Salisbury had keeper Gerard Benfield to thank for their narrow victory over Beaconsfield Town at the Raymond McEnhill stadium on Saturday in the season opener of the Southern league Premier South campaign. He single handedly kept Beaconsfield at bay in the final 20 minutes with a string of fine saves.
On some afternoons a goalkeeper just isn’t going to be beaten. Yesterday was such a day for the 24 year old former Weymouth stopper. First among a string of fine efforts was a flying reaction swat to barely finger tip away Nathan Minhas’s deft redirection of a Toby Little cross. The ability to be set and react to the late deflection and make the save with a flailing arm bordered on witchcraft. So good in fact that, even at this early stage, I doubt we will see a better save by an opponent this season.
That effort aside though The Rams finishing in general lacked the clinical edge that could and should have put the game to bed against their aggressive, combative but generally fairly limited opponents here.
In truth the game could and probably should have been over by half-time and may have been had Aaron Minhas’ 15th minute effort not been ruled out for offside. The midfielder slamming in a rebound from close range after Toby Little’s vicious shot on the turn from a Kyel Reids delicious cross was brilliantly turned away by Benfield. It was a close one but the skipper was probably half a yard ahead of his defender when he received the cross.
Salisbury enjoyed good possession before the drinks break but their passing lacked zip and for the most part Beaconsfield were content to sit in and allow their hosts to play in front of them. They only really threatened when an early, almost their first meaningful attack, saw a mishit cross roll along Ravan Constable’s bar before Callum Webb defused it at the far post at the expense of a corner.
Devon Arnold down the right was the hosts busiest player of the half. All pace and enthusiasm but for the most part short of end product.
After the welcome stop for refreshment on the glorious Hampshire afternoon their principle tactic as the half wore on became Benfield launching huge clearances up the field for another former Weymouth man, Brandon Goodship, to fight for. Ben Thomson and Arnold were expected to live off the scraps of knock downs and flicks or deflections. Mark Nisbet and Luke Neville stood firm under the barrage with Ollie Sprague and Callum Webb sweeping up and securing possession when required. Even when Arnold threatened he mostly flattered to deceive.
Former Rams’ favourite Ravan Constable, making a third league debut between the sticks, wasn’t extended beyond routine claims for the first period. Meat and drink to the a keeper of his quality.
Meanwhile at the other end The Rams carved out a series of golden chances as Salisbury struggled to get to grips with the midfield passing and movement of Sam Togwell, Scott Donnolly, Toby Little and Kyel Reid who stood out in the first half. Whilst the experienced campaigner has moments where he keeps hold of the ball two long, sometimes in dangerous areas his delivery on Saturday was top class, offering inviting service from the left and causing alarm in the home defence.
The best move of the half saw Reid and Scott Donnolly combine to work the ball out of a tight area and back to Sam Togwell. His chipped pass picked out the busy Callum Webb beyond the far post and his header back across goal seemed destined to be buried by the trusty right boot of Nathan Minhas but the usually clinical striker did not make a clean contact as his forward momentum carried him slightly beyond the ball which he barely made contact with before it dribbled across goal where Benfield fell on it thankfully.
Moments later it was the turn of the other Minhas brother, Aaron, to fluff his lines. Toby Little’s driving run in midfield fed Reid again, his curling effort into the six yard box seemed to be met in formation as first Toby Little stooped to glanced a header and then Nathan Minhas stretched out a toe to both deflect the ball goalwards.
With Benfield watching anxiously from his line the ball continued to the far post and Aaron Minhas. It seemed his input would be unnecessary but instead of curling in, the ball squirted up onto to the far post before ricochetting off The Rams midfielder, a yard away and behind for a goal kick. So much for run of the ball.
As the half drew to a close The Rams continued to turn their share of possession into chances. Nathan Minhas almost atoned for the earlier miss, wriggling free from the attentions of two defenders on the left wing his run towards the corner of the area created the angle for a curling drive which seemed for all the world destined for the top corner before drifting inches wide of the far post with Benfield motionless.
Half time 0-0
The second half followed a similar pattern to the first but in the opening stages Salisbury had a bit more snap in their approach play. Moving the ball more quickly and with greater precision but again it was The Rams who had the first attempt. Scott Donnolly dipping effort from 20 yards drawing an acrobatic tip over from Benfield.
