This time however, rangers were able to name a strong squad, very different to the previous meeting when rangers travelled with just one substitute. Vice skipper Greg Manton and fellow centre half Rory Newby missed the last game with Tony Derese, Dylan Nanuck and Mark Warren also new threats Sidely would have to face. Martin Bell, one of three ever presents for rangers this season, took the number one jersey while Steve Green and Carl Kenward flanked the centre half pairing Manton and Newby. Ever present skipper Ben Jesson was partnered in midfield by the powerful Tony Derese while another ever present, Matt Wheeler, was positioned on the right wing with Nanuck given starting orders on the opposite flank. Workhorse Mark Warren was partnered by the “on fire” Dan Wilkes up front with rangers able to fill an extremely strong bench containing Brad Meredith, Jamie Strong and stand-in gaffer Lee Chapman.
With gale force winds blowing around the pitch, it was sure to be a difficult afternoon for both teams, but rangers did not welcome the start they received. As early as the second minute, United were awarded a penalty after Greg Manton was adjudged to have handled the ball in the rangers penalty area. Up stepped the United left back who coolly sent Bell the wrong way, firing to the keepers left. A disastrous start for the red and blacks.
This was now to be a true test of character for rangers who were shell shocked for around twenty minutes. Rangers had another scare early on when Sidley had another penalty shout, but the referee waved play on after he felt the Sidley striker had gone done to easily in the area after some close attention from keeper Bell.
On 26 minutes rangers managed to hit back. A pass from Manton found its way towards Jesson in the Sidley penalty area. Jesson took one touch to control the ball, and with his second, flicked the ball around the defender. His third touch was a thumping left foot volley past the keeper to level things up for rangers – a quite sublime goal. Moments later rangers took the lead. Wheelers shot forced the keeper into a save with the rebound falling to Wilkes who gleefully tapped home for his fourteenth league goal of the season. 2-1 rangers.
At half time rangers were very happy considering the appalling start they had had to the game. The next goal was to be a pivotal moment of the contest – a goal for rangers would ear mark them as favourites for three points but a goal for Sidley and it would be very much game on.
Rangers started brightly and only a smart save from the Sidley keeper kept rangers at bay early on, the keeper saving a powerful header from Wilkes down to his left. On 63 minutes rangers secured the next all important goal. A superb switch of play from left back Kenward found Wheeler steaming down the right hand side. As Wheeler committed the United defence, he squared the ball up to Wilkes who gratefully applied the finishing touch to give rangers an all important 3-1 lead.
Two rangers substitutions shortly followed with Strong replacing Warren and two minutes later, Nanuck made way for Meredith which saw a slight reshuffle of the pack. Five yellow cards also followed for Sidley who were now increasingly frustrated with the way their afternoon was panning out.
Twelve minutes after rangers third goal, the red and blacks all but sealed the win. This time scorer turned provider as Wilkes squared the ball to Wheeler, who was now on the rangers left, and he had the simplest of tasks of tapping the ball into the back of the net – great team play.
With two minutes remaining, rangers rounded off a superb day with a fifth goal. Strong found the run of Wheeler down the left hand side, who cut in from his flank and finished past the keeper to seal a crucial rangers victory. 5-1 rangers!
The Seaside Cafe MOM was awarded to rangers skipper Ben Jesson who capped of a superb display in the middle of the park with a fine individual goal.
This was an emphatic win for rangers which blows the title race wide open. Sidley’s lead has been cut to just three points with rangers still to play them in a third meeting. Next week rangers have a tough away trip to Old Hastonians who are title contenders themselves having only dropped four points all season. A further meeting between rangers and Hastonians will follow, as will THREE meetings between Sidley and Hastonians. Crowhurst will also have a big say in proceedings as they have to play the top three on two more occasions each, and they will feel they can still mount a serious challenge despite the 14 league games left they still need to play.
To summarise, it’s still all to play for. And only the most consistent team will become champions at the end of the season, not necessarily the most talented.