Crows secure precious home play-off advantage
- Credit: Archant
Royston Town emphatically completed their objectives for the normal season, securing second place, and more importantly, home advantage for the play-offs, with a committed and professional 3-1 victory over Rugby Town, who themselves had harboured remote 5th position hopes.
Steve Castle’s hand was forced into some changes via suspensions that saw Jack Bradshaw starting at left back for Chris Watters, Kaan Fehmi upfront for Ryan Ingrey and a tactical switch that meant Gary Hart dropped to the bench and Robbie Nightingale getting a rare start. The substitutes included the returning Kane Adams drafted back in as defensive cover.
In what looked like a straight 4-4-2 formation the Crows started in lively fashion with Fehmi beginning the match sharp and focussed and involved in many early good moves - a spurt of Fehmi pace and cross found no-one to finish and good hold-up play by the more controlled Fehmi supplied Stuart Bridges for a half shot that was easily blocked and a set up for the eager Fejiri Okenabirhie saw the youngster blast high and wide.
It was this away team sustained pressure that created the breakthrough on 20 minutes as Okenabirhie surged forward and was half thwarted and the loose ball was hastily hacked away, under pressure from Fehmi, by Rugby keeper Neil Collett, but his poor kick only found Stuart Bridges in a central position to coolly finish into the empty net vacated by the floundering Collett.
Ten minutes later more good work by Fehmi set up Stuart Bridges again but his shot was this time saved well by the diving Collett. Impressive young defender George Powell took at blow that visibly slowed him down and Castle re-shuffled briefly to cope. Powell quickly re-entered the fray to resume his increasingly solid partnership with fellow central defender Liam McDevitt.
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It was all Royston in the first half as their hosts struggled to cope with the Crows’ movement and were notably poor in their own final third. However, the half finished with just the one goal in it and Royston knew they should probably have been sitting on a clearer advantage.
Ryan Wharton gave way for Kane Adams at the break with Bradshaw switching to right back and Adams slotting in on the left and the youngster had a fine and influential 45 minutes.
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It took six minutes for the Crows to double their lead with Adams trotting across to take a left foot suited free-kick that he delivered waist height and dangerous for man of the match Stuart Bridges to make an intelligent cross keeper’s view run to glance a header low and deadly into the net.
The home side threw on their attacking substitutes with both Seb Lake-Gaskin and Fazel Koriya coming on and this injection of forward pace did briefly change the format of a previously one sided match. Keeper Ron Yates was called upon to make a superb point-blank save, spectacularly tipping over a powerful effort, to show good concentration, in an otherwise quiet game for the big man.
The Crows midfield toiled and tackled with a suitable mix of skill and style and dogged determination and this display of class and character was the match winning factor as both Bridges brothers, the indomitable Spyros Mentis and a tiring, but willing, Robbie Nightingale dominated proceedings. Luke Robins came on for Fehmi and Gary Hart gave Nightingale a breather and the Crow’s well- oiled machine purred on.
A dubious penalty was awarded in the 86th minute when Bradshaw was adjudged to handle a high ball in the area, but it could be seen that the attacker’s hand was involved as well. Lake-Gaskin coolly despatched the spot-kick and a glimmer of hope for the Valley briefly shone.
It was short-lived as the tireless Okenabirhie ran on to a piercing through ball and he showed speed and composure to slot the ball past the out-rushing Collett to reclaim the two goal advantage and effectively seal the deserved victory.
Royston’s form to achieve this second place finish, since a poor run of defeats in early February, has been nothing short of astounding. Full credit must go to Steve Castle and Chris Watters and their professional back room staff for their unwillingness to let this season get away from them – guiding a fantastic squad of talented and determined players to the highest ever league finish in Royston’s 140 year playing history. The season isn’t done yet though.