This Bulls match against the table toppers epitomised the season: so near but so far.
The chances were there against well organised opposition but Raynes Park Vale are top of Combined Counties Premier South for a reason. They limited Jersey’s opportunities and those that were created were twice thwarted by goalkeeper Billy Bishop and on a third by the woodwork.
The Islanders welcomed back Francis Lekimamati, Jonny Le Quesne and Robert Martins-Figueira from their Muratti expedition to Alderney but, rather surprisingly, left Adam Trotter on the bench. Raynes Park Vale had played a hastily rearranged fixture on Thursday night – a 7-0 rout at home to Frimley Green – and left their top scorer, Jordan Gallagher, on the bench too.
Instead, the visitors’ main threat came from the nippy Jermaine Green and their midfield strings were being pulled by the impressive Aaron Lamont, who shaded Bishop for the man of the match award. Green had an early sighter which Euan Van Der Vliet dealt with, diving to his right, but disaster struck after 15 minutes. Lamont’s long ball down the right found Archie Harland-Goddard in acres of space. His low cross eluded the onrushing Timmy Obisanya but captain James Querée, sliding in to prevent the ball reaching Ethan Archer at the back post, succeeded only in doing the job for him.
Just after the half hour, a Jay Giles cross set up Luke Watson on the edge of the box and his well-struck shot skimmed the bar. Lekimamati continued to work his magic down the right and a thunderous Frank Tobin volley was deflected for a corner by the covering Nathan Lewis. Nevertheless, it was the visitors who extended their lead before the break.
A Lamont free-kick on the right was either sliced or cleverly placed. The result was that Van Der Vliet was equally unsure how to deal with it. He started to come for it but Ben Dyett managed to hook it across the face, where Archer’s attempt was well blocked by the recovering goalkeeper, only for it to fall to Callum Hope to nudge home.
Jersey almost pulled one back shortly afterwards when Luke Campbell, making his 100th appearance, rose at the far post to nod a Giles free-kick against the left upright. At the interval Bulls brought on Trotter and Fraser Barlow to give the line-up many thought that they should have started with. It immediately paid dividends as a superbly struck 25-yard free-kick by Lekimamati was clawed away from the top left corner by Bishop, only for Barlow to pounce and beat the ‘keeper and Lewis to the loose ball.
The re-energised hosts went looking for the equaliser and, ten minutes later, had a golden opportunity. Le Quesne was adjudged to have been brought down by Harland-Goddard, a decision that was understandably questioned by the visitors. Campbell struck it hard and low to Bishop’s right and the keeper got a strong right hand to it to push it away. The rebound, from a narrow angle, was put over the bar by Barlow.
Two minutes later Bishop was the saviour again.
Trotter managed to thread the ball through to Lorne Bickley near the penalty spot. The striker did well to turn Lewis and get in a shot but that strong right hand of Bishop’s was there again to thwart him.
The last half hour did not see Jersey create anything more whereas Hope, Green and substitute Gallagher – cousin of Chelsea and England midfielder Conor – all came close for Raynes Park Vale. It was a vital win for the visitors as a draw would have seen them overtaken by Badshot Lea for the one guaranteed promotion place – to be decided in the next three weeks as the fixtures come thick and fast.
The Bulls’ hopes of promotion, meanwhile, are all but over. With six games remaining, they now lie six points adrift of Badshot, having played two games more.