Buoyed by a reasonable start to their season, and with the installation of Rudy Funk as their Manager, Scarborough Athletic hosted United at the Queensgate Stadium in Bridlington in what has become traditional Bank Holiday fare for Long Eaton United’s travelling supporters.
However, with a makeshift side, Manager Craig Weston still missing and only two fit players on the substitutes bench, United came away with all three points in a rearguard action that resulted in the limited chances coming their way being converted by Shaun Rickford
, who grabbed the first league hat-trick by a United player for almost two years and the first player to ever record ‘all-three’ for the club in an away game in sixteen season’s in the Northern Counties East League .
With James Carder and Jacob Webster
both suspended, Nathan Parker injured, Chris Murdock, Martin Bowles and Paul Gamble unavailable, United really were down to the bare bones. Michael Armstrong
filled the right-back role and Gary Breach took over on the left hand side of the back line (rarely can there have been an almost twenty-year age gap between two United full-backs in the same side).
Micky Allsop was back partnering Dean Whiley at the heart of the defence and Theo Ganderson and Kelvin Mushambi were given a midfield start alongside Michael Martin and Will Mellors-Blair. Shaun Rickford
was restored to lead the attack with Elliot King
, who was playing in only his fourth full game at Senior level. Josh Hooley and Johnny Tomlinson were named as substitutes, neither of whom had made a first team start
The home side started the game well and forced United to defend in numbers from the outset. Last season’s 34-goal man Ryan Blott fired over the United bar after seven minutes and soon afterwards a Jimmy Ghaichem header cleared Ross Whalin’s goal. Almost immediately, Blott wriggled free from the attention of Whiley but his mis-hit shot ran safely past the upright.
As the game progressed, United’s defence began to adjust to the pace of the game and restrict the home side through some excellent defending, with Allsop and Armstrong both standing out.
On thirty-one minutes, and perhaps against the run of play, United won a corner and the ball found its way to Mellors-Blair who whipped in a cross low and hard into the home penalty box, where an alert Rickford was on hand to deflect the ball past the desperate dive of Ed Eley in the Scarborough goal.
With their side having started so well, and having much of the possession, the home crowd seemed aggrieved to have gone behind in such a fortunate fashion and turned their attentions to baiting United’s perennial fall-guy Ross Whalin.
Their heckling only played into the ‘keeper’s psyche, and there was one moment of mirth when the spectators behind his goal resorted to throwing chips at United’s ample custodian.
‘Can I have a sausage next time?’ was Whalin’s grinning riposte.
Just before the break, Blott sent another shot sailing over the bar and the question posed at the interval was, Could United hold on to what they had?
During the second half the home side continued to push forward with some neat touches, but timely interceptions and some strong challenges at key moments fractured the final telling ball that Scarborough’s build up promised but failed to deliver.
However, on sixty minutes, Ant Lynam found space on the right before rifling in a low cross that split United’s defence and left Blott with a simple task of finishing off the move.
At this point, for a short spell at least, there was a surge of expectancy amongst the home support that their team would go on to finish the job. However, their hopes soon began to dissipate as their efforts were thwarted by some resolute defending, some poor finishing and some great goal-keeping from Whalin, who was now dividing the ‘lunatic fringe’ as some began to accept that he wasn’t a bad ‘keeper either.
Then, on eighty minutes United broke from the ‘Boro shackles and Mellors-Blair fed King, who was free on the left. The young striker provided a useful ball to Rickford on the edge of the Scarborough box and with some nonchalance, United’s number nine fired a shot that beat Eley at his near post
Having had hopes that a winner would arrive only moments earlier, the home side now went in search of an equaliser with some desperation.
Minutes after United’s second, substitute Hooley broke on the right and fired a shot over the bar whilst under pressure from a defender and Whalin had time to make another good save before a clearance from his opposite number in the 90th minute fell to Rickford.
The eager striker lobbed his effort into the Scarborough net from thirty-yards to complete his hat-trick and provide United with a morale boosting victory against the odds.
Gary Breach received a yellow card late in the second half.
Long Eaton United: Whalin, Armstrong, Breach (Tomlinson 86), Allsop, Whiley (c), Mushambi, Ganderson (Hooley 69), Martin, Rickford, King, Mellors-Blair,
Under the guidance of Mick Galloway, United had produced another performance full of character that utilised the players available commendably. Whilst the home fans were left bemoaning the ‘snatch and grab’ nature of United’s victory and criticising the quality of the team wearing the blue shirts, they were perhaps not aware that this really was a patch-work side, with positional changes, young players with little experience and numbers drafted in just to ensure there was a squad to travel to Bridlington. What was evident, and something that the Scarborough faithful should ponder on, was that United produced a ‘team’ performance, where the senior players gave great support to their younger team-mates and pulled through as a unit. The home side have some very good players, and they played some very good football at times, but as a unit they failed, much to the wrath of their own fans.
Micky Allsop and Michael Armstrong
were both exceptional and Ross Whalin frustrated the Scarborough threat, and their impatient supporters, with some great saves. United’s midfield showed a willingness to fight for each other and Dean Whiley again led by example. Elliot King
continues to develop and battles well against much more experienced players. As for Shaun Rickford
, what more can be said? His despondency about missing United’s best chance against Retford on Saturday was repaid with a hat-trick at Scarborough and his seven goals this season have come from only six starts, more than any player in the whole of last season.
United themselves can now have some belief that they have a group of players, when all are available, that can produce the necessary performances to enhance their season. The quandary is the formation and starting line-up that can deliver some consistency.
Nonetheless, today’s victory really was a great win in adversity.