Cleeve suffer setback in battle to avoid drop
A Jack Watts equaliser proved to only be a consolation as Cleeve lost ground on their relegation rivals in the Easter Monday trip to playoff chasing Cirencester Town.
The hosts had most of the play in the opening half hour with captain Alan Griffin causing some problems however apart from a couple of crosses and corners there was noting to seriously test Sam Gilder in the Cleeve goal thanks to the defensive efforts of the back four, although they did have a goal ruled out for offside.
Cleeve who had adapted quickly on the artificial pitch, a surface they have not always enjoyed with 9-1 and 9-0 defeats away at strong Redditch and Merthyr sides previously, then started to provide an attacking threat of their own with Jack Watts causing problems down the right and Ben Hands down the left.
However Cleeve couldn’t capitalise on their spell on top and with 5 minutes to go till half time, league top scorer Ben Whitehead bundled the ball in from a corner for a goal that Cirencester’s first half play deserved.
Cleeve nearly got a deserved equaliser right on the stroke of half time but Watts could only slice Joe Bates cross well wide on the volley with the goal gaping.
In the second half Cleeve came out firing flooding forward at pace and just 64 seconds in a through ball by James McCarthy put through Watts who did well to cut inside the defender and curl the ball into the bottom corner past former Cleeve ‘keeper Matt Wieczorek.
Cleeve continued to try and press and grab a much needed second but despite a series of dangerous corners and a couple of well blocked shots from Bates and Watts they were unable to make Wieczorek produce one of his fine saves.
The turning point of the second half arguably came just after the hour mark when Mason Lewis pushed Watts right on the edge of the box. All the Cleeve bench, players and most of the Cleeve supporters felt that the push was in the box, however, after consultation with his assistant, the referee awarded a freekick right on the edge of the box on the right. The subsequent freekick from Hands produced a fine save from Wieczorek with the ball heading to the top corner.
Cleeve continued to press for what they hoped would be a winner but with 13 minutes left on the clock, a poor clearance fell straight to the Cirencester midfield and Whitehead was put through to get a well taken second and add to an already impressive goal tally for the season.
Cirencester thought they had doubled their lead just a minute later but Griffin’s effort was ruled out yet again for offside.
It was now the hosts that were on top and despite Cleeve still battling it looked like it would now be the hosts that would score and they did shortly afterwards when from a corner the ball fell to Lewis at the back post and he rifled a thunderbolt into the far top corner to seal all 3 points for Cirencester.
The 3-1 win for Cirencester saw them move to within just 4 points of the playoffs whereas Cleeve are now 8 points adrift at the bottom with a game in hand and 8 matches left to save their Southern League status.
Cleeve’s next match is Wednesday night at local rivals Shortwood United.