Better. Much better. The second outing for the shiny new Crows still ended pointless but the shoots of recovery are clearly visible, and our young team can take a lot of heart from a game that we could’ve won with better luck. In the end, a combination of a wily old fox and two jabs of the big blue self-destruct button were enough to see Rusthall leave Alderbrook with all the points, on a night when rain lashed down like an old friend and proceedings were watched from the terraces by pretty much an entire team of old Crows, along to add some welcome support.
It has to be said that the atmosphere at Alderbrook was…. pensive? I’m not sure if that’s the right word but I imagine that 99% of the people in the ground were aware of the close season trials and tribulations, not to mention Saturday’s result, and a local derby to follow possibly the trickiest away match of the season just added to the general feeling that something wasn’t quite right – I’m sure a few of us wondered if this scheduled encounter was just the revenge of a sadistic fixture secretary rather than the coincidence it probably was. It’s a shame on several levels to be playing our geographically nearest rivals as the second game of the season and on a Tuesday night. Last season, of course, this fixture also came early while we were on our holidays in Maidstone, so we still don’t really know the true crowd potential of this game, but the away leg saw a decent attendance at Jockey Farm of 245 when played on a Saturday in November – 152 for a Tuesday in August felt like a missed opportunity. I’m never happy, me, but is it too much to ask that we play our derbies on Saturdays or bank holidays and don’t play our furthest away fixtures midweek? It’s not like we’re at the mercy of Sky or BT Sport for the TV rights, is it?
The game itself was a pretty scrappy affair, with both sides showing early nerves through missed and over hit passes, but as things gradually settled down, the Crows played the better football in the first half in my biased opinion, with the exception of a clinical finish from the old boots of Joe Fuller just on the half hour mark. Both teams fashioned one shot each on target in that first half, with Rusthall mainly threatening the car park with various other attempts and the Crows, attacking the Uckfield end, Uckfield itself. Only Luke Leppard for the Crows tested the keeper with a lovely feint inside the full back before rifling a low shot straight into his gloves. Fuller’s excellent finish was totally out of keeping with the standard of shooting up to that point and slightly against the run of play, but when the ball was tapped intelligently sideways to him on the edge of the Crows box, he buried the chance conclusively. The Crows wobbled a little after that setback, but we reached half time with the score still at 0-1 and a general feeling of optimism amongst the faithful that we could get back into the game after a nice cup of tea and a sit down.
With ten minutes of the second half gone, our mid-game soft centre reared its ugly head again as we conceded a penalty followed very quickly by a comedy own goal. The penalty looked dubious from where I was standing at the time, and my god, the swan-dive was a work of performance art (9.8, 9.7, 9.7, 9.6, and 9.1 from the Russian judge) but on speaking to Crows faithful nearer the incident after the game, the feeling was that contact was made (albeit slight) and the decision was just about right. Fuller again stepped up, and his steady experience placed the kick beyond Dan Smith in the Crows goal. Disaster then struck almost immediately after the restart as the Crows continued to try to pass the ball out from the back as they’d done all game to their credit, but a mis-communication saw a tapped pass back to Dan Smith roll past him and into the empty net, no more than a couple of minutes after the penalty had us reeling.
0-3 now and we feared the worst, but the Crows started to battle and dig deep, and once again, the last 25 minutes or so should give us something to build on in future games. Both teams were creating half chances, but it was the Crows to strike next as Archie Carey got his head on the end of a free kick floated in from the touchline and we were back in the game with our first competitive goal of the season. More could’ve followed – Matt Coleman injured himself trying to reach a loose ball bouncing tantalisingly back to the Rusthall keeper (and had to be replaced, disappointingly) and Luke Leppard glanced a stunning header towards goal from a corner, only to see the defender clear off of the line. In the end, Rusthall shaded it and Joe Fuller’s cajoling experience saw them through to the final whistle and probably a man of the match award.
Despite the result, there were several good performances in the blue ranks and more game time should see things settle down. Tom Boddy will return from his honeymoon to add some guile and organisation to the back four, and we probably do need someone in the centre of the pitch to act as the ball winning enforcer, something that a Walder or a Barton used to bring to the party. Matt Coleman’s injury looked serious, so we may also need a new partner up front for Leppard who carried the main threat for us moving forward. Alex Bishop had a great first half while Jake Broomfield did a fine job in midfield, but really everyone had decent individual moments. Gradually I expect to see those moments morph into a collective display that brings results, and I don’t think it will be too long before that happens.
On we go, to the small matter of the FA Cup on Saturday, and the competition in which we despatched the eventual league champions early doors last season. I don’t know too much about Hanworth Villa but it will be good for the Crows to focus on something away from the league campaign and hopefully we will continue to improve. Off the pitch, it seems that there are still some challenges to be met, so let’s see how that goes shall we?
No photos tonight, but here’s a picture of Sir Arthur to raise the spirits!