Leverstock Green returned to action after an enforced three-week winter break, and came away from high-flying Aylesbury United with an excellent point as they battled to a 0-0 draw. The break actually proved helpful to Green manager Steve Benitez as he was able to have his side training together for three weeks, and it showed in a determined, spirited display that bodes well for a promising second half to the season. Aylesbury had by far the bigger number of chances in the game, but they were left frustrated at the end thanks to excellent goalkeeping, dogged defending and a bit of good fortune for the Levy side.
Louis Austin - one of four players in the Ducks side from last season's Leverstock side - threatened in the 5th minute as he ran onto a headed pass, but Chris Cutler got in a saving tackle to deflect his shot wide. The Green side's first serious attack came in the 13th minute when Tom Bambury went on a solo run through the Aylesbury defence, but his eventual shot was ballooned over the bar.
On 20 minutes a square ball from Austin set up a chance for Zac Reynolds, but Green keeper Tom Coulton produced the first of a number of great saves as he deflected Reynolds' close-range shot wide with his legs. Two minutes later Stacey Field played a pass to put Paul Edgeworth through on goal, but Tunde Owolabi came in with a well-timed tackle to deny him, again one of a number of similar tackles in an outstanding display by the Green defender.
Aylesbury started to put serious pressure on the Green goal from the 30 minute mark. A pass from Levy old boy Steve Hatch put Reynolds in again, but Coulton stood his ground and parried away the shot. From the resulting corner the ball was flicked on but Hatch headed wide at the far post. A minute later Coulton did well to tip over a rasping shot from Austin, and again Hatch was off-target with a header from the resulting corner. On 34 minutes Danny Jones punted the ball forward, and Austin got to it ahead of Coulton, but headed wide. Owolabi put in another great tackle to deny Edgeworth again on 38 minutes.
Despite having been under the cosh for about 20 minutes, Leverstock reached the break with the game still goalless. The second half picked up from where the first left off as Coulton saved again with his legs to deny Field from point-blank range in the 48th minute. On 57 minutes there was a bit of luck as Coulton waved a cross from Reynolds over only to see it come back off the bar and rebound to safety.
As the second half wore on, the Aylesbury domination started to ease a little, and there were a few forays up to the other end for the Leverstock side. Bambury made another great run into the box on the hour mark, but his shot was straight at Ducks keeper Jack Sillitoe, who had scarcely seen the ball up to that point. By this time Curt Dizon had replaced Marvin Tabi and posed a new threat on the left. Ken Orenuga and Craig Sharples came off the bench soon after.
The most sustained spell of Green pressure came in the 72nd minute, when they won their first corner of the match. Tobi Akin, Sharples and Adiel Mannion all had the ball inside the box, but none of them were able to get a shot in. Two minutes later a chipped pass from Mannion - another impressive performer on the day - found James Dabbs coming in unmarked, but his sidefooted effort went just over the bar. On 77 minutes Dizon went on a run before laying off to Akin, who darted into the box but drilled a shot just wide. A speculative effort from Dabbs four minutes later was saved rather awkwardly by Sillitoe, who had to improvise with his legs.
Over the last ten minutes there was another flurry of chances for Aylesbury, but they were unable to get any of them on target, with Hatch heading over from three yards and Baines shooting across goal and wide. There were also chances at the other end. Two minutes from time Dizon robbed Jones inside the box but shot straight at Sillitoe. In the third minute of stoppage time Leverstock might have won the game as Sharples played in Mannion, whose shot had Sillitoe beaten but went agonisingly just wide.
Aylesbury were understandably disappointed at not winning the game after so many chances, but it was a fantastic result for Steve Benitez's side, and despite the scoreline the game turned out to be a genuinely entertaining thriller. Aside from those performances already mentioned, credit should go to skipper Mark Shadbolt who did a great job in restricting chances for former team-mate Austin.
Leverstock must now take the confidence and morale instilled by this performance into Tuesday night's match at Berkhamsted, where they will face yet more former Green players in what is sure to be a keenly-fought local derby.