Hungerford Town FC’s football reporter Ciaran Morrison reports on Hungerford Town FC’s final five matches 0f the 2018-19 season in National League South. After an excellent March, the start of the month saw The Crusaders in 18th place, two points and two places above the drop zone. Could they get themselves over the line?
Hungerford Town 1 Slough Town 2
National League South, Saturday 6 April 2019
10-man Slough Town held out to extend their unbeaten run to six games and hold off relegation-threatened Hungerford Town.
Slough raced into an early lead when the hosts switched off at a free kick. George Wells had a deflected effort fall into the path of Mark Nisbet to slot home. Despite the slow start Hungerford had early opportunities, notably when Darren Foxley jinked his way into the box only to see his effort smothered by Jack Turner. Mike Jones’s long range strike stung the fingertips of Turner before the goalkeeper misjudged the flight of a corner and centre back Marvel Ekpiteta could only divert his header wide of the target.
Meanwhile, Michael Luyambula had to be alert at the other end to save Francis Amartey’s shot when the striker was slipped through on goal. However, Luyambula couldn’t save a second Slough goal when a Mathew Lench corner went in off the unfortunate Marvel Ekpiteta. Just before half time Marcus Johnson-Schuster had a free kick palmed away by the visiting keeper.
The Crusaders nearly made the perfect start to the second half when Ekpiteta had the ball in the net but the linesman raised his flag for offside. The Rebels had space on the counter attack which Amartey nearly exploited when he played in Lee Togwell but the midfielder was to be denied by the Hungerford goalkeeper. Darren Foxley became a livelier presence down the flanks but Turner was equal to his low effort. Just minutes later Danilo Orsi-Dadomo smashed the ball past Turner to give the hosts a lifeline.
The visitors, already under pressure, then had to see out the last 20 minutes with ten men after Hollis saw a second yellow card. Chesmain and Ekpiteta both had late efforts to equalise before Orsi-Dadomo missed a gilt-edged chance in added time.
Dulwich Hamlet 3 Hungerford Town 1
National League South, Saturday 13 April 2019
Hungerford dropped back into the bottom three after a 3-1 loss at Dulwich Hamlet.
The hosts knew a win would all but secure their National League status and they produced an excellent first half performance. Despite an even first 10 minutes it was all one-way traffic until the interval. Connor Hunte hit the crossbar with a curling effort before Nathan Ferguson’s rocket also hit the woodwork. Despite appeals that the ball had initially gone over the line, referee Scott Jackson didn’t give the goal. Top scorer Dipo Akinyemi headed over the crossbar from an Anthony Cook cross when the striker seemed certain to score.
Michael Luyambula was then called into action palming away a Ferguson half volley before the deadlock was broken. Hunte fed an unmarked Dan Thompson who passed the ball into the net. The rattled visitors were still trying to find their rhythm and had a good spell of possession only for it to come to no avail. Akinyemi missed another good chance before the hosts struck again: Cameron Hargreaves gave away a cheap free kick which Cook punished him for with a splendid strike into the top corner. Hunte then added more misery for the Berkshire side with a simple third.
The Crusaders came out better second half and within 30 seconds Darren Foxley had already gone close. Left back Noah Chesmain tried his luck from distance but it sailed wide. A goal was quickly needed but Alfy Whittingham couldn’t convert from a tight angle as Preston Edwards caught his attempt. The midfielder then found himself out wide but to good use as he spun his marker and galloped into the penalty box only for his end product to let him down. Defender James Rusby then headed wide before his centre back partner Marvel Ekpiteta was to score a late consolation goal.
Hungerford Town 0 Bath City 0
National League South, Friday 19 April 2019
Neither Hungerford nor Bath did much to boost their respective survival and play-off aspirations respectively with a stalemate at Bulpit Lane.
Bath made the brighter start and an Adam Mann corner created the first opportunity for Andy Watkins to fire over. Despite a strong opening period for the visitors they could have fallen behind when Lewis Leigh-Gilchrist stung the fingertips of Ryan Clarke from a free kick. The resulting corner was met by James Rusby at the near post but the header didn’t trouble Clarke. Bath began to dominate possession but found it hard to break down a stubborn defensive unit.
Tom Smith and Watkins had half chances but, once again, Hungerford could have gone ahead. Conor Lynch, a lone figure up front, turned his marker and was one on one with Clarke. However, the keeper stood tall and denied the striker with his feet.
The Crusaders had another golden opportunity, just before the hour mark, when Mike Jones found Leigh-Gilchrist through on goal. His half volley forced Clarke into an excellent one-handed save. Both teams stood firm with the Romans not using their possession to any avail, but with 10 minutes to go Robbie Cundy made Michael Luyambula tip his header over the bar. At the other end, substitute Darren Foxley hit a free kick wide.
Freddie Hines had the best chance for the visitors when he met a whipped in cross in the box, but Luyambula made a good save. Danilo Orsi-Dadomo curled a tame effort at Clarke before finding Cameron Hargreaves on a late counter attack. The midfielder failed to hit the target from the edge of the penalty area as the game ended goalless.
