Smith hat-trick helps Town to superb comeback
A hat-trick from the most unlikely of sources saw Baldock come back from 2-0 down to win 4-3 in their final home game of the season at the Arena.
The Reserves have pulled off a number of fine comebacks this season, but this was arguably their best and definitely their most important with a performance of sheer grit and spirit.
The opening 35 minutes of this encounter were anything but though, as the visitors, Reserve Cup Finalists Chipperfield Corinthians, continued their fine run of form since the turn of the year with the hosts simply not at the races.
The warning signs were there right from the first whistle as Baldock made their almost "gamely" slow start. Town's play had a flatness about it that made it easy for Chipperfield to get on top. The almost inevitable opening goal arrived in the 16th minute. A corner from the Baldock right was thunderously headed home as a Chipperfield defender rose completely unchallenged.
Baldock have been well used to going a goal behind in recent weeks, but they were left with a mountain to climb when the visitors grabbed a deserved second in the 35th minute. Some poor defending made it all too easy for a Chipperfield forward to dance his way through in the box and his explosive drive was incredibly turned onto the crossbar by Adam Burnett, the same forward then smashed a rebound, which again Burnett somehow kept out, but at the third time of asking the forward didn't make the best of connections, but it was enough to find the far corner.
A special mention must be made to the Chipperfield bench, who instead of celebrating the second goal applauded the brilliance of Burnett to keep out the two well-struck point blank efforts.
The home side were looking dead and buried, but a goal out of absolutely nothing three minutes later effectively turned the tide of the match. Baldock won a free-kick in the Chipperfield half and Beadsworth's ball into the box was cleared to the right hand corner of the box. Adam Walker did superbly to keep the move alive, winning a 50/50 challenge before driving low across the face of goal where Neil Smith was on hand to divert home. Suddenly going into the break, some belief had been restored.
After some encouraging words from the management team at the interval, the hosts came out a completely different side as they upped the tempo and pinned Chipperfield back.
The equaliser arrived seven minutes into the second half. A throw-in in field by Luke Holt to Barry Laurence, saw the latter pick out Jack Harman at the far post. His well-struck effort came back off the post and Smith bundled home to double his goal tally for the season with his second of the afternoon.
The comeback appeared to be complete on the hour when an absolute blockbuster of a goal put Town in front for the first time. A long clearance from Burnett eluded the Chipperfield skipper, who hadn't missed a header all afternoon. Wayne Blows ran onto the loose ball and as it sat up, he hit an unstoppable 35-yard dipping volley over the keeper and into the net.
However, the visitors are not riding high in the league for nothing as they showed great resolve to square things up once more just four minutes later. A nice move from the Chipperfield right saw the ball worked into Lee Picknell. He drove towards the box before hitting a left-footed effort from 25-yards. Burnett did well to parry towards the corner flag, but the home side's failure to react allowed the loose ball to be squared across goal and turned home from a couple of yards out.
After three goals in twelve minutes, the remainder of the half proved end-to-end. Baldock were looking dangerous, particularly from set-pieces, whilst the visitors continued to look useful on the counter.
Chipperfield had a golden opportunity to go in front just seconds after Town made their one and only substitution twelve minutes from time. A long throw took three Town defenders out of the game and when the visiting number 10 skipped past Russell West it became a two-on-one situation with Karl Beadsworth horribly exposed. Fortunately for Baldock, a lack of composure saw the visiting forward blaze wide of the near post when the better option had been to square to his unmarked team-mate.
The shout from the Baldock bench was "believe" in the dying moments and their prayers were very nearly answered when the tireless Adam Shelley beat the keeper to the ball in the box and with the goal at his mercy, somehow Paul Wright couldn't get enough on it to pass into the empty net as a despairing home defender cleared off the line.
The home side were not to be denied though in a late injury-time twist. Karl Beadsworth sent a corner into the box. Wright rose highest to loop a header goalwards. The ball rebounded back off the cross bar and there was Neil Smith, who reacted quickest to head home from two yards out to complete his hat-trick, sending him and his team-mates into delirium.
Chipperfield still refused to be beaten though as they pressed forward deep into added-time. A long throw-in from the right could only be flicked on by Laurence and as Rusbridge tried to shield the ball in front of his own goal a nudge from a visiting player saw the ball accidently strike his arm. As the visitors cried out for a spot-kick the referee Graham Swanton, fortunately for Town, didn't give it and as the ball was thumped clear the whistle went and Baldock had won a superb game.
The visitors could feel aggrieved not have left with a point as they played their part in an excellent spectacle, but Baldock's fighting spirit in the second half proved decisive as they remain two points clear of Cuffley with three games to play.
1. Adam Burnett
2. Luke Holt
3. Karl Beadsworth (c)
4. Adam Walker
5. Barry Laurence
6. Neil Smith
7. Adam Shelley
8. Paul Wright
9. Wayne Blows
10. Jack Harman
11. Lee Rusbridge
12. Russell West (on for Wayne Blows)
14. Jim Starling