On a night when the light blue and red halves of Manchester served up the latest in a tense tussle for the Premier League title, these two excellent Youth sides fought out their own local derby battle in the heart of East Berkshire with the Allied Counties South title still very much at stake. Could the red & white hoops of the Robins, long-time leaders this season, see off a late challenge from League Cup finalists Binfield, in their change strip of pale blue.
A heavy downpour in the hour before kick-off served to make the surface zippy rather than heavy and thanks must go to rain-soaked groundsman Tony Hardy for his work in ensuring the pitch was in good condition for the match.
It was the visitors who were quickest out of the blocks, enjoying the better of the early exchanges in midfield and detecting a nervousness in the Robins’ ranks. Most of the play centred around Binfield playmaker, Seb Bowerman, whose movement saw him frequently in space and on the ball, occupying the hole behind his strikers to good effect. No surprise then that it was Bowerman’s clever, jinking run down the left that brought the Moles’ early success. Cutting in to the box along the dead-ball line, Bowerman picked out the unmarked Dan Batcheldore, ten yards from goal and his firm, low strike flashed past Matt Hill to put Binfield 1-0 ahead.
No time for the Robins to feel sorry for themselves and they came roaring back to earn a penalty kick two minutes later. A tackle inside the box at the Larges Lane end was adjudged a foul and the referee pointed immediately to the spot. Ironically, it was to be virtually the only decision that would go in Bracknell’s favour on the night. Louis Wilson stepped up and was calmness personified as Moles’ keeper Lusty was sent the wrong way from the kick. 1-1.
The game was increasing in tempo and intensity with every minute, attack and counter-attack. Bowerman was again the danger man, this time on the right wing, pushing the ball between two defenders and setting off at pace in pursuit. Rob Dunbar came across to challenge, but it was a clash of feet from chasing defender Jack Maclean that sent Bowerman tumbling. Dunbar, however, was adjudged the culprit and received the first of an astonishing five yellow cards for the home team on the night.
The second card was shown to diminutive midfielder Jason Badger, who slid over the wet surface into a full-blooded challenge with his Moles’ opponent. Both players slid in with no holds barred, but it was Badger alone shown yellow. Despite his protestations, showing the referee the nasty mark on his own thigh from the tackle, the card was raised aloft.
A third card, for centre-back Matt Higham soon after, caused uproar among the vocal home support. Higham was bringing the ball out from the back at pace when Bowerman slid in with what seemed a reckless challenge. Everyone watching was bemused when the resulting free-kick went to the visitors and Higham was shown the yellow card!
Binfield’s best moments were coming from Bowerman’s mazy runs and from set pieces, with left-back Jordan Rowland delivering balls at pace into the box. Bracknell’s defence was in uncompromising mood, however, and keeper Hill was quietly efficient all night.
Gradually it was the home team who began to look the more likely to break the deadlock with Wilson, twice, narrowly failing to get on the end of dangerous balls into the box. The second Bracknell goal arrived just past the half-hour mark and was one of top quality. Joel Davidson won possession just inside his own half, knocking a pass over halfway to the feet of Harrison Wilks. Wilks’ clever control and turn left his marker stranded and he picked out a lovely pass to James King, free on the right. King advanced on goal before hitting a low pass across the face to find Wilson’s late run that saw him reach the ball just ahead of Lusty and the covering defender. A neat dink over Lusty seemed almost in slow motion as the ball looped onto the right hand post and into the net. 2-1
Bracknell sensed more success and Lusty produced a brilliant diving save to his right from full-back Luke Redmond’s thirty-yard thunderbolt strike to prevent the Robins from increasing their lead by the interval.
Sam Barratt replaced Tom Basketfield at half-time and it was a change that would prove significant. Barratt has been excellent for the first team since breaking in recently, but has been nursing a knee injury and a touch of tonsilitis meant he was feeling a little below par on the night. No evidence of either on his 45 minute showing as, time after time, he proved a thorn in Binfield’s right flank, taking men on and delivering some wicked crosses.
The referee was still intent on producing yellow cards for the home team. First Davidson was adjudged the culprit in a midfield challenge, followed by Wilson into the referee’s note-book. The Moles were well-drilled at appealing for every decision and it did seem their players were having an undue influence on the referee at times. Still, if you can get away with it, then why not? Binfield’s Bell-Ross was eventually called over after committing the latest of several fouls and it appeared he would be ‘carded’ also on the ‘totting-up’ foul count, but NO … he was told one foul here, another there, another somewhere else etc. and walked away with no card. A further cynical tackle on Redmond later in the game would see Bell-Ross in the book and six cards in total in a game played in wet conditions and in good competitive spirit for the most part. Officials need to let the game flow sometimes and not be the centre of attention themselves! This was a local derby in all senses, but there was little that was downright malicious.
Just past the hour mark saw Bracknell grab their crucial third goal and deliver a dagger-blow to Binfield’s title chances. Sam Barratt set off on a delightful mazy run down the left, cutting in towards the goal along the dead-ball line. A drilled low cross fizzed across goal to find Wilson in the perfect spot for a tap-in from a matter of inches and for the completion of a very satisfying ‘hat-trick’. 3-1
Binfield still had chances, mostly from set plays, but the home defence were in mean mood. At the other end the Robins, too, came close to adding to their score with Higham causing problems at set-pieces, Wilks and Wilson continuing to run into spaces and Davidson went close with a curling effort past the stranded Lusty just wide of the far post. Barratt brought a good save from Lusty with a well-struck free-kick from thirty yards out.
Both sets of players sportingly shook hands at the final whistle and we wish Binfield well in their upcoming League Cup Final and in their match at Ascot next Thursday.
Bracknell can seal the title with a win against Alton Town on Weds. 19th April @Larges Lane.