02:00PM, Thursday 27 January 2022
Marlow boss Mark Bartley was given a painful illustration of how the fine margins can go against you in football as the Blues’ promotion bid was knocked off course by Northwood and Uxbridge this week.
Bartley will feel his side did well enough to win both matches, creating numerous openings in both, and leading against Uxbridge from the 35th minute until stoppage time.
But, despite dominating at Northwood, Josh Helmore scored the game’s only goal to consign the Blues to defeat, while on Tuesday evening, young Finn Rushton was denied a clean sheet on his debut by Juwon Akintunde’s late penalty, having earlier saved a spot kick to preserve the Blues’ lead.
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The results have seen the side slip to fifth in the Isthmian League South Central Division standings, 19 points adrift of leaders Bracknell who they host on Saturday.
Reflecting on a difficult couple of games in which their performances deserved much more, Bartley said: “We had a number of openings against Northwood and the final ball let us down sometimes, but you can have those days in football, so I wasn’t too hard on the players afterwards.
“The performance level was pretty good, and I wanted us to bounce back on Tuesday. Against Uxbridge I thought we were fantastic. We were first to everything, on the front foot, won a lot of tackles, and they’re a good team as well. It was a good level of performance to do that against a side of that quality.”
With Simon Grant suspended following his late sending off in the win over Chipstead, and Aaron Watkins picking up an injury in Saturday’s defeat at Northwood, young Finn Rushton was drafted into the first team on Tuesday and very nearly pulled off a clean sheet on debut.
“Finn has been training with us since pre-season,” said Bartley. “He’s been training with us since then and has played some games at steps 5/6. We knew he was good enough and he came in and made a great save on the first penalty and he also got a good hand to the second one, he was just unfortunate not to keep it out.
“I rate the referee and had a good chat with him afterwards, but I just feel he got some big decisions wrong and that’s cost us ultimately.”
Marlow won’t fear Bracknell, having beaten them once already this season, but the Robins arrive at Oak Tree Road in ominous form, having won each of their 15 league games since losing 1-0 to the Blues in September. Bartley accepts they have the firepower, and depth of squad, to clinch this season’s title, but he’s hopeful he can put a little fork in their path this weekend.
“We’ve got a huge game against Bracknell on Saturday,” he said. “They’ve beaten every team they’ve played since we won there. We’ll give it a good go. What they’ve shown is they have great depth. They have injuries like us but they’re able to replenish their stocks a bit more. But we go into every game believing we can win it and have just gone toe-to-toe with Uxbridge who are right up there as well, and we felt we shaded it.
“If they are to falter, it’s going to require sides like us who are close to the top to take points off them. We’re planning on giving our best and giving them a run for their money.”
He added: “Simon (Grant) will miss this final game and then he’s back for the Hanwell game. We do miss him because he’s the best keeper in the league for me and we’ve missed Alex Salmon who’s the best centre half in the league. To be missing those two, and to have performed the way we have done shows there’s great depth and quality in the squad.”
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