ROCKS REVIEW: Rocks 1 Whyteleafe 0

editorial image

The Rocks remain two points clear at the top of Ryman one south after Dan Royce’s goal gave them a league double over Whyteleafe at Nyewood Lane.

It was a tense, nervy performance from the promotion hunters but sub Royce’s 55th-minute strike was enough to secure the points - and at this, the sharp end of the season, few would disagree that results are far more important than performances as long as they are ones that bring points.

Nearest rivals Met Police also won, keeping the gap at two points with four games to play.

Despite coming back from holiday, James Crane started the day only on the bench as the management kept with the side who had started the win over Leatherhead.

Skipper Michael Birmingham was into the action early on. After 30 seconds he won a free kick when a ball struck a defender’s hand. Birmingham took the free-kick himself from 25 yards, but Michael Lidbury in goal was equal to it.

Whyteleafe had a good chance to go ahead after three minutes. A long free-kick by Fred Fleming in his own half fell to Fabian Batchelor. From outside the box, the quick striker smashed a low shot wide of the post.

Conor Wilkins lashed a volley over the bar after a defender headed straight to him on the edge of the box.

Neat play from Birmingham in the centre allowed him to find right-back Jon Marzetti. He drove forward and whipped in a cross for Luke Nightingale, but his attempt to divert the ball was thwarted by Lidbury.

On seven minutes Wilkins threaded in Ben Johnson on the overlap, allowing the winger to curl a cross into the area. Hiram Laud-Anderson failed to clear and Kane Wills made the most of the opportunity by getting his boot to the ball. But the keeper was well-placed to save comfortably.

Wills turned provider moments later when he chipped a wonderful ball over the defence to set Nightingale on his way. The striker outpaced his marker and hit the ball on the rise, trying to lift it over Lidbury. But the shot-stopper caught the effort.

In a nervy moment, Tim Bond passed back to Craig Stoner and the keeper had to watch closely as the ball rolled near his goal-line before he belted clear.

Nightingale split the defence with a run but would have been disappointed to see his low shot slide wide.

On 20 minutes Johnson squared to Wills, who was waiting on the edge of the box. But the midfielder’s shot whizzed well.

The Leafe had their chances, and on 22 minutes had about five good opportunities to score in the space of 20 seconds. Batchelor brought a decent one-handed save from Stoner, and the rebound saw both Kwabena Agyei and Stephane Gnamore blocked off by the fearless Rocks defence, who held strong despite shots flying in all directions. Agyei who blasted high and wide to end the danger.

Nightingale gave away a needless free kick but Dan Sweeney’s effort from the halfway line sailed straight to the grateful Stoner.

A left-footed drive by Johnson from outside the box forced Lidbury to tip over the bar.

But Whyteleafe were causing problems, and on 27 minutes Ashley Snaddon brought the ball down nicely for Sweeney but his shot rolled harmlessly wide.

Johnson couldn’t find Jason Prior or Nightingale with a cross from the left.

Wills swept beyond the defensive line with astounding pace to cut back to Prior. But the forward’s strike bounced wide.

The Rocks let Batchelor to attack them but his shot from long distance flew over the bar.

The attractive passing play the Rocks are renowned for led to Birmingham piling a ball across the front of the area, but no-one could divert the ball towards goal.

A free-kick led to Johnson firing over when he had players in the box. Then Johnson belted a low shot wide of the post after Wills had surged forward.

Wilkins bounced a tame shot at goal from outside the box before Matt Whitehead scooped the ball forward to Prior, only for him to fail to control the ball.

Whyteleafe had the final chance of the first half as Agyei sprung a dipping shot at goal, committing Stoner into a double-handed save.

HT 0-0

Some fresh legs were needed for the restart. On came James Crane and Royce for the tiring Wilkins and Marzetti.

One minute in, Nightingale was tripped from behind by Laud-Anderson. Birmingham played it to Johnson but the defence closed them down.

Moments later, Wills curled in a ball for Nightingale but somehow the ball flashed off the post and came out of the goalmouth.

On 53 minutes Nightingale put away a powerful drive, only to see the linesman’s flag go up. Many thought the goal was legitimate because the ball took a deflection off a Leafe player before falling to the striker.

Three minutes later, though, the Rocks had that all-important goal. Johnson swung in a low cross and when Nightingale failed to get contact on it, Royce was behind him and he made no mistake, slotting beyond the keeper after getting in front of his marker.

Going in search of number two, Johnson switched the ball to Crane on his right. The right-back beat his marker by cleverly bouncing the ball over his head to cut inside and shoot with his left foot but it was straight at Lidbury.

A number of players got involved after Royce clashed with the goalkeeper on the byline on 62 minutes.

The referee had to intervene as tempers flared but no cards were given. Lidbury required treatment after hurting his arm.

Bentley Graham took a free kick from deep for the visitors, which dropped on to the head of Fleming, who was only denied by the fingertips of Stoner who flicked his arm to push the ball over the bar.

With 15 minutes left Johnson sped down the left to cross but Prior failed to control it.

Pressure from Leafe saw Snaddon cross but Stoner managed to gather again.

Royce squared the ball for Nightingale. With his back to goal he spun instantly but his low shot was saved low to the keeper’s left.

On 81 minutes Royce was brought down on the edge of the D and Prior smashed his shot along the ground but well wide.

Johnson poked the ball towards sub Dean Maynard but the striker went to ground after bumping into Dom Huell. He felt he was impeded, though the claims were ignored by the referee.

The only yellow card of the game was shown to Graham after he brought down Johnson.

Whyteleafe had the last good chance when substitute Kyei Bantom hit a shot wide after Bond’s sliding tackle halted the advancing Batchelor.

The Rocks held on over three minutes of stoppage time to secure a hard-earned win and bring a cheer which must have been a mixture of joy and relief from the crowd of 449.

ROCKS: Stoner, Marzetti (Crane HT), Whitehead, Wills, Axten, Bond, Wilkins (Royce HT), Birmingham, Prior (Maynard 82), Nightingale, Johnson. Unused Subs: Wood, Turner.

The Rocks’ next game is at home to play-off hopefuls Walton & Hersham next Saturday.

LIAM GOODLEY