2018-19 has been a challenging season for The Crusaders with the club hoping to achieve a better finish than in 2017-18 when they finished a place and a point above the drop zone. The flirtation with relegation has continued this campaign, 2018 ending with their picking up only one point from a possible nine over the Christmas period. As local reporter Cieran Matthews describes below, however, the new year has brought new hope: six hard-won points from the first two fixtures of 2019 has moved Hungerford back up to 19th, three points clear of East Thurrock.
Hungerford Town 2 Concord Rangers 1, Saturday 5 January 2019 (home).
Hungerford claimed back to back wins and a well-earned three points against third-placed Concord Rangers.
Concord had their chances throughout the game beginning with Connor Essam heading wide after being found unmarked in the box. Tommy Anderson’s pace was a constant threat for Hungerford and he latched onto a misplaced pass but lacked composure when through on goal. Matt Jones played an excellent ball into the box but the incoming Alfy Whittingham headed wide as Hungerford moved into the ascendancy. Essam headed wide again before Correy Davidson’s volley was saved by the legs of Michael Luyambula. Josh Martin blocked Jack Midson’s follow up shot.
The Crusaders were a threat on the counter attack through Anderson and his driving run made Darren Foxley’s first. The winger superbly volleyed in off the post for his third goal of the season, all of them crackers. Anderson then set up Whittingham for his second golden opportunity but the midfielder couldn’t turn the ball home.
In the second half Concord pilled on the pressure but the home defence stood firm. They weathered the storm and the Crusaders got back into it looking for a second. Rangers keeper Sam Beasant had to make a good low save from Foxleys free kick. However, the visitors were to regain their attacking initiative and a Danny Green free kick was scrambled home by Sam Blackman. Luyambula then made a match winning save to deny a Tyrone Sterling header that looked certain to nestle in the back of the net. It proved a pivotal moment as Foxley was played on side to strike late on to give Hungerford all three points.
Oxford City 1 Hungerford Town 2, Tuesday 1 January 2019 (away).
Hungerford produced an outstanding display to defeat play-off hopefuls Oxford City at Marsh Lane.
Hungerford had to work hard for the three points but goals from Alfy Whittingham and Marcus Johson-Schsuter gave the Crusaders a much needed win to begin 2019. Oxford did start the brighter and controlled proceedings but Michael Luyambula only had to make one or two simple saves. The best chance fell to the visitors when a loose back pass was seized upon by Cameron Hargreaves but he had his shot blocked by an onrushing defender. Reece Fleet’s free kick caused havoc in the penalty area but no one could convert it home for City. Kabongo Tshimanga had his first sniff at goal smothered up after some clever pieces of play. Danilo Orsi-Dadomo also tried his luck but fired wide of the post as the Crusaders started to become the team in the ascendency. Tshimanga glanced into the gloves of the goalkeeper after good work by Eddie Jones just before half time.
After the break the Crusaders started on the front foot and Whittingham saw his header cleared off the line but was to get a goal just a minute later. Orsi-Dadomo held the ball up before setting off Whittingham to round the keeper and pass home. However the lead was to last just two minutes as Tshimanga tapped home following Luyambula’s palmed clearance from a swerving Sam Nombe shot. Nombe could have got his goal but volleyed wide after a ball across the face of goal. Craig King saved from the lively Tom Anderson before the on-loan Birmingham forward went one on one with King but the home keeper produced a big save to keep the scores level.
Tshimanga had another great opportunity but after finding space in the penalty area blazed high and wide. The visitors were then to strike again from right back Johnson-Schuster into the bottom corner following a poorly cleared corner. Fleet forced the Hungerford goalkeeper into a fantastic save late on but despite late pressure the Berkshire side held out for a deserved three points which sees them move outside the relegation zone.