Jersey Bulls fans, players and coaches alike will have been wiping their brows in relief on Friday night when Kieran Lester fired home a late winner in Hampshire – taking the Island side to three wins from three this side of Covid and the big ‘3 0’ in total since their debut in Combined Counties League Division I 13 months ago.
They have won by the odd goal before – five times in fact – but Bulls’ latest triumph will perhaps be viewed as one of the toughest yet and acts as a warning. Opponents now know what is coming as Jersey attempt to maintain their promotion-winning form of 2019/20. They are beginning to adapt.
Following Jonny Le Quesne’s late withdrawal manager Gary Freeman named just 12 recognised players on his team sheet for the second time in three games. Assistant coach Kevan Nelson again volunteered for on-field duties if required, but just one substitute, of the ‘super’ variety, was needed.
Le Quesne’s absence – along with that of Jules Gabbiadini for the foreseeable future due to Covid testing logistics – also left Freeman with a choice to make at right-back and he named a third different player to fill the void on the third outing of the season. Captain James Querée took charge this time out, behind Harry Cardwell, who wore the number two shirt a week earlier, and the pair offered plenty of thrust down the right flank. Sol Solomon – replacing Lester in the starting XI – posed a central threat on Arthur Illingworth’s shoulder but, as was the case on their trip to British Airways FC, the Islanders’ charge out of the blocks took a while bear fruit.
Twenty-one players in opposition territory is not an unfamiliar sight when it comes to Bulls fixtures, although two consecutive matches with a 0-0 half-time scoreline certainly is. At one stage in the opening exchanges goalkeeper Bradley Rolland had the entire half to himself as all ten of his colleagues pinned Fleet Spurs back but the home defence – whether it be by luck or judgment – weathered the storm beyond the break. Solomon had a glancing header blocked sharply by Fleet shot-stopper Andy Ryder mid-way through the half, before Illingworth saw a shot cleared off the line.
Bulls are without Karl Hinds for some time yet as the top scorer serves an eight-game ban for unsavoury comments made to an official in March, but his goals have, for now at least, not been missed. The club’s foundations have been built on an ability to remain calm when searching for winners and Freeman still has a hefty handful of players capable of finding the net at this level. However, while there were few signs of panic on Friday, an increase in urgency was clear as the second half progressed.
Full report and reaction in Monday's JEP.