Torquay United 0 Hungerford Town 1
National League South, Monday 22 April 2019
Lewis Leigh-Gilchrist scored a late winner against the league champions as Hungerford moved one step closer to safety.
Torquay striker Jamie Reid was guilty of missing two gilt-edged chances in the first 10 minutes. After a neat cut back Reid found himself unmarked in box only to somehow pass the ball wide of an open goal. Then he lobbed goalkeeper Michael Luyambula, but saw the effort cannon off the crossbar. Kyle Cameron then tested the goalkeeper from an acute angle as the home fans sensed an early goal. They had another opening again with striker Reid but like on the previous occasions the net didn’t bulge.
The visitors had a first sight of goal through James Rusby’s long throw that created a good chance for Mike Jones. Pressure from the hosts continued as Ryan Dickson saw his header claimed by Luyambula. The shot stopper then had to be on his toes to keep out another Reid strike with his feet just moments later. Danilo Orsi-Dadomo nearly gave Hungerford a surprise lead. His mazy run ended in the penalty box where he would be denied by Shaun MacDonald for his first save of the day.
The previous pattern of dominance by the hosts was soon restored when a corner from the left was met by Cameron who was left shell-shocked when Luyambula saved the shot with his leg. Dickson then latched onto the rebound that produced an even better save from the on-loan Birmingham shot stopper.
Reid had a chance four minutes into the second half but fired over before MacDonald had to be alert to catch a curling strike from Jones. It then became a cagey affair as both sides jostled for possession but lacked composure and quality on the ball to make anything happen. Connor Lemonheigh-Evans had the best chance six minutes from time but, as on the previous occasions, Luyambula palmed the ball away for a corner. Substitute Leigh-Gilchrist forced MacDonald into a good save at his near post. As the game moved into injury time it seemed that both sides had settled for a draw: however, Leigh-Gilchrist then made amends from a similar position, sparking pandemonium in the away end.
Hungerford Town 1 East Thurrock United 1
National League South, Saturday 27 April 2019
Hungerford made hard work of it but a 94th-minute stunner from Noah Chesmain helped secure their National League South status.
The situation before kick off was very simple. Hungerford were one place above the drop zone and three points clear of Truro City. Truro’s better goal difference meant that a win for them against Slough (who still had a faint chance of securing a play-off spot) and a defeat for Hungerford would send The Crusaders down: any other combination of results would ensure their safety.
The hosts produced an average and understandably slightly nervy display from the hosts against a side that had already been relegated. Hungerford started brightly and nearly took the lead three minutes in when a short corner from Cameron Hargreaves caught Thurrock’s defence napping. Marcus Johnson-Schuster collected the pass and strode into the box forcing Jack Giddens into an early save. Giddens spilled the ball but to his relief collected it on the goal line.
Despite the promising start the visitors started to gain a foothold in proceedings and a shot from Ricky Hayles made Michael Luyambula dive low to his right for his first save of the afternoon. The atmosphere had begun to dry up as news reached Berkshire that Truro had taken the lead. Then Bulpit Lane turned to silence as Thurrock scored the opening goal when Shaun Batt, from around 20 yards, fired a dipping strike underneath Luyambula and the crossbar.
Charlie Ten-Grotenhuis tried to force the issue putting a strong foot in to win the ball back high up the pitch releasing fellow midfielder Alfy Whittingham. In space Whittingham came close but couldn’t test Giddens. Instead the hosts should have been two behind on the stroke of half time. A corner to the back stick was headed back across goal to Batt. Seemingly certain to score Luyambula denied him with an excellent reflex save.
The Crusaders were instantly livelier after the break and Danilo Orsi-Dadomo showed neat footwork to gain a sight of goal however his tame shot didn’t trouble the goalkeeper. The visitors had no more substitutes left when a reshuffle was required courtesy of defender Jon Nzengo being shown a straight red card. Constant pressure was now being provided on the Rocks backline with Lynch nearly breaking their resistance twice. He couldn’t take the two excellent chances presented to him, placing one shot wide and dragging another one past the post.
The news from Cornwall after the break was better as Slough raced into a 3-1 lead, a score which would have made Hungerford’s result academic. However, as both matches moved into injury time, Truro pulled first one and then two goals bak to level matters at 3-3. Another goal for them, and no change in the scoreline at Bulpit Lane, would have sent Hungerford down.
How much the players knew of the drama at Truro is uncertain. In the last minute of injury time, however, The Crusaders finally took control of their own destiny. Noah Chesmain brought the ball forward and decided to have a go from long range. The finish was exquisite and flew past the despairing dive of Giddens (see photo at the top of the post) to secure Hungerford’s safety, to the jubilation of the home supporters. Shortly afterwards the final whistle went and the players and fans were at last able to celebrate. Five points from their last three matches, and two stoppage-time goals in their last two, had proved just enough. They left it late – but Hungerford had survived.
Click here to see a brief video Penny Post made of Hungerford’s goal and the celebrations that followed.