Last-gasp Njoku rocket gives Ives lift-off

St Ives Town 3 v Royston Town 2    

Pitching-In Southern League Premier Central  23-10-2023

Nigel Howlett Reports

Ten out of ten for entertainment Ives first home league win of the season had everything one could wish for in a football match. Starting with an early penalty, followed by a bizarre own goal from the penalty scorer, a foul on the keeper that everyone in the ground saw except the match officials, four cards to technical area staff, a goal of the season contender to level things up and finally a 99th minute winner. Anyone who chose to stay at home and watch Tottenham on television rather than get their live football entertainment on a Monday night will regret missing this one for a long time.

Technology even ensured that the drama even started before the first whistle as issues with card readers and an excellent Monday evening turn out for this local derby meant large queues built up outside the ground ahead of kick off. Most were however in the ground by the time that things got underway.

The game started at a frantic pace with a couple of early chances falling to the hosts. A third minute Aaron Smith long throw was only half cleared to Myles Cowling on the edge of the box and he cracked a skimming drive just wide. Dan Barton and Brandon Njoku showed their threat four minutes later when Barton slid in a perfectly weighted pass to pick out Njoku’s run from the left and the young striker got his shot away forcing Crow’s keeper Noah Phillips into a save low to his left.

Crows first effort on goal came in tenth minute as Alfie Williams picked out Joe Boachie in a little space on the left corner of the box. The busy striker went for precision and tried to float his effort over keeper Eddie Brearey but it floated just over the angle of post and crossbar.

A couple of corners came for the visitors in 19th minute and the second of these lead to the opening goal as Ives broke at pace with Njoku being put through into the box but he was going wide and a heavy touch meant the ball was out of play when he was needlessly taken down late by a sliding challenge from covering defender Ange Djadja. Referee Mario Stetakovic was in the right place to award the spot kick and Jonny Edwards was coolness personified to send Phillips the wrong way with the resulting penalty.

Edwards went close to increasing the lead three minutes later as Cowling made a probing run down the left before cutting inside and picking out his centre forward on the edge of the box. A toe poke would have found the bottom corner but Phillips kept it out diving to his right to claim the ball.

Edwards got the ball in the net again only ninety seconds later, but this is one goal that he will want to forget, as the Crows forced a corner on the right. He rose highest to meet Williams in-swinging kick but got his radar completely wrong as his powerful attempted clearance flew into the top corner of his own net giving a bemused Brearey no chance.

After getting level the visitors enjoyed their best spell of the game. A 36th minute cross from the left by Mackye Townsend-West picked out Boachie just outside the box. He struck his first time effort well but the goal bound shot struck his own colleague Matt Bateman and ricocheted wide. The same two players were involved when the visitors took the lead four minutes before the break in bizarre fashion. Aaron Smith was harshly adjudged to have fouled Florian Tsagium on halfway. Josh Coldicott-Stevens launched the free kick high into Ives box. Keeper Brearey called for the ball and confidently came to claim it only to be completely taken out by Bateman as he rose to take it. Everyone in the ground saw the foul on the keeper except the match officials. The ball dropped to Boachie who cracked it into the empty net fully expecting the effort to be disallowed and could not believe his luck when the decision was that the goal stood. Perhaps not surprisingly both Ricky Marheineke and Adam Fisher both picked up yellow cards for their protestations.

Ives had to use their aggrieved feelings to spur them on in the second period and sure enough they started the second half well and got themselves level only seven minutes after the re-start. Once again, a Crows corner proved their own downfall. This corner had been won by a quick throw which had given Cain Keller chance to drive at Ives back line before delivering a low cross to the back post where Paddy Casey did well to turn it away from Boachie. The resulting flag kick was cleared to Barton on half way and he set off at pace down the right leaving Royston defenders trailing in his wake before cutting in and delivering the perfect low cross into the run of Njoku who slammed home from by the penalty spot to level things up.

The goal sparked another bout of cards to the dug out as Crows management crew felt that there had been a handball inside Ives box as the corner was cleared. Stand in manager Chris Watters took his protests so far that the card he received from referee Stetakovic was a red whilst his assist Lewis Endacott picked up a yellow.

Game on!. The equaliser spurred Ives on to greater efforts and Njoku went close to putting them in front ten minutes later as he spanked a 25 yarder into the boards inches wide of Phillips right hand upright. The young striker was on fire now and he was only denied by an assist’s flag in 67th minute after he had again been fed through by the excellent Barton.

A clever corner routine worked another opportunity for Ives in 75th minute. Cowling and Barton combining well to set the former up with a clear run along the bye line. His driven cross struck Jordan Williams on the six yard line and rebounded goalwards but was scrambled clear.

But there was still threat at the other end and three minutes later Keller came within millimetres of winning it for the visitors. Picking up a loose ball fully 30 yards out he strode forward before unleashing a fierce swerving drive that flew past the despairing dive of Brearey and thumped the crossbar. The ball rebounded so far that it set Ives away on another break which ended with Barton again running at the defence before feeding in Njoku cutting in from the left. His right footed effort from the edge of the box just went the wrong side of the post with everybody looking on.

As the clock ticked down it was Ives who looked like they wanted it most and Njoku was still full of running as he chased down and kept in a long punt from Brearey in 87th minute. His ball inside allowed Cowling to tee up Michael Richens for one of his trademark long range efforts but this one flew just over the top.

A few lengthy injury stops in the second half lead to a not unexpected added ten minutes but despite their efforts it looked like Ives were going to be denied a maximum return until Njoku became the hero in the ninth of those extra minutes. This goal came courtesy of an excellent decision by referee Stetakovic, Barton burst at pace from his own half and was crudely taken out in the centre circle by Townsend-West but he had managed to play the ball on to Njoku a split second before the contact. The referee waved for advantage leaving Njoku a lot to do but he put his head down and cut inside unleashing a screamer that flew past keeper Phillips and billowed the net to send the home crowd into raptures.

That proved to be the last kick of the game, drama indeed, and the feeling of relief inside quattro-tech Westwood Road was palpable with supporters still leaping around in celebration well after the final whistle. The evidence of the effort put in by the players was clear as it was Ives players falling to the turf at the end in both relief and exhaustion after two tough games in 48 hours for most. This performance and result was enough to lift Ives out of the relegation zone and must now be the catalyst to propel Ives up the table to get them clear of the bottom four. Renown cup side Marine visit St Ives on Saturday in the Isuzu FA Trophy and if that game can provide entertainment like this one then you would be wise not to miss it.  

Final Score:  St Ives Town   3    Royston Town  2


ST IVES: Edwards 21 (pen), Njoku 52 & 90+9

ROYSTON: Edwards (own goal) 25, Boachie 41

Team Line Ups:

ST IVES: Brearey, Abimbola, Smith, Hottor (Richens 53), Williams, Casey, Barton, Cowling, Edwards (Nassunculo (90+4), Njoku, Johnson, Unused subs: Bell-Toxtle, Kaziboni, Tomlinson

ROYSTON: Phillips, Sandiford (Newman 71), Townsend-West, Coldicott-Stevens, Murray (capt), Tsaguim (De Lacy-Turner 61), Williams, Bateman, Boachie, Keller (Virciglio 83), Djadja, Unused Subs: Brighton

Cards:   Yellow:  ST IVES:  Hottor (27), Barton (37)        ROYSTON: Djadja (19), Boachie (33), Murray (79), Townsend-West (90+9)


Attendance: 275