On the back of a heavy defeat against Wantage. Saracens manager Gerry Oldham wanted a reaction from his players and though the score line suggested a more closely fought affair, what it doesn’t show was a very good performance from his Saracens side.
Oldham made a number of changes to his squad with Ryan Betteridge replacing Griffiths in goal, Joe Donaghue returned the squad after 3 weeks absence to injury, Ben Tunnicliff returned to the changed defensive line with Elliot Kennedy being pushed into a more attacking role supporting top scorer Ethan Moore. Josh Swales slotting into the left wing back position. Oldham though had the misfortune of losing Carl Griffiths during the warm up with a groin strain.
Saracens got out the blocks in determined fashion and soon settled into a good passing game. On a sticky pitch where passing to feet was crucial for possession, Saracens dominated, apart from the final 10mins of the first half. Saracens as they did the week before against Wantage, created some good half chances, either through excellent wing play by Jordan Bryan or by creative midfield play by Hammond.
Saracens attacking pressure finally paid off after 15mins. Jamie Hammond playing in an unusual central midfield position, found Ethan Moore out wide on the right hand side, Moore beat his marker with pace before cutting inside and sending in a low dangerous cross into the six yard box where Joe Donaghue smashed in a first time left foot shot to put Saracens 1-0 up.
This goal lifted the whole of the Saracens team from where they fully camped themselves in the Hoyport half. Good probing attacking play down their right hand side through Tunnicliff & Bryan often found Moore whose hold up play was excellent throughout the game, where Moore was isolated against Wantage the week before, he was much better supported by his fellow attacking colleague Kennedy and midfield players Hammond and Donaghue respectively.
Saracens felt they should’ve have had a penalty on the half hour, when a similar move to their goal found Josh Swales in the box & before he had the chance to execute the finish, was shoved in the back which went unpunished by the referee. Holyport found the pace of Bryan uncomfortable throughout, and then set about dishing out some hard treatment on the 18year old lad but credit to his discipline remained calm and continued his job of harranging Holyport dearly down their left hand side.
A succession of corners for Saracens, gave them chances to extend the score line, notably headers for Nick Hill ‘32mins’ and Sam Slender ‘35min’ respectively, but Saracens found the Holyport keeper in determined mood and his heroics kept the score line down & Holyport in the game. Holyport was finally taking the hint from their keeper’s heroics & started to react to his pleas! soon got themselves out of a defending mode and more into an attacking unit, putting Saracens under pressure thus winning the majority of possession for the last 10mins before half time.
The second half saw a much determined Holyport side, for which Saracens had some early defending to deal with. Saracens though learnt from last weeks mistakes, and their defensive unit of Slender, Hill, Sheehan and Tunnicliff held firm being marshalled superbly by their keeper Betteridge. A 50th min free kick needlessly conceded on the edge of their box was dealt with comfortably by Saracens keeper Betteridge. From this phase of defending play, Lorcan Sheehan’s fine pass then found Swales in acres of space down the left and his first time pass equally found the waiting Kennedy whose first time shot flew inches over the bar.
Saracens then had a scare as they were caught short at the back from their own attacking corner, Jordan Bryan read the situation well and though left with a 2-1 situation held firm and broke up the dangerous situation. Five mins later it was Sheehan’s turn to return the favour as he cleared a Holyport header off his own line from another Holyport attack.
Saracens sensing they needed another goal to finish the game were guilty of not being ruthless in front of goal, further chances to Moore; Donaghue & Kennedy should have settled the matters. This was made clear to them in the 70th min when Holyport equalised. For the third time of the match another needless conceded free lick on the edge of their box was this time despatched into the top corner, even though a despairing dive by Betteridge even though he got an hand to the kick, so nearly got to the well placed free kick.
The equalising goal had a telling effect on the Saracens side they immediately raised their game and soon had copious amounts of possession in and around the Holyport area. Saracens manager then made two changes, replacing the tiring Hammond and Swales being replaced by Tovey and Harlie Price. Both these subs made immediate contributions to the Saracens attacking forays, Tovey played a delightful through ball to Kennedy but his curling shot fell just wide of the far post. Price’s pass then cut through the Holyports defensive line but not for the first time the Holyport keeper saved at the feet of Moore.
The final quarter of the game was played at a breathtaking pace with both sides going hammer and tong for the winner.
With just 5mins remaining, from a Holyport attack, Saracens broke up play and again counter attacked down the left hand side. Kennedy collecting a deep Tovey pass sprinted down the left side, cut inside Saracens player Moore & the Holyport’s defenders waiting for the cross, a late run from midfielder Joe Donaghue, distracted all! resulting in the cross eluding everyone in the box including the Holyport’s keeper, nestling into the bottom far left corner to give Saracens a deserved win and three crucial league points.
FT: Cheltenham Saracens 2-1 Holyport
Team: Betteridge, Slender, Hill, Sheehan, Tunnicliff, Bryan, Donaghue, Hammond ‘Price’ Swales ‘Tovey’ Moore, Kennedy, Price, Tovey, Griffiths T.