As we sat in stationery traffic around 1.45pm on Saturday outside the Amex Stadium, as thousands queued to see the Brighton v Leicester game, I did question whether the travelling Steyning fans were actually of sane mind. A two hour round trip in the cold and pouring rain to see if the Barrowmen could get anything from the league leaders Bexhill United, rather than a pampered afternoon in the cushioned seats of Albions plush home troughing on posh pies and craft ales.
As we shot past the Amex stadium later that evening, listening to the local phone where fans were moaning about the match they had watched at the Albion, I did allow myself a wry smile. Not only had we attended a game at the bargain price of £4, we had seen a tense and exciting game, we had sat in one of the finest old stands in the south, we had received great hospitality, and most importantly we had seen a resolute performance from the Steyning lads, seeing us leapfrog Bexhill and replace then in top spot. All was good in non league football; well at least for now!! We were at that point unaware the reserve team referee had not shown up and the reserves cup game could not go ahead (not sure this happens in the Premier league).
Down at the characterful Polegrove ground, Steyning had snuck all 3 points in a very tight encounter that in fairness always felt like it might be settled by the odd goal. Town reverted to something resembling a 4-2-3-1 formation. The influential Timms returned to the starting eleven at centre back, Levoi moved into midfield and new midweek signing Radmore was leading the line. Absent were Parazo, Ozga (still injured) & Hunter.
The magic moment, well the not so magic moment actually, came in the 27th minute when Mayckol Sabino swung in a long cross from the right touchline which evaded everybody, and Rose in the Bexhill goal somehow fumbled in to his own net. A lapse in concentration had brought an early Christmas pressie for Steyning. Up until this point it has been about even stevens. Bexhill, looking slick in attack, had troubled JJ on a couple of occasions, and at the other end Faber had a goal ruled out for offside and new signing from Midhurst & Easebourne FC, Grant Radmore, had gone close.
The goal seemed to rock the hosts and the lively Bull fired wide and Faber nodded agonisingly wide as the Barrowmen temporarily got the upper hand in the period before the break.
Half time Bexhill 0 Steyning 1
The second half followed a similar pattern for much of the half. Bexhill certainly had the upper hand in terms of possession, however a lot of their neat build up play broke down in the final third as the Barrowmen showed exactly why they have the stingiest defence in the league. Timms, upon his return to the side after a few weeks absence, was in great form alongside Gathern and they dealt well with all that was thrown at them. Full backs Maher and Clark were working their socks off to stop crosses coming in from the flanks. From an attacking point of view Steyning were limited to occasional breaks, as Radmore ploughed a lonely furrow up front alone. Steyning were fairly wasteful with the ball as they got further up the park, often giving away cheap possession and inviting he visitors to come forward again and again.
Bexhill did create a few chances in the second half, however they themselves were wasteful in the final third, often the crossing in from the flanks going too close to the safe hands of JJ, or the final ball being overhit. JJ dealt superbly with everything thrown at him.Great handling in slippy conditions. The only time he was beaten was when a speculative shot from the dangerous Shonk clipped the top of his cross bar late on. Gritt and Taylor came on with fresh legs and helped settled things down Levoi had a good chance to make the game safe for Steyning but drove over when well set and Radmore had another good low drive turned around the post.
Steyning saw out the final moments without too much alarm, and were further buoyed by the new AFC Vardeanians had dropped points, leaving Steyning top of the league for the first time this season (well in fact the first time for a long time). What a perfect tonic ahead of our big FA Vase tie with Bearsted FC next week, and something that felt especially satisfying as we drove past the Amex that evening, listening to all those fans on a phone in who hadn’t enjoyed their afternoon.
Bexhill were terrific hosts and a good turnout on a cold and wet afternoon created a good atmosphere. They showed glimpses of their neat passing game, and although probably weren’t at their best, it wasn’t for a lack of endeavour. Eventually the resolute defence Steyning won the day and the one keeper error had been the difference between two well matched sides.
Well done lads.
MOM : Ryan Timms – immense on his return to the squad.
Steyning : Banasco – Zaragoza, Clark, Gathern (capt), Timms, Maher, Haulkham, Faber, Bull, Levoi, Sabino, Radmore Subs used Gritt, Taylor, Not used Neatherway , Fitzpatrick