St Mary’s came to us with an amazing 100% record in the league and almost left with it intact but for the second time in three games a late, late goal did the trick for us and once again in my opinion it was thoroughly deserved. We’d have certainly settled for that before the game after a week of crisis that left us struggling for a fit eleven. While we were pleased not to see Coleman this morning, they must have been more than happy that Mark Southall and our keeper Lee were both in ‘civvies’ and Ben Smith only fit enough to be an emergency sub (in case of injury). Craigy deputised in goal: though he’s spent a long career scoring goals he’s thankfully not averse to donning the gloves: he made a full contribution today including one really sharp save at the near post.
Given our options were limited Mark set up solidly, with Olly and Lee as holding midfielders, but also giving our most dangerous player, Fowler and the returning Clive (great performance and a player we’ve really missed) scope to get forward, Christy played between them and gave another measured performance, giving heart and soul to the cause but also ability and nous. Sammy worked tirelessly up front. St Mary’s started down the slope with their usual fluency and had a chance early when Craig spilled a shot but we were also at our work early and a good move ended with Clive driving just over. On show were the two meanest defences in the league and ours were certainly into their stride early, led by our man of the match, Matt Williams aside a cool and collected Chrissy Staien (save for five mad minutes) and ably supported by Joe and Barber. I remember only a couple of slips and the first was punished by the opening goal taken on and finished by their striker.
The half was largely even and only a brilliant late challenge prevented Ben from equalising after a slick Rowley move and a sublime touch from Christy set him up. Turning around at half time with the slope to come we felt there was something for us and so it proved in a rip-roaring second half that had everything. First St Mary hit the underside of the bar with our keeper stranded. Then we went straight down the other end, forced a corner and Christy equalised with a front post header. Cue St Mary’s again, clearly wanting a win with a couple of efforts while we were also causing them problems. The battle between Ben and John Myatt, the ever-reliable St Mary’s centre back was particularly enjoyable: played in the best spirit of the game.
Ben in fact missed our best chance, getting to Christie’s cross shot only to find his shot saved by Phil. As we entered the last ten minutes, you couldn’t take your eyes off it: it just felt like there be another goal. Joe had his heart in his mouth when a careless back pass set up their centre forward who thankfully fired over. Around 85 minutes Chris got into a disagreement with the referee which continued into the next play where he gave away a needless freekick. You know the way these things work: direct free kick and Shaun curls it in. They’re elated, but also relieved, we’re gutted and frustrated. Five to go.
Ben Smith had come to us five minutes before asking to go on. We now decided to risk it. Five minutes of pressure. Corner cleared but the ball bounced up to a hand (an unlucky one), just outside the box to the right. Up steps Ben Smith, quality delivery and the smallest player on the pitch, Lee Inett rises to head it in off the post. All the best to John and his lads: worthy Champions and a credit to this league and thanks to three good officials today.