final third to prise open a well-organised and resolute defence marshalled superbly by Michael Peacock. Harrow 'keeper wasn't tested by pot-shots from Jamie Guy and Jordan Wilson but he needed to make a smart save from a Little free kick. Borough showed signs that when given the opportunity they would break out and looked sharp and impressive on the counter-attack. Too often an early long ball was easily smothered by the Blues defence but when the pass found it's target the home side got bodies up the pitch quickly and looked a threat. Ola Williams worked a good opening from a one-two and his cheeky lob was just over the bar.
Blues tightened their hold on the game, retaining good possession and continuing to test the home side. Carlos and Ladapo switched sides and the impact was immediate as both players started to test the full backs and get the ball into good attacking areas. Peacock snuffed out a dangerous cross from Wilson; Guy headed off target after the 'keeper parried a cross into his path; Wilson blazed high and wide at the end of a great passing move; Siva's free-kick was palmed over and Bentley's powerful header was well saved by Charlie Hurlock.
Harrow struggled to get hold of the ball but as the half wore on without a goal being scored they dragged themselves back into the game, stopped the long ball and started to get good passing momentum, enjoying possession in the opposing half and putting the Blues back line under some pressure. Williams should have opened the scoring when Long sent him clear but he fired over at the near post.
Blues finally went ahead just before the break. Little lost the ball under pressure in the centre circle but his recovery tackle saw the ball bounce free and Bentley quickly found Best-Riley in the right-back position who darted forwards and played the ball to Carlos on the edge of the Borough area. He found Bentley who had moved into a good supporting position and he played the ball into the feet of Jamie Guy to the right of the 'D'. As Guy looked to create space inside for a shot Carlos ran across him, took a touch then curled a low shot inside the left-hand upright to give the visitors the lead going in at half-time.
Harrow, as they did in the first half, were quickest out of the traps after the break and they were level within two minutes of the restart. Some neat passing found Williams on the left and his deep cross wrong-footed everyone except Spencer Bellotti who steered the ball inside the far post from an awkward angle. The goal lifted the home side and where they had been second best in the midfield they started to press the ball quicker, force errors and get into attacking positions quickly. Conor Gough was seeing more of the ball and he had to be at his best to deny Jake Gilbert, largely anonymous all afternoon, pushing the midfielder's 20-yard drive around the post.
The game had opened up with Blues continuing to create and miss chances. Ladapo was giving Barima a stern examination with the striker clearly winning the battle but he missed two good chances to put Blues back in the lead after beating his man. Harrow continued to look threatening on the counter-attack but as Ola Williams tired and Steve Butterworth was being kept out of the game the ball was launched long and although Jamie Guy went close with a header, Jody Brown had seen enough and made a key change that alllowed the visitors to take control of the match.
Kenny Beaney was brought on for Jordan Wilson and his energy and vision revitalised the Blues who found another gear that started to stretch and strain Harrow and the goal that had been coming was finally slammed home with some aplomb by the excellent Freddie Ladapo on 68 minutes. It was Beaney that ignited the move that restored the Blues lead, linking the play between Ladapo and an advancing Leader whose pass found Siva. He played inside to Guy who fed Carlos on the right of the area and he played in Little on the overlap. The big midfielder beat the full back aimed a cross at the far post where it was intercepted by Barima whose header looped into the air. Carlos, rising like a salmon on the edge of the area, headed the ball back across the goal where Ladapo was lurking and he smashed it home from ten yards. It was no less than the big striker deserved and he was clearly delighted to be off the mark.
Gough again denied Harrow when he was out quickly to stop Bellotti and Ladapo again tormented Barima before whipping a cross in but a great saving header from Peacock prevented another certain Blues goal before Chris Bryan was introduced for Carlos. The pressure continued and in the 76th minute it was 3-1. Beaney was involved again as he looked to get Ladapo in behind Barima down the left. Hurlock came out to meet the ball but Barima, under pressure from the Blues striker, touched the ball past him before colliding with the young keeper and Ladapo walked the ball into the back of the net and - acknowledging his good fortune - didn't celebrate.
Harrow continued to look for a way back into the game but were too stretched as the back four was slow to get out and the midfield pair couldn't impose themselves on the game. Bellotti again threatened but Best-Riley smashed clear after the striker took one too many touches and the Harrow man came close again a few minutes later, firing over after creating space for himself. The tiring Little was replaced by Joe Benjamin and he went off to a standing ovation from the Blues faithful, outstanding as ever. Harrow substitute Shaun Lucien weighed in with a shot pulled narrowly wide before Blues scored a fourth with a minute of normal time remaining to wrap up the points and end the stubborn Borough resistance.
Patient possession turned into an excellent build-up involving all three substitutes. Beaney again linked everything together; Bentley chipped forwards and Guy held off a challenge down the right and fed the ball into Bryan. He gave the ball to Benjamin and continued his run across the pitch. Benjamin's pass out left to Siva wasn't ideal but the full back got it under control and played into Bryan's path near the left hand corner of the penalty area. The striker cut across Barima towards the edge of the box and just as it looked like Ladapo would take the ball off his feet Bryan fired goalwards and a slight deflection helped the ball past an already unsighted Hurlock in the Harrow goal to make it 4-1.
A good performance against a hard-working and well organised side in an entertaining match played with a good spirit between two sets of players that know each other well. There were no cautions for either side and apart from a couple of decisions that had no impact on the outcome of the game the officials let the game flow and were arguably the best we had seen this season. The substitutes slotted in well and the squad is becoming familiar with each other and a new playing system. The signs are certainly positive as we begin a sequence of games against in-form teams.