AFTER resting over Christmas, Henley Town resume activities tonight (Friday) when they visit Flackwell Heath for a league fixture that kicks off at 7.45pm, writes John Bailey.
The majority of teams in the Premier Division of the Uhlsport Hellenic League will play on Saturday as usual, but this is one of two games where the clubs have chosen to avoid New Year’s Eve and bring their game forward a day.
For different reasons, both teams badly need the points at stake. While they cannot be sure exactly how high they need to finish to avoid relegation, it is obvious that if Henley move up a place or two, they have more chance of surviving.
Although they have lost their last eight league games, the Red Kites have won four of their last five cup-ties.
Whilst this shows that the current side is certainly not beyond hope, the fact that all these cup victories have been gained against teams from lower levels emphasises what a gulf exists between the Premier Division and the leagues directly below them.
It is a vintage year that simultaneously produces sides as good as Thame, Bracknell, Flackwell, Thatcham and perhaps Highworth, but, though the Heathens remain in third position and have won their last four matches, Thame and Bracknell now seem to be pulling away from the crowded field, and, while four Hellenic sides have applied for promotion, only one can obtain that goal.
When the sides met on the Invesco Perpetual Triangle back in August, Henley gave one of their best performances of the season, and the game was full of excitement, Nile O’Meally and Richard Bennett putting the home side 2-0 in front and Flackwell having a player sent off before equalising with two goals in the last 16 minutes.
Half the Henley squad that played that day, including the two goal-scorers, have since left the club, while others are currently injured. Jack Thomson-Wheeler moved to Flackwell.
The only Henley side to play over the Christmas period was the reserves, who visited Stokenchurch in a biting wind on Christmas Eve.
The players of both sides may have been surprised when this date was first announced as it is a day when football is seldom played. The lack of games elsewhere, however, attracted a good muster of ground-hoppers to Longburrow, so that the crowd nudged three figures, something that seldom occurs in Division 2 (East).
Stokenchurch were able to field their strongest for some time, and Henley had more players to choose from, the sequel being a strong performance from each team in the opening half.
When the Lambs took the lead after 33 minutes, the Red Kites were slightly unfortunate. Goalkeeper Lucas Romero-Jinks, returning for the first time since breaking his finger, was standing outside his area and instinctively put out a hand as an interception came his way, Steve Park scoring direct from the resultant fee kick. Three minutes before the interval, Patrick Gardner swooped on a ball that was not properly cleared and placed the ball in the bottom corner of the net, so the Town were right back in the game.
But the day belonged to Park, who scored another three goals after the interval as the home side ended worthy 4-1 winners.
The reserves have no match this week, as neither do the Sunday team, but the youths have a league match on Wednesday at home to Carterton, kick-off 7.45pm.