From the resulting corner the ball cannoned around in the penalty area as Togwell and Aaron Minhas saw close range efforts blocked. The ball was cleared and The Rams were finally made to pay for their first half wastefulness in front of goal. The clearance down the right was contested between Devon Arnold and Luke Neville, drawn out of the centre to cover. Neville seemed to have matters under control but delayed enough for Arnold to nick the ball and pull it back for Ben Thomson to stroke a low effort across Constable and into the bottom corner.
The Rams then had to dig in and weather a storm as the home side, buoyed by the lead, began to ask more questions but more by battering Ram than surgical precise football. Thomson had the chance to make it two but Ravan Constable stood up well to block the effort. Thomson was first to the rebound but a combination of Neville and Mark Nisbet made the block on the goal line.
That was as close as the home side came for the remainder of the game.
Gary Meakin introduced Louis Walsh for Kyel Reid , Dan Bradshaw for Aaron Minhas and Eitel Goueth for Luke Neville with Sam Togwell dropping to centre half .
The Rams dominated the remainder of proceedings as they piled forward. They did look a little vulnerable on the counter but Salisbury lacked the quality or composure to convert any of the few chances.
Cue the Benfield show as the keeper produced saves to deny Louis Walsh , Nathan Minhas and Toby little. Little then played in Eitel Goueth who chose to shoot from a narrowing angle with others better placed in the centre and dragged his effort wide. Nathan Minhas saw a looping header cleared off the line.
At the other end a superbly timed Olly Sprague tackle to deny substitute Ryan Penny a good chance to kill the game off was met by histrionics from the home crowd and the whole home bench who have even switched dug outs this season to provide better access to the ear of the linesman who was desperately berated throughout an increasingly fractious second half.
They may have had a point moments earlier when a swinging Nathan Minhas arm felled Sam Robert’s to escape from the big defenders barely legal attentions in centre field . The combative defender lay motionless for 15 seconds feigning unconsciousness. His general approach all afternoon and the fact that he appears to be hewn from Portland stone and prefers a cup of warm tarmac as a post match meal probably lead Mr Hobbs to the view that his injuries were less life threatening than he and the apoplectic Steve Claridge claimed, so incensed that he repeatedly entered the field of play to berate the officials.
Mr Hobbs stood firm and was remarkably consistent throughout. It seems the directive to keep the ball in play and avoid soft free kicks may require a few weeks to settle down because the official barely gave a free kick in the first half an hour which encouraged Robert’s and his fellow defenders aggression.
Their was one booking after Robert’s was late to a 50/50 with Aaron Minhas but the defender barely received a word of caution and Goodship got himself booked for instigating an outbreak of handbags that followed the challenge. Robert’s was fortunate to escape earlier when in a three second spell both Minhas brothers were clattered from behind. Mr Hobbs penalising the first offence and not the subsequent agricultural effort from the centre half.
In his defence Mr Hobbs was consistent throughout. That said, whilst the attempt to keep the game moving and the ball in play for supporters is to be applauded, the full contact anything goes approach on display here for much of the first hour might be entertaining but can’t be particularly conducive to player safety. A foul is still a foul. A human body with its feet off the floor will not move two yards off centre unless they are moved by someone else. By all means ignore falling over under minimal contact which breaks up the game but it’s hardly appropriate to encourage the reintroduction of the Roy Keane / Graeme Souness reducer.
Beaconsfield can feel justifiably hard done by to take nothing from the game. They will likely play worse than this and win as the season progresses but they need to cut out this habit of bringing into the best from opposing goalkeepers. Benfield was the difference here.
Next up The Rams entertain newly promoted Plymouth Parkway at Holloways Park on Saturday afternoon kick off at 3pm. The Rams will be dedicating the game to the memory of long time secretary Robin Woolman who died at the end of last season after a short illness.
Ravan Constable, Callum Webb, Olly Sprague, Luke Neville [Eitel Goueth], Mark Nisbet, Sam Togwell, Toby Little©, Scott Donnolly, Nathan Minhas, Aaron Minhas, [Sub Dan Bradshaw] Kyel Reid [Sub Louis Walsh].
Mike Neish, Adam Martin,
Gerard Benfield, Dinesh Gillela, Josh Sommerton, Charlie Davis, Samuel Roberts, Ben Thomson [Sub Daniel Fitchett] , Devon Arnold, Darren Mullings©, Brandon Goodship, Marvin Brooks [Sub Josh Wakefield], Antonio Diaz,
Lewis Gunstone-Gray, Josh Wakefield, Ryan Penny, Aiden Savage