Stocksbridge Park Steels 1 Cleethorpes Town 1
OWLS BATTLE TO LATE POINT
Following on from the midweek success over Grimsby Borough, the Owls returned to league action with a trip to Yorkshire to face Stocksbridge Park Steels. The visitors knew that a win could see them climb to second place in the Evostik South and into the all-important automatic promotion spots.
Steels had slipped slightly in recent weeks and were tenth at start of play. However, they still harboured ambitions of forcing their way into the play-off shake-up. Meanwhile, Clee were in excellent form and the Lincolnshire Senior Trophy victory was their fifth on the trot.
The reverse fixture in October ended 1-1, with a Luke Mascall effort being cancelled out by Joe Lumsden. The game was memorable for the strength of the wind but it was a much calmer affair at picturesque Bracken Moor. Manager Marcus Newell had elected to make four changes for the Owls. In came loan-signing Josh Lacey along with Oli Donald, Liam Davis and Brody Robertson. The players making way on this occasion were Liam Dickens, Matt Bloomer, Luke Aldrich and Andy Taylor respectively.
Clee started in a positive manner and pushed the hosts back throughout the opening spell. The visitors came the width of a post away from scoring when, following a left-wing corner, central defender Donald hit the woodwork. Also, captain Alex Flett had a shot from 20 yards flash over and a Danny North effort was blocked by a defender.
Despite dominating, the Owls fell behind on the quarter hour and it was a sensational goal from dangerman Lumsden which did the damage. Receiving the ball near the left by-line, there did not appear to be much danger. The striker had other ideas as he flicked the ball over a covering player and then smashed a thunderous left-footer past Richard Walton from a narrow angle and into the roof of the net.
The visitors continued to play the more controlled football as they looked for a route back into the game.
A good run and shot from Davis hit a defender’s boot and winger Jon Oglesby burst clear but home stopper Greaves was off his line swiftly to collect. This was followed by a good chance when Robertson had a sight of goal but he could not get the ball on-target.
The closing stages of the period were more even. Walton needed to watch a Ruthven skimmer closely on the slippery surface and Oglesby blasted wide for the Owls. A frustrating half for Clee ended when Greaves safely gathered another Robertson shot.
HT Stocksbridge P S 1 (Lumsden 15) Cleethorpes Town 0
There was an early booking in the second period for Jack Richardson following a foul in midfield. The same player then had a chance to equalise but pulled his 15-yarder wide of the keeper’s right-hand post. The Owls were once again left cursing their luck in the 58th minute when a swerving long-ranger from Flett cannoned against the upright and away to safety.
The Steels goal was leading a charmed life and, as the half wore on, the vocal travelling support were starting to sense that it might not be Clee’s day. However, their team did not lose heart and kept probing away for the vital breakthrough. North and Robertson both had shots cleared and lively winger Davis was seeing a lot of the ball as the Owls endeavoured to spread the play.
With just over 20 minutes to go, the visitors made a double change. Richardson and Robertson left the field with midfielder Dickens and striker Marc Cooper entering the fray.
Just afterwards, Stocksbridge had a rare foray forward. Ruthven powered clear and looked to settle matters but he rushed the shot and the moment of danger passed. Clee then attacked down the left-flank through Lacey, who was having an assured debut, but his effort flashed wide.
The Owls played their final card with 15 minutes left. Midfielder Davis, who had worked hard all afternoon without reward, was taken off and another striker, in the shape of Aldrich, was introduced as the visitors went for broke.
North was crowded out and Oglesby received a caution as tempers boiled over. The increased aerial presence of Cooper and Aldrich was proving a challenge for the home defence, as they desperately tried to maintain their slender advantage.
As the clock continued to tick down, Clee committed more and more players forward. Just when it appeared that the Steels had survived the siege, the equaliser finally arrived in the 90th minute. More pinball in the home box led to the ball striking the post for the fourth occasion of the afternoon. This time though, luck was smiling on the Owls.
It bounced clear to Dickens, no more than a couple of yards out. He gratefully slotted home to the relief of everyone associated with the away side. There was an appeal for a possible offside but thankfully the assistant’s flag stayed by his side and the goal stood. Rather than over celebrate, the players hurried back for the re-start as they sensed a possible winner.
This very nearly was the case as, in the fifth and final minute of added time, Cooper forced an excellent save from Greaves. This proved to be the last action and the Owls were clapped off by their fans, who appreciated the effort expended to secure a road point.
FT Stocksbridge P S 1 (Lumsden 15) Cleethorpes Town 1 (Dickens 90) Attendance: 151
Mixed emotions at the end of this one! Relief at grabbing the late goal but also the feeling that, on another day, Clee could have won by a clear margin. Still, it may yet prove to be a good point and, with Bedworth drawing and Alvechurch losing, the Owls have certainly lost no ground and extend their unbeaten run to six in all competitions.
Manger Marcus Newell was pleased with the performance and made the following comments to me afterwards – “We dominated the game more or less throughout the 90 minutes. The team are now playing in a manner that I want my sides to and we saw some good, entertaining football”.
Two home matches in the next seven days. On Wednesday (17th – 745pm), old NCEL rivals Tadcaster Albion are the visitors for an Integro (League) Cup 2nd Round tie. The winners will progress to a home game in the last 16 against South Shields.
Next Saturday (20th – 3pm), there is a very important Evostik South fixture and a real “six-pointer” against second placed Bedworth United. The Owls suffered a last-minute 2-1 defeat in Warwickshire in November and will be keen to maintain their forward momentum.
All support at Bradley Stadium will be most welcomed and admission is £7 adults, £3 concessions/children.
UP THE OWLS!