‘Our best performance’, observed assistant manager Kevan Nelson on Saturday after first place in Combined Counties League Division I beat second – with no less ease than any of the Islanders’ previous nine outings.
Man of the match Harry Cardwell, Karl Hinds, Sol Solomon and substitute Fraser Barlow all found the net in the 4-1 triumph at Springfield to help send Bulls ten points clear in the tenth tier of English football, although Hinds then made unwanted club history for himself by becoming the first player to see red.
Sandhurst, from the synonymous Berkshire town most famous for its military academy, had come prepared. ‘We’d watched quite a few clips and videos … we’ve tried to go into a deep block and make it a game in our half and break from there,’ said manager Michael Herbert, who had also made an earlier trip to Springfield to watch the Bulls in person.
And for the first 20 minutes it was working, as Sandhurst kept their discipline with regimented positioning off the ball. Despite their domination, the Bulls were frustrated in their attempts to break them down or get the ball behind them. That forced the hosts to start finding the range from distance, but it didn’t bother them one bit. After all, there is more than one way to skin a cat.
Winger Cardwell looked the most threatening up to this point and out of nowhere he fired a missile across the penalty box into the top left-hand corner to put the Bulls in the lead.
Sandhurst continued to try to contain Gary Freeman’s side, but the Bulls continued to patiently probe.
On 25 minutes midfielder Kamen Nafkha bombed forward to breach the lines and a one-two with Hinds became a one-two-three, with Nafkha pulling the ball back for Hinds to side-foot home.
In the second half, Sandhurst naturally took the brakes off as they looked to claw their way back into the game and their renewed ‘who dares wins’ attitude paid off after the restart.
Joe Barley launched a ball into the box from the right, the Bulls failed to clear and Patrick Gardner guided it into the bottom-right-hand corner on the half-volley.
Bulls’ reaction was instant, with Solomon, Cardwell and Daryl Wilson all going close within minutes of each other. Solomon was particularly wasteful when, after a typical snaking run, he hesitated to pull the trigger, decided to round the keeper instead, then skewered an effort wide from a tighter angle than it ever should have been.
He would soon make amends.
The game was 70 minutes old when the teenager speculated with a first-time strike from 25 yards that found the net. Sandhurst keeper Matthew Watson may have felt he should have done a little better in trying to keep it out but it was no less than the Bulls deserved.
Substitute Fraser Barlow then topped it all off with a goal of wonderful individual virtuosity, having evaded three defenders with ease.
If it was a joy to watch for the 800-plus spectators, it all must have all got a little boring for Hinds.
As the game was closing out, he decided to create an extra little bit of drama for his own entertainment when he petulantly stuck his head on the Sandhurst centre-half Thomas Cooper.
Full report and reaction in Monday’s JEP.