Ryman League Division One South
Saturday 8th April 2017
Report by Cameron Smith. Photos: Stuart Tree. (full set here)
A spirited Corinthian-Casuals side fought off the valiant charge of promotion rivals Lewes thanks to Shaun Okojie’s slick brace during a tetchy encounter to virtually seal a play-off spot- James Bracken’s army now only need a single point!
Three consecutive wins away from home, Casuals have made a habit of beating visiting teams as Cray Wanderers, Greenwich Borough, Molesey and Hythe Town crumbled under the pressure of Corinthians. Casuals’ biggest victory this season, the five-goal destruction of Hythe Town had boosted confidence in both supporters and players whilst manager James Bracken kept his feet firmly on the ground; “The form is pleasing but I still think the performances can be better.”
Lewes’ aptly named ground, The Dripping Pan, was the perfect location for a clash between two promotion contenders as the sun blazed down on the uneven surface. The East Sussex based club were dealt with a monumental blow in March when a seemingly-simple fixture at Godalming Town turned sour; the relegated hosts won 1-0. Drifting away from a vital top five place, it was do or die for Lewes as they urgently needed points.
It was a long time since Casuals fans were able to chant the name of attacking hotshot Reyon Dillon, but they did today. Dillon’s four game absence was broken as the ‘Beast’ was back in the squad, taking a seat on the substitute’s bench. There was only one change to the starting eleven that ran Hythe ragged and it was in right-back as a straight swap saw Juevan Spencer drop out ahead of Warren Morgan.
The red and black stripes of the home side looked ready to defeat the on-form white shirts of Casuals as players distributed across the pitch, supporters sat (or stood) in their positions, ready to feast on this Ryman Division One South thriller. The first 34 minutes was a scrappy spectacle with possession constantly changing from the organised Lewes to the dangerous Corinth. The visitors were dangerous on the attack, especially from the left flank when Jordan Clarke and Dave Hodges re-ignited their partnership on the wing, causing the Rooks to tighten up at the back. Clarke’s acceleration whilst cutting in resulted in chaos- the forward had an effort from just outside the area that kept keeper Chris Winterton on his toes. Failing to turn odd moves into goals, Lewes were given a reality check when Clarke hooked the ball towards the six yard box. A combination of black and white shirts all jumped in attempt to attack the ball, but it was Casuals’ Mu Maan who leapt the highest to nod the ball into the net. Celebrations erupted behind the goal as the terrific travelling support were ecstatic. It was Maan’s second of the season.
Lewes did manage to wake up and somehow didn’t convert a low cross that was inches away from the boot of a Rook. The hosts’ vocal (to say the least) boss was fuming with the referee’s decision to book two Lewes players inside the first 45. As the referee blew his whistle thrice, Casuals walked up the steep stairs of the Dripping Pan, which lead to their dressing room. It was half-time and Corinth were 1-0 up.
1-0 is a dangerous score, especially when you’re away from home. That’s the reason why the Casuals fans, who were facing the roasting sunshine, erupted in a mixture of relief and glee when the score-line was altered by the trustworthy no.9 Shaun Okojie. Solid midfielder Coskun Eskim had been replaced by striker Reyon Dillon as Bracken tampered with the formation. The Rooks made a poor decision at a set-piece when they piled on the players in Casuals’ penalty area, leaving their own area exposed. Tricky Dillon controlled the ball on the half-way line and sublimely picked out Super Shaun, who controlled the pinpoint pass before slamming the ball into the bottom right corner. It didn’t just fly straight in as keeper Winterton had his head in his hands- Lewes’ no.1 got a glove to the ball but Okojie’s strike was too powerful. Corinth had breathing space.
Three minutes after Okojie’s finish, Lewes restored hope via substitute Ronnie Conlon, who composed himself before running onto the loose ball and neatly dispatching. Nerves returned to the Casuals end, but it didn’t stop them from singing their hearts out. Danny Dudley was man of the moment in the 80th minute as the centre-back magnificently cleared the ball off the line to somehow deny Lewes. It willed the players on as Dillon continued to terrorize the full-backs, Dudley and Strange continued to clear their lines and Shaun Okojie continued… scoring. Another counter attacking move was highly effective; Okojie found himself clean though on goal in the final minutes and deftly lifted the ball over the keeper. Only one word is fitting of the celebrations that ensued. Scenes.
