06:30PM, Wednesday 20 April 2022
Credit: Glenn Alcock Photography
Flackwell Heath bounced back from Saturday's disappointing 5-1 defeat to Broadfields as they showed great character and resilience to come from behind to beat Harefield United 3-2 at Wilks Park on Tuesday.
The Heathens are likely to finish fifth or sixth in the Spartan South Midlands Premier Division with the side set to visit Arlesey Town in their final match on Saturday. However, they still have a chance of lifting silverware this season with a league cup semi-final against Dunstable or Ardley United to follow on Saturday week (April 30). Should they win that they'll face Hadley or Tring Athletic - conquerors of league leaders Risborough Rangers this week – in the final with the date for that yet to be confirmed.
With a view to doing as well as possible in that competition, and with one eye on next season, Ayres has been handing the club's fringe players a chance to impress in recent weeks.
One of those players, 16-year-old Jack Timberlake, certainly seized his opportunity with both hands, scoring the winner in Tuesday's 3-2 defeat of Harefield. The Flackwell boss admitted his players didn't seem to have the right mindset for Saturday's surprising loss at Broadfields, however, the spirit that has come to characterise the side in recent months was back on display against Harefield.
It took them only 24 seconds to take the lead through top scorer Fabian Driffill, however, the visitors turned the tide back in their favour by the midpoint of the second half. It looked like Heath might drop more points until Aiden Higgs levelled for the hosts in the 80th minute and Timberlake fired home a memorable winner four minutes later.
“It was good to get back to winning ways after Saturday's disappointment at Broadfields,” said Ayres.
“We were very flat on Saturday, it was a bit of a strange one, but we bounced back well last night.
“Harefield are in a bit of a false position in the league I think, but when they turn up, they’re very good.
“We scored after 24 seconds and I thought we’d kick on from there, but to be fair to them, they turned it around. We showed some character to score two late goals and young Jack Timberlake, whose 16, got the winning goal.”
With Flackwell's challenge for a top four finish faltering in recent weeks, Ayres has had the luxury of being able to rest players ahead of next week's crucial cup semi-final. He's also keen to run the rule over the club's younger players with a view to separating the wheat from the chaff ahead of next season. Flackwell have shown promotion form since Ayres took over from Marcus Richardson and he'll believe the club can challenge for honours next season.
“We’ve given everyone the opportunity over these last few weeks,” he said. “That was the case when we lost at Broadfields on Saturday as well.
“We want to give players the opportunity and to spread it around a bit.
“We’ve still got a league cup semi-final to play, and that's going to take place on Saturday, April 30 now.
“We picked up another couple of injuries last night so they’re really adding up at the minute. We’re looking to make sure that players are available for the semi-final, but we also want to give some of the other lads an opportunity to show what they can do ahead of next season.
“We’ll either play Dunstable or Ardley away from home in the semi-final
“They're due to play their quarter-final tie this week and in the other half of the draw it’s Hadley against Tring. Last night Tring upset the apple cart by beating Risborough.
“They needed a win to become champions, but they couldn’t do it.
“Tring have really picked up and they’re a very young side like us.”
On Saturday’s defeat to Broadfields, Ayres added: “It was a strange game, first 20 minutes we were far superior.
“They scored three goals from 30 yards. On another day that wouldn’t happen. On the flip side it just seemed like our mentality wasn’t quite right, we were on a 3G pitch, and we went into it underestimating our opponents a little bit. In this league, if you go into a game where you’re not at it, you’ll get punished.
“It’s been good, and it would be nice to finish the season off on a high going into the semi. Hopefully it’ll set us up well for next season.”
The Heathens visit 10th placed Arlesey Town in their final league game on Saturday. Arlesey have been in poor form, losing eight of their last 10 matches in all competitions to fall out of contention for a top five finish.
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