Edwards penalty secures win over Comrades

St Ives Town 1 v Berkhamsted 0

Pitching-In Southern League Premier Central  23-03-2024

Nigel Howlett reports

It is never easy to play sides battling for their lives at this stage of the season and the struggling Comrades will perhaps feel a little hard done by with this result which appears to hinge on two second half decisions by referee Chris Darling one at each end of the pitch. Ex Ives man Greg Sandiford picked himself up to a yellow card for diving as he went down inside the box under challenge from Jordan Williams and Aaron Smith seven minutes after the interval. 20 minutes later at the other end of the pitch Theo Alexandrou won the spot kick that ultimately decided the game as he was upended by Tom Newman’s attempt to clear a dropping ball inside his own box.

However closer analysis of the overall pattern of the game would show even the most ardent Comrades supporter that they were fortunate not to be beaten by a much more comprehensive score with Ives hitting the woodwork four times in the game, including three in a one sided second half. The result, plus Hitchin’s draw with high flying Telford, leaves the visitors all but mathematically relegated as they now sit eighteen points behind their Hertfordshire rivals with only six games left to play.

Perhaps not unsurprisingly it was the visitors who were first out of the blocks and Sandiford spurned two good chances in the early exchanges. Arriving late at the back post he got on the end of Kyal Williams deep fourth minute cross but could only direct his attempted volley well off target. Smith was Ives saviour thirteen minutes later as he did just enough to prevent Sandiford turning home Max Bustamente’s low cross from the left. The Comrades went close again sixty seconds later as their skipper Conner Toomey got in front of his marker at the near post to glance Adam Watkins cross from the left just past the post.

Ives suddenly sparked into life just before the 20 minute mark as the all action pair of Myles Cowling and Alexandrou combined well to dance their way into the box. The formers snap shot from 15 yards flew past the startled Josh Bowler in the visitor’s goal and rattled the crossbar before rebounding to safety.

This effort lifted the home supporters who raised their voices to try to spur on their heroes to greater efforts. But the visitors similarly raised their efforts to cancel out hosts brief burst of action and the remaining time up to the break saw very little noteworthy action from either side. For the record the three efforts that went into the notebook were a tame 20 yard effort from Jonny Edwards after good work by Greg Kaziboni and Michael Richens in 23rd minute. A thirty yarder from Richens that flew high and wide in 45th minute and a smart dash from his line by Bowler to prevent Dan Barton getting on the end of Sam Bentley’s long punt in added time.

The second half started in much more dramatic style with Comrades centre back Sam McClelland almost inadvertently putting Ives ahead only seconds after the restart. A quick Kaziboni free kick put Edwards away down the right. His driven cross to the centre struck McClelland as the centre back stretched to prevent the ball reaching Alexandrou lurking at the back post. Much to the relief of the Comrades big number five the ball rebounded just wide of the post.

Then came the visitor’s shout for a penalty as Sandiford tried to get between challenges from Williams and Smith to get on the end of a return ball from Bustamente. Referee Darling was in the perfect position to see the incident and he instantly blew his whistle, but rather than pointing at the spot it was to wave a yellow card at the young Comrades winger. This decision incensed the Berkhamsted bench so much that assistant manager Darren Locke picked himself up a yellow card for his pains.

From that point Ives began to take control of the game and started to create opportunities. An excellent 55th minute break saw Barton gain possession inside his own half before scampering over half way and feeding Alexandrou in space on the left. He cut inside past Dan Newton but failed to test Bowler with his low drive from just outside the box. The visitors came within millimetres of going in front nine minutes later as Cowling tried to bustle his way into the visitor’s box. The ball was knocked off his toe and fell to Alexandrou on the left hand corner of the box. Without hesitation the young striker let fly a fierce drive that dipped and swerved past the static Bowler and rattled his crossbar before rebounding away.

The Comrades were limited to sporadic raids into Ives territory but 20 minutes from time they created themselves a half chance as substitute Olu Lawal delivered a deep cross that Bustamante headed back into the danger zone. Jake Hutchings got the ball away but only as far as Watkins 25 yards out. The visitor’s midfielder carefully curled his effort just wide of the post with Bentley scrambling across to cover.

The hosts rattled the woodwork for the third time in 74th minute as Barton cleverly fed Richens away down the right. He picked out substitute Amaru Kaunda arriving at pace with his pull back but the Cambridge United loanee’s first time effort from six yards struck the underside of the crossbar and bounced down and away. But Ives luck finally changed seconds later as the ball was fed back to Cowling who tried his luck from just outside the box. His shot struck a defender and looped up into the air dropping at the back post where Alexandrou was waiting, looking to turn it home. As he went to shoot Newman swung a leg to try and clear the ball. That swinging leg did not make contact with the ball but did take down Alexandrou. Once more referee Darling was in an excellent position to view the contact. After a moments consideration he pointed to the spot. Once everything had died down the ever reliable Edwards cooly beat Bowler with the penalty.

Now with their noses in front Ives went in search of a second to kill off their tenacious opponents. An excellent 81st minute cross field ball from substitute Ed Hottor picked out Alexandrou in space on the left. This time he went outside his marker and fed the ball inside to the run of Cowling who clipped his first time effort inches wide with Bowler looking on.

Simple route one fashion almost worked for Ives moments later as McClelland misjudged a Bentley punt in the swirling wind. The ball flicked off his head and Kaunda was onto it a flash but with colleagues fast arriving the youngster proved that he is a striker in the making as he retained possession even as he was closed down by Luke Massingham and did eventually get his shot away but it was blocked by the covering defender.

With time ticking down into an added six minutes Ives were looking to preserve their slender lead but there was still time for Bowler to show a little of his potential as the young keeper reacted well to palm Richens stinging drive from a narrow angle onto his left hand post deep in added time.

There was just time for one final scare for the hosts before they could claim the precious three point. The Comrades won a free kick just inside Ives half in the final added minute, substitute Lawal curled it invitingly to the back post where McClelland leapt like the proverbial salmon to get on the end of it. He met the ball cleanly but powered his header wide of the post to almost stick the final nail in the visitors step 3 coffin as the final whistle blew immediately after.

Final Score:  St Ives Town   1   Berkhamsted  0    


ST IVES: Edwards 78(pen)


Team Line Ups:

ST IVES: Bentley, Casey, Smith, Richens (capt), J. Williams, Hutchings, Barton (Hottor 78), Cowling, Edwards, Alexandrou (Tomlinson 90), Kaziboni (Kaunda 68), Unused subs: Harris,

BERKHAMSTED: Bowler, Newton, K. Williams (Lawal 68), Oulton, McClelland, Massingham, Sandiford (Chamberlain 84), Watkins, Bustamante, Toomey (capt) (Bessadi 54), Newman, Unused subs: Frederick, da Silva

Cards:   Yellow:  ST IVES:  Edwards (21)      BERKHAMSTED: Oulton (21), Sandiford (52)


Attendance:  297