Ide Hill climbed to the summit of the league on Saturday afternoon with a gritty win over Long Lane in blustery conditions.
The visitors knew, with Sydenham and Chipstead not playing, that a win would take them a point clear in the race for the title, but the victory was far from straightforward against a side trying to rebuild following a huge exodus of players mid-season.
With a near full strength squad, Ide Hill started with real intent and swarmed the anxious hosts, carving chance after chance in a frenetic opening 15 minutes when Ide Hill threatened to run riot.
The first came after five minutes and relentless pressure, the impressive Sam Heasman wriggling in the box and drawing the penalty from the stretched defender. Craig Jackson stepped up and slid his 14th of the season in for what seemed would be the first of many.
Playing with the swirling wind at their backs, Ide Hill continued to dominate against a callow Long Lane side; Matt Bunn racing clear shortly after only to see his one on one well saved by the legs of the goalkeeper. Columb Grant was operating with his usual class and also came close in the opening period, with nice interplay resulting in him firing goalward and drawing a good save.
Ide Hill deservedly doubled the lead after 10 minutes, Ben Holder throwing in to the box and Jackson stabbing a close range finish in to the far right corner. Bunn saw another good chance saved after 20 minutes before the Ide Hill blitz subsided and Long Lane began to get a foothold in the game.
The game thereafter seemed to succumb to the conditions, becoming more even with the home side threatening to get back into the game and looking forward to their own wind assisted half to come.
Man of the Match Mike McKay was to thank for a precious clean sheet, pulling off an outstanding save after 40 minutes from a swirling piledriver which meant Ide Hill went in to the break two goals clear having played well for a portion of the half.
The second half, in to the wind, was predictably a grind for Ide Hill, defending stoically with George Kensell, Phil Alteirac, Ben Pearson and McKay holding firm in the face of patches of intense pressure. A series of corners and set pieces caused havoc in the visitors’ box, needing goal line clearances and last ditch tackles in an increasingly fraught last half an hour.
Ide Hill still had chances to pull further clear in the final 15 minutes though; substitute Shaun Boyle using his nimble footwork to carve out a chance which he fired wide, then missing a close range header with 10 to play. Jack Edmeads also fired one wide with his left when he perhaps expected to score.
But Ide Hill saw out the remainder of the game in a gutsy if not brilliant performance to reclaim top spot with three games to play. Manager Paul McDonagh was pleased with the result: “The conditions were tough again, a strong wind and a tight pitch weren’t the best for flowing football. But on the whole we had enough good chances to score loads more”.
And on MOTM McKay: “He made a couple of key saves at crucial times and had to sweep and kick so much with the wind, we needed him today and he delivered”.
Ide Hill know that if they win their remaining three games they will win the league but, as Saturday proved, there will be no easy victories in a competitive league and with strong teams chasing.
Next Up, Ide Hill replay their Sevenoaks Quarter Final against Southborough on Wednesday evening before returning to league action on March 30th against Sutton Athletic Reserves.