Ide Hill battled back from 3-1 down to grab a more than deserved draw in the top of the table clash at Sydenham on Saturday afternoon. Ide Hill went into the game knowing that a positive result, with only five games remaining, would put them in the driving seat for winning the league.
They also welcomed back crucial defenders for the showdown in skipper Phil Alteirac and defensive lynchpin Ben Pearson, whilst Josh Howard was given his first start and delivered a strong performance from left wing back.
Ide Hill got off to a poor start in their biggest game of the season, playing into a swirling wind and on a tight pitch, a ball was floated in behind the defence out to the right and Kane Jones ran on to lift beyond the advancing Mike McKay for a 1-0 lead within 10 minutes.
It was a frantic start, with little football being played by either side in difficult conditions, but the visitors eased themselves back in to proceedings, knitting some cutting attacks together to get in behind the Sydenham defence. Ide Hill pulled level after 25 minutes, Ben Holder found himself out on the right wing after keeping a set play alive, he waited and floated a sumptuous cross in to the back post where Alteirac was waiting to fire a header in to the corner for the equaliser.
Ide Hill then stepped on the gas for the remainder of the half, playing some good football and carving out a number of chances that could have taken them in front.
George Kensell, excellent again out wide, found himself in the six yard box but snatched at his chance and fired over with his left foot. Pearson then headed over from close range when well placed.
Ide Hill headed into the break buoyed and feeling this was their game to win, but this optimism was quickly punctured within 10 manic minutes after the break.
Giant forward Oliver Bell caused problems with his aerial ability throughout, nodding his first in direct from a set play on 50 minutes then scoring a clever lob on the hour mark to take Sydenham towards seeming victory and a five point lead at the top of the table.
But Ide Hill showed their mettle in the final half hour, refusing to wilt and cede their league title charge. They pulled one back after 70 minutes, Jack Edmeads driving into the box and drawing the foul, which Craig Jackson tucked away for his 13th of the season.
The visitors continued to exert pressure chasing the equaliser, Luke Steggle passing up two good chances when raiding from left back, firing over with his left on the volley from 10 yards and not able to apply the finish when driving in to a one on one from the left.
Ide Hill deservedly found the equaliser in the 80th minute though, an Edmeads floated free kick was perfectly placed to cause havoc and the keeper missed it, allowing it to go straight in for 3-3 and his 7th of the season.
Ide Hill then had a chance in the final minutes ruled offside for the returning Rob Piper and the game ended in a slightly comical manner, forward George Harris played through, spurning his chance, however the referee blew for the final whistle as he took his touch in the box, much to the ire of the home team.
Manager Paul McDonagh was relatively pleased with the point; “it was a messy game, they were a big physical side and the playing conditions were tough. But we showed character and did well to pull the game back around when two down. We probably deserved to win on chances created, but will take the point and it leaves us in a good position” and on Man of the Match Phil Alteirac: “It was great to have him back, he took his goal well and made a big difference having him back in the defence”.
Ide Hill remain in a strong position in the league with four games left to play. They are two points behind Sydenham with two games in hand.
Next week Ide Hill have the chance to reclaim top spot with a win at Long Lane as the other top sides are not in action. All still to play for in what has been a thrilling title race and an excellent season for Ide Hill.
Chipstead ignite the fire beneath
Chipstead FC kept up with their Division One West opponents as they dispatched Stansfeld (O&B) Reserves 6-1 on Saturday afternoon in Chislehurst. Three braces from Mitchell Hill, Bradley Setters and Chris Steadman ensured that the race for the title will keep going until the final four games.
Chipstead host Club Langley in their next fixture (23/03), and they are not out of the running either, with a return match also left to play before the season end.