CLAPTON vs BARKING – TITLE RUN-IN

With the Tons not playing for a second successive weekend and Barking notching up yet another win in the absence of their title rivals, the top of the Essex Senior League is starting to take on a more settled shape as we enter the final stages of the season.

The Blues’ 3 – 5 win at Sporting Bengal on Saturday pulls open an eight point gap between first and second in the table. As the Upney club cashes in three of its four games in hand, with maximum return, Clapton can only rely on sizeable slip ups from the current league leaders.

However, with eleven league games and two cup competitions still to fight for, Barking have got themselves a crowded schedule to work through before the end of April. Recent goal heavy games appear to suggest legs are beginning to be stretched as a long season takes hold.

As not the most athletic team among this year’s title contenders, either, Barking won’t want to labour over thoughts of an eight point slip at this stage. Bottom four, Bengal pushed them hard on Saturday, as Takeley did by the same scoreline two weeks previous.

Respective run-ins should also give Clapton reason to be hopeful. Barking still have to face three of the top five to get over the line and play third placed, Southend Manor twice! The Tons, moreover, have four games with bottom half opposition and none left against the top five.

Any sudden dip in form for Barking, however, will no doubt depend on what James Peagram does between now and the end of the season. The former Harlow man has banged in an extraordinary 41 goals in 32 starts and is effectively dragging his team toward the Isthmian.

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Peagram netting against Clapton earlier this season

Peagram’s teammates, Delgado & Petrit should also get a mentions for impressive returns, though Barking seem to rely heavily on a tactic of overpowering opponents; a game plan that works well in pummeling teams who’re struggling, but is perhaps less effective against stronger counterparts.

Next Tuesday (28th) Glen Golby & Steve Wills’ team face up against the very physical, FC Romania at Mayesbrook Park. The resurgent Romanians are well known for giving as good as they get and have scored an emphatic 25 goals in the seven matches since losing to Barking in mid-Jan.

By that time that game kicks off, Clapton could be back within five points of their East London rivals, playing away at Barkingside the Friday before. A home win in Forest Gate for the visit of Sawbo on the 28th and a result for FCR on the night would see the title race wide open again.

Following a likely bruising encounter with Romania, Barking then play four games in two weeks, culminating in a vital home fixture with Southend Manor. The league leaders won’t have much respite after that either, not getting more than four days between games until the end of March.

By which point Barking could have qualified for semi-finals and finals in two different cup competitions, adding even more pressure to an already overloaded calendar. Clapton, in contrast, have only one more mid-week fixture before the end of the season.

With such an intensive and challenging run-in, the cracks Barking are already showing, particularly in defence, will deepen. Clapton’s diary, on the other hand, is relatively clear, but dropping points at this stage is something Jonny Fowell’s team can no longer budget for.

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