United went agonisingly close to ending their recent run of NCEL defeats when they led sixth-placed Brighouse Town at their Dual Seal ground until the final moments of the game, at which point the home side levelled the match in the dying seconds. Subsequently, the referee ended the contest following the first touch from the restart.
The hosts had come from behind to defeat United 2-1 at Grange Park less than three weeks ago and had also gained an impressive 7-1 success at Parkgate on the previous Saturday.
United’s own recent form has seen a quartet of narrow defeats, resulting in more than an interested eye on the improving run of basement rivals Maltby Main
Leigh Warman was given his first start at the expense of Andy Rhodes in the United back line and Will Mellors-Blair was restored to a forward position in place of Matt Weightman, who found himself on the substitutes bench alongside Josh Hooley and Ethan Winfield
The first half saw United being forced onto the back foot for long periods and the Brighouse outfit clearly had the edge but strong individual performances from Isaac Marshall, Michael Armstrong
, Dom Jones and Kial Thurman held the home side at bay with some composure. United ‘keeper Scott Webb was also kept busy and produced an assured display that became more confident as the game progressed.
In midfield, Jacob Webster
was getting through his usual unsung workload, though Jimmy Hunter
often found himself far too deep as the home side pressed and Blaine Hancock
was not seeing enough of the ball to provide a creative impact.
From the touchline, Mick Galloway was as vociferous as ever and both encouraged and berated his charges in equal measure.
When United were able to win their midfield battles they did create problems of their own and when the ball was lifted into the opposition box United’s target-man Shaun Rickford
unsettled the home defence on a number of occasions with his vigorous style during a game in which he had his most effective afternoon for some time.
At the interval, United were probably the more satisfied of the two teams with the game still level but within ninety seconds of the re-start their expectations were raised somewhat higher when Mellors-Blair latched on to a ball from wide on the right and seized his opportunity. Showing great composure he fired his low effort wide of Brighouse ‘keeper Ben Imeson for his second goal in similar style in successive weeks to give his side the advantage.
The strike was another example of Mellors-Blair’s ability when he races free in a more central role, which denies the opposition the time to react as effectively as they do when they are able to crowd him out from a wider berth.
The goal clearly stirred the home side and as they began to create openings United ‘keeper Scott Webb’s influence on the game became even more prominent
Brighouse’s tricky wide man Leon Henry was causing problems with his pace down the left side and Thurman was forced to intervene on more than one occasion and the diminutive home player was booked after one clash midway through the half that left Thurman in some distress.
During one brief spell, home centre-forward Danny Nadiole had two well-struck opportunities that were superbly thwarted by Webb and Danny Hull also produced an effort that lacked the necessary power and United’s ‘keeper again gathered safely.
As the game wore on, Warman was emerging with greater assurance and he too was the victim of an over-zealous challenge after seventy-minutes that led to a further booking for the home side.
Late in the contest, Thurman was forced to withdraw following his earlier clash with Henry and Winfield took his place in a re-shuffled rearguard.
With five minutes remaining, Webb pulled off his best save of the game when he tipped a James Sutcliffe free-kick over the bar and after the announcement of four added minutes there were signs that United were well placed to take all three points for the first time in six NCEL fixtures.
However, it was not to be, as an excellent cross from the right eluded United’s defenders and substitute Shane Hamilton headed the Brighouse equaliser with some power at the far post with barely a second remaining.
Though the timing of the goal was perhaps cruel on United’s fortunes, it produced a result that was no more than the home side deserved on the balance of the afternoon, though the game again illustrated the battling nature of Mick Galloway’s side.
Long Eaton United: Webb, Armstrong, Thurman (Winfield 78), Marshall, Warman, Jones, Webster, Hunter, Hancock (Weightman 62), Mellors-Blair, Rickford
Scott Webb’s second-half performance was one of the highlights and will have given United’s ‘keeper a boost after being under pressure in recent weeks and Kial Thurman again provided a mature routine that was not without a touch of class. Dom Jones also showed that he is capable of adding a worthwhile contribution and Jacob Webster
produced another ninety minutes of note. Amusingly, despite being harangued from the sideline, Isaac Marshall was also in good form, particularly from a defensive perspective.
The Premier Division, as it stands, still has an uneasy look to it in terms of United’s current position, though it is likely that they have already done enough to survive.
The surprising good form of Maltby has resulted in three draws and a win in their last four games and it has to be agreed that it could have been more edgy for United if they had converted one of the drawn games into victories. More significantly, two of their draws gave been against Barton Town and Tadcaster and the impending clash with United will not be as straightforward as it may have seemed a month ago as Maltby’s present form is clearly in a better shape.
Maltby's game on Good Friday, at home to Parkgate, will be the real measure of their hopes of survival. A win would give them a worrying momentum for their three final games against the other teams in the bottom four. Consolation for United’s own hopes is that Lincoln Moorlands have to face Bridlington, Staveley and Brighouse (as well as Maltby) in their concluding fixtures.
Hopefully, a point for United at either Thackley or Pickering may just be enough to finally allay any relegation fears, though it is