Sussex fought from a goal behind to draw 1-1 in a scrappy affair with Royal Holloway. After conceding a sloppy goal in the first half, it was difficult to see a way back for Sussex against a disciplined Holloway unit. However, a resurgent Sussex battled back in the final 25 minutes, and Holloway’s lead was deservedly cancelled out in the 83rd minute by Sam Gittens. Sussex could, and perhaps should, have gone on to win the game, but a share of the spoils means that Sussex retained third place in the table.
The previous meeting between these two teams ended in a 4-4 draw, so a tight game was to be expected. The cold, windy conditions were not helped by a nearby bonfire, which blew smoke across the pitch for much of the first half, and Sussex didn’t seem to be at the races. Holloway started brightly, and their goal had an air of inevitably about it; after sustained pressure for the first 6 minutes, poor marking at a corner led to the simplest of tap-ins for the Holloway forward at the back post, as the ball simply trickled off of his shin into an empty net.
‘If this was meant to be a wake-up call for Sussex, they rolled over and hit the snooze button’
If this was meant to be a wake-up call for Sussex, they rolled over and hit the snooze button; for the rest of the half was littered with hesitant passing and an inability to retain possession. Holloway carved the Sussex defence open a number of times, and only the safe hands of Sam Jeffery and the excellence of Jason Hartley’s crucial blocks prevented Holloway from adding more to their tally. George Gledhill and Calum Sager ‘provided good dribbling from midfield, and while Dan Hitner caused problems on the left wing, it was a disjointed first-half performance from Sussex. A great run and pass from Gledhill provided Bill Ward with an excellent opportunity, but the keeper smothered his shot. While Sussex also hit the post from a corner, there was no denying a better performance was needed.
In truth, such was the opposition’s dominance, Sussex were relieved to get to the interval only a goal behind. The manager implored his players to ‘get the ball and play, play, play’, whilst a female spectator shouted at them to ‘stop smashing the ball up the pitch!’ Needless to say, one or the other seemed to get through to the players, who went on to give a much-improved second half display.
Sussex almost got an equaliser 3 minutes from the restart; the keeper dropped a routine cross, but only an excellent defensive clearance spared his blushes. Holloway’s midfield were strangely subdued in the second half, possibly as a result of two injuries, and seemingly content with defending their narrow lead, they allowed Mow Magzoub and Gledhill to take control. Tackles began to fly in, and both teams ended up with two bookings apiece. Sussex grew in confidence, and piled on the pressure; Gledhill wasted a great chance to level the game with a volley in the 77th minute, which was followed by a somewhat fortuitous penalty decision for Sussex, awarded for pushing at a corner. It was a decision that even left the Sussex bench bemused, yet justice was perhaps done as Ward’s penalty was expertly saved by the keeper, who followed up these heroics with two more brilliant saves.
‘A female spectator shouted at them to stop “smashing the ball up the pitch!”’
At this point, the game looked like it had slipped from Sussex’s grasp, but the equaliser arrived in comical fashion. The Holloway keeper had had a marvellous few minutes, yet with only 7 minutes remaining, Hitner swung in a corner, and he somehow let Gittens’ speculative volley slip through his fingers. Gittens was mobbed by ecstatic team-mates, and while it was unfortunate for the keeper, it was no more than Sussex deserved for taking the game to Holloway.
Both teams went for a winner, but a point apiece was a fair reflection of both teams’ efforts. Afterwards, Gledhill saw the game as a missed opportunity; ‘We gifted them a goal, but we were quite similar teams. We battled through, and could have won it.’