Lewes showed tremendous fighting spirit and ability to convert opportunities moments later as an unpredictable free-kick evaded a Casuals head and was flicked on by no.9 Jonte Smith. It bounced past Bracken and the score was now 3-2.
Full-time came and past with Casuals players and supporters congratulating and thanking each-other- it was the definition of the Corinthian spirit. James Bracken was delighted as he hailed the travelling fans. Everyone realised that a place in the play-offs was very likely. All they need now is a single point in the last three fixtures and a play-off spot was secure.
Stuart Tree spoke to the delighted yet reserved James Bracken after the game:
“We thoroughly deserved to win that today.”
“I can’t speak highly enough of our lads in their performance and their spirit. It wasn’t perfect – we should’ve killed it off. We were the better side by far for big periods of the game. But we ran ourselves into the floor winning it the hard way.”
“That said, on the counter attack, we were still dangerous. We should’ve been more clinical. It could’ve been two, three, four-nil and that’s the game done. Even when they pulled one back, we should’ve put it out of sight. We didn’t but as I said to the lads after, we had an opportunity for us to show spirit.”
“Players like Danny Dudley who’s got an ankle like a balloon. He’s played the near-on the whole game like that and I didn’t realise how bad that was. It’s purple. He’s then got his head cut open and says to me, ‘bandage it up… I want to get back out there’.”
“Players like Jack Strange who was put under a lot of pressure in the second half. The boy is eighteen years old and stood up to everything they could throw at us in the box. Fantastic from him.”
“The referee done alright this afternoon and I’m not here to criticise him. In the first half, he gave decisions based on what he saw. Okay, he got a couple of decisions wrong for both sides but done his best. At half time, they’ve had three or four of their officials surround him outside the changing rooms and berate him for, in their eyes, a poor performance. I’m sorry, but I just couldn’t see that.”
“I understand that it was a massive game for Lewes in which they needed to win. They didn’t… they fell short.”
“I said to the referee at the start of the second half, ‘I know they’ve all had a go at you and I don’t really know why. Just be strong and keep your consistency’”
“Unfortunately, he didn’t. He gave them free kick after free kick after free kick. In the first ten minutes after the restart, he must’ve given them at least seven or eight decisions which I thought were harsh. Players throwing themselves to the floor and he was buying it. Why? Because he’s been influenced. That’s given them momentum, so he’s had a real hand in that second half.”
“I want to pay credit to our supporters today. They were absolutely fantastic. That support deserves football way beyond this league. We’re repaying them. We’re getting them here because they want to be here. They totally get behind what we’re trying to achieve. I knew we were bringing good numbers to Lewes and we’ve made sure we’ve repaid them with a win and let them enjoy it.”
“What irks me is people who don’t know what they’re talking about are piping up with things about our team who don’t know what they’re saying. They obviously have no real knowledge about us. I can categorically say that no-one here, in my two years as manager has had a penny in wages or expenses – myself included. Every single person I’ve had play for me and played for this club play for the shirt – and me – because they want to be here. They believe in what we’re trying to do. They realise that they could go and pick up £50 down the road.”
“If we were to earn promotion without a budget when everyone says it’s impossible – you can’t buy that. The money offered by others will always be there. Next season, the season after… it goes on. Of course that’ll be on offer elsewhere – they’re good players. However, they’re happy here and are trying to achieve something that can never be taken away from them.”
“So this is a message to those who want to pipe up and claim we get paid or get expenses… it’s nonsense. I’m telling you all now. It’s nonsense. It irks me because there are clubs spending nearly £40,000 a month to try and get out of this division and we’re trying to do it on zero – and we’re in with a shot!”
“We only need a point to secure playoffs but we want to win every game. It’s four in a row now and seven of the last eight. I want to win the next three. Let’s aim for that first. After that, let’s win the next two. Then we can say, there’s ten wins on the bounce and there’s Ryman Premier football.”