On Sunday CSKA made the trip south to play AFC North Kilworth; 4 places in the table and 13 points below them, the Mods should have been odds-on favourites against the hosts who were struggling at the bottom of the table. Football is a funny game, though.
One look at the team sheet suggested this would not be as straightforward as the table implied, as CSKA were without 7 first team players for the match. Rich Augustus, Sean Brown, Jack Lucas were all ruled out, while Arun Bhalla and Manish Verma also failed late fitness tests. There was further disappointment as Miky Garcia and Andy Pettitt mysteriously failed to show.
It forced manager Jon Brice to do what only leaders can, step up and lead by example as he took to the pitch despite not being match fit. CSKA lined up with only an 11 man squad for the first time in almost 2 years. The depleted squad saw Gaz Walker back between the sticks and Danny Chapman made a rare start at right-back. Ruben Capp came into the team, making his first start since October at left-back.
Having played at Rawlins for the past 3 months due to scheduling, cup draws and postponements, the muddy, uneven and lumpy pitch presented a further challenged for their slick passing philosophy. It took a good few minutes to get the passing system in place. This gave the home side the advantage in the opening stages as they managed to get in behind the defence; twice forcing great reactions from Walker.
When the passing game was working, CSKA had a lot of joy and actually created a few openings. Dave Payne had the beating of his man each time on the left flank, with both him and Nathan Tate delivering good crosses to McCafferty who first headed just wide at the back post before his volley was saved by the outrushing goalkeeper. Brad Parker, up front alone, also had decent attempts from the edge of the box flash just wide.
The hosts took the lead with a simple through pass splitting the defence and tucking the shot into the bottom corner, meaning the first half ended 1-0.
At the start of the second half CSKA came out fighting. In the midfield, Hiran Mistry and Nathan Tate were showing great aggression and determination to win the ball back. Mistry’s long range effort looked destined to be a goal of the season contender before the Kilworth keeper tipped it wide. He wasn’t a hero for much longer however, as moments after he scuffed a goal kick straight to Brad Parker on the edge of the box, and he was never going to miss an open goal. 1-1.(Ed. This might not have been everyone’s recollection of events! Tried to keep it vague AF).
The remainder of the game see-sawed from one end to another, as both teams could feel there was another goal to be had. Both defences and goalkeepers were in fine form, Connor Williams and Danny Chapman were covering anything that came at them.
But a bare eleven squad finally took its toll on the Mods as tiredness started to creep in. Short passes and leggy runs were frequent as CSKA were losing their edge. The cruellest of blows came with five minutes to play left as a mis control by Walker ended with the ball creeping into the net to give the hosts the lead.
Exhausted and carrying knocks, CSKA had very little left in the tank to muster up anything meaningful to try and rescue a point. Final score 2-1.
Ruben Capp claimed his first Man of the Match award for a very tidy display in an unfamiliar position. But the whole team put in a performance on Sunday. Despite being so depleted, CSKA put in a competitive performance and can only rue the fact that had they been at full strength things would have played out very differently.
CSKA slip further away from league leaders NEBA, but with a third of the season still to play, a third place finish is still up for grabs. Still plenty to play for as the Mods march on.