March 4th 2023. There was a point during this match that was classic Combined Counties League. With the game starting to roll Raynes Park's way a supporter's dog ran onto the pitch for a brief motivational talk with the team. This incident of canine pitch invasion probably represented the only moment a section of the visiting Fleet Town support stopped barracking the officials, players or, amusingly, the RPV Club Secretary!
Aside from this moment of unusual relief this match represented a growing trend at Raynes Park - score early, concede an equaliser before half-time, come out fighting, and in the second 45 minutes put the game to bed.
The first half got off to a chilly start before Nathan Lewis, it must be said, had had quite a game - opened the scoring on 14 minutes from a Jordan Gallagher cross that was headed against the bar by Jordan Stepney before the defender swept the ball into the Fleet net, but five minutes before the half-time whistle, the same defender was judged, somewhat harshly, to have brought down a Fleet player in the penalty area. A small section of the Fleet fans were clearly of the opinion that they knew the rules better than the man in black but, despite their calls for a dismissal, Lewis remained on the pitch with a yellow card to his name.
The penalty was duly converted by Fleet's Lewis Blake who put the ball straight down the middle of Billy Bishop's goal and a familiar match scene started to unfold. Fleet, emboldened by their sudden opportunity, started to play and, at the same time, decided that Nathan Lewis could be goaded into a second yellow to help even out the odds. It was a tactic that could have worked but for Lewis' determination not to be drawn in.
An otherwise fairly meandering first-half thus ended 1-1 with the extra officials from Fleet Town still making the case for Nathan Lewis' red card as the teams made their way down the tunnel.
Vale watchers have been getting used to the Game-Of-Two-Halves syndrome and this fixture did not disappoint. From a fairly pedestrian first-half performance Vale came out for the second with real intent.
Within the first five minutes a Jordan Gallagher corner was sweetly met by that man Nathan Lewis for his second of the game and, presumably adding to the sense of injustice from the visiting team of unofficial officials.
From this moment on the game was only ever going to go one way, as that second-half regrouping, that has marked out so much of Josh Gallagher's season, started to impose itself.
Another five minutes passed and another Jordan Gallagher assist for Timmy Obisanya to slot away the goal that spelled the end of Fleet's hopes. With results around them going well Vale fans clapped off the teams. Jake, with his understated presence that has been crucial to a number of Raynes Park victories, received the Jewson Man of the Match award and the mystery canine debut, but for the result, might have stolen the show.
Man of the Match Jake Gallagher