CHARLIE Oatway fired East Preston Football Club a step closer to the County League Division 2 title with a hat-trick in his side’s 3-1 win at Storrington on Saturday.
It also gained EP a measure of revenge against Swans, who are still the only side to beat East Preston in the league this season, 2-1 back in September,
As East Preston’s assistant manager Ian Browne said afterwards, this game was not one for the purist. Chances were at a premium for both sides and with the visitors having been out of action due to the weather for the previous few weeks, Swans may have felt that it was to be their day.
EP made all the early running, showing just why they have already been promoted, despite with eight games left to play. Having said that, there were no cast-iron chances to initially worry Gary Elliott in the home goal, with only Jordan Clark’s tame long-range effort threatening to muddy the stopper’s gloves.
The visitors took the lead when the prolific George Gaskin stole a march on Chris Watton and the defender gave the striker a nudge as he rose at the back post, with referee Chris Porter correctly pointing to the spot, also booking Sam Elliott and Jamie McLeod for their protests. Charlie Oatway sent the Elliott the wrong way from the spot after 28 minutes.
Swans were allowed back into the game with a minute to go until half-time as Alex Duncan bundled Craig Grantham over in the six-yard box and the striker dusted himself off to put the ball just out of Matt Evans’ reach and level the scores.
EP went straight up the other end, however, and a powerful run from Clark, who was arguably the most impressive player on show, was ended by Gary Elliott’s out-stretched arms to provide the third, correctly adjudged penalty of the half, which was a carbon copy of the first as Oatway bagged his second of the game.
The second period was even shorter on clear-cut chances, with the only moment of real quality being Oatway’s hat-trick, as an inch perfect crossfield ball found the forward with time and space to drill the ball across Gary Elliott, and, despite Sam Elliott’s desperate attempts to clear, into the back of the net on 62 minutes.
It was the eighth successive match in which Oatway had scored and moved him on to 29 goals for the season, with his first treble of the campaign.
Swans took more control of the game with the introduction of Luke Jearum, and almost pulled one back in the fifth minute of added time when his free kick hit the base of the post, but no-one could really argue with the match result.
EP manager Dominic Di Paola said: “You could tell we hadn’t played for a month and we ran out of steam a bit in the second half.
“They beat us earlier this season so it was good to get them back. It wasn’t the best game but we got the result.”
EP host Oakwood in the league on Saturday and then meet Hailsham in the Division 2 Cup semi-finals at Shoreham on Tuesday.
Kick-off is 7.30pm, with the winners facing Littlehampton in the final on Good Friday.