Report and photo by Stuart Tree
Corinthian-Casuals face a critical week ahead if they’re to keep their promotion ambitions alive following the 3-1 loss to Herne Bay on Saturday.
The result, coupled with Walton Casuals’ 5-2 win against Cray Wanderers means James Bracken’s side drop out of the promotion or playoff places for the first time since September.
Whilst a playoff place is still within the Amateur’s hands, two points from a maximum of 15 in their last five games is not promising form.
Casuals face Guernsey on Tuesday night in a ‘must-win’ match before travelling to the league’s in-form side, Hythe Town who’ve only lost once in their last fifteen matches. Corinth will need four points from their last two matches to guarantee a playoff spot.
On paper, the Herne Bay match was the easiest to pick up three points; Bay sit mid-table with little to play for other than pride.
It’s often the case that these can be the fixtures that cause the most difficulties. Teams play free from pressure with nothing to lose whilst blooding youngsters keen to shine or applying new tactics.
Whatever it was, Casuals have to feel a little unlucky in the first half alone. The home side found the woodwork on no less than three occasions. Twice was from set pieces from Josh Uzun. The first free kick evaded everyone and found the far post. The second was from a 20-yard free kick which smacked the right post and fell to Jack Strange barely two yards out. However, the defender didn’t make clean contact and somehow the scores remained level. The third came from a Max Oldham cross which found Harry Ottaway, who swung his foot and lashed home from 15 yards only to find the far post and out for a goal kick. On this evidence, it felt it was only time before Casuals took the lead.
It never came. The second half began with a lethargy not befitting a side looking to take advantage of other playoff sides losing. In fact, Casuals looked to join them. And so it happened. From a whipped in free kick, errors in judgement allowed Connor Wilkins to bundle in at the back post.
To make matters worse, Bay doubled their lead just after the hour mark when Sam McCallum found space to race through and poke past the oncoming Gareth Williams in goal.
Only at 2-0 down and the introduction of Jamie Byatt and Shaun Brown did things pick up. Brown’s first touch should’ve resulted in a goal, but played through, his shot was scuffed wide. Ben Hunter in goal also produced a fantastic save to deny Uzun.
Harry Ottaway gave the home side hope on 83 minutes when he beat Hunter to the touch and prodded home to reduce the deficit. Casuals had mounted some comebacks this season to great effect but this would be the toughest of the lot. Pushing forward naturally created holes at the back and so it was no surprise when a break down in play allowed Jake Embery all the time in the world to slam home the deciding third goal in stoppage time.