Bulls have to battle for a point

Adam Trotter, left, put in his second man of the match performance in a row Picture: KNAPHILL FC

AFTER the euphoria of beating high-flying Knaphill on Saturday, the Bulls were – on paper – favourites heading into an awkward looking tie in the sleepy Hampshire outpost of Fleet.

But the transient nature of football at this level was in full effect, as the man who scored the goal which knocked the Bulls out of this year’s FA Cup was at it again – as former Knaphill man Dan Bone gave the hosts a lead against the run of play.

Given the energy and emotion which was spent by his side on the weekend, Gary Freeman was ultimately pleased to leave with a point, delivered courtesy of a close-range finish from Ben Le Rougetel.

“We’re disappointed not to win but credit to Fleet, they made life difficult for us out there,” he said.

“We obviously know plenty about Dan Bone and he’s taken his goal really well. The conversation I had with the players, though, is that we’ve taken something from the game and that’s the most important thing at this stage of the season.

“The side has had to be re-jigged again and that doesn’t help in terms of continuity, especially at the back. We lost Luke Campbell through sickness at the last hour and so when you factor everything in, it could be a vital point come late April.”

With a host of senior players likely to remain unavailable for Saturday’s visit of Camberley, Freeman was given yet another headache when Miguel Carvalho was forced off just before the break having caught his studs in the turf.

And on the subject of being taken off, the talking point of the opening 45 minutes was referee Simon Weston’s decision not to send off Prince Da Cruz, who went straight through Frank Tobin while on a yellow card.

Weston’s colleague, Radu Lungu, was well placed to assist but no further card was forthcoming. And, sensing what might have become, Fleet boss Elliott Hunt withdrew Da Cruz moments later.

Carvalho was the main attacking outlet for the visitors in the first half, teeing up both man-of-the-match Adam Trotter and Jonny Le Quesne with two delicious crosses, but both men failed to work Joel Halliday in the Fleet goal.

However, the chance of the half fell to Brad Manning, 20 yards from goal.

He could only lash his effort high and wide, and the let-off was the impetus needed to wake a Bulls group struggling for rhythm.

Le Quesne and Fraser Barlow forced two excellent saves as the Islanders stepped up their efforts for the opener after the break, before Bone’s sucker punch. And a brilliantly taken one, at that.

A seemingly hopeful dink in behind the Bulls defence from substitute Mihail Marinescu left Bone with plenty to do, but his execution was outstanding.

Nodding the ball out in front of him, before taking a moment to set himself, he struck cleanly past Pierce Roche from just inside the penalty box.

The urgency levels increased from the men in red and a deserved equaliser was not long in arriving.

A deep free-kick into the Fleet box was headed back across goal by Luke Watson and Le Rougetel on hand to lash home.

With seconds remaining, a deep, hanging delivery from Louis Blake landed right on top of Roche but the Bulls ‘keeper failed to claim the ball and pandemonium erupted in front of him.

Naz Miah shot just wide as Freeman could only watch on, powerless, and his sigh of relief was palpable when Weston brought matters to a close seconds later.

“I think one of the most important things we’ve learned as a group over the past couple of years is the importance of managing games at this stage of the season. And this group of players is in a good place to be able to now deliver on that,” he said.

“Everyone knows that Farnham are going to win the league, so it’s about making sure we get into the play-offs. But there’s probably around half a dozen other sides with the same aspiration, so if you lose a game now, it’s almost worth double to your competitors.”

The incredibly competitive nature of the Combined Counties was perfectly demonstrated on the same night, as AFC Croydon Athletic – owned by Wilfred Zaha and rapper Stormzy – announced the signing of former Crystal Palace, Bromley and Stevenage full-back Reece Hannam.

It encapsulated the mood around the division of the ‘haves’ and, well, ‘the rest’. The Bulls are very much in the race with just over eight weeks of the regular season to go and there’ll be plenty of ‘haves’ who will need beating along the way.

– Advertisement –
– Advertisement –