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Henley Athletic make big statement of intent by winning at Crane Sports to go top of SIL

Henley's Danny George and Cranes' Ross Rands jump for a high ball

Henley's Danny George and Cranes' Ross Rands jump for a high ball

Henley Athletic made a big statement of intent yesterday, going to champions Crane Sports and emerging 3-1 winners, to end 2016 at the top of the SIL Senior Division.

Cranes' Tye Webb rides the challenge of Henley's Robbie SmytheCranes' Tye Webb rides the challenge of Henley's Robbie Smythe

Goals from Byron Tejano, Clark Bruce and Liam Bevis gave the visitors victory in a game that was far from clear-cut – Sean Brown’s side having to dig in and defend well in the second period as Cranes threw the proverbial kitchen sink at them.

However, in front of a healthy crowd at Greshams, Henley took their chances when it mattered, capitalising on some questionable Cranes defending to take a comfortable lead.

James Blades’ goal though, on the stroke of half-time, gave the hosts a lifeline and set up a barnstorming second half, which saw the aforementioned striker hit the woodwork then squander a golden one-on-one chance.

After weathering the storm, Henley had several chances to wrap the game up before Bevis gave them breathing space with a stunning strike from distance.

James Blades holds off Henley's Mark StoreyJames Blades holds off Henley's Mark Storey

The game started at a frenetic pace and while Henley looked the sharper, Cranes’ Ali Brett had the first sight of goal, but couldn’t keep his chip down.

Henley hit back and Chris Williams was proving a thorn in the hosts’ side with his pace and direct running.

He twice had early openings, but after firing just wide of the target, he brought out a comfortable save from Ryan Bedingfield.

Cranes took a while to get any fluency going, but when they did, Henley had a let-off as Ali Brett headed wide from close range, when he should have at least hit the target.

Aaron Seaman rides the challenge of Cranes' Lee CooperAaron Seaman rides the challenge of Cranes' Lee Cooper

That profligacy was to cost Cranes as four minutes later, on 28 minutes, Henley took the lead, Bevis swinging a deep free-kick to the back post – Tejano finishing from a tight angle.

Henley doubled their lead 10 minutes later, finishing a counter-attack from a Cranes corner.

Bruce picked up a cleared ball on the halfway line and set Williams away. The forward outpaced Harry Coles in a one-on-one encounter on the right and after getting to the byline, played a low ball across the six-yard box for Bruce to fire home emphatically from close range.

Cranes were shocked into action and reduced the deficit just before the break, Blades heading home unmarked at the back post from a Nathan Woolard free-kick.

That gave Cranes the impetus to go for Henley in the second half and after Blades hit the bar with a curling effort, Mark Van Oene and Lee Cooper also went close.

Those missed chances almost cost Cranes dear as Williams was played through, only to be denied by Bedingfield, before Blades squandered a golden opportunity.

With just Kev Holland to beat, the striker rounded the goalkeeper but instead of shooting, hesitated and allowed the Henley defence to get back into position and clear.

Bruce then had a similar chance at the other end as the game became stretched, but after rounding the keeper, could only fire over the bar.

Blades then forced a fine reflex save from Holland, before Bruce fired wide at the other end.

In the end, Bevis had the final say, producing an exquisite chip over Bedingfield, from range, to seal his side the three points.

Elsewhere, Achilles defeated visiting Ransomes Sports 15-2, Capel Plough and East Bergholt drew 0-0, hosts Grundisburgh beat Ipswich Athletic 1-0, Wenhaston won 3-1 at Leiston, Stanton beat visitors Haughley 3-2 and Felixstowe Harpers won 5-1 at Westerfield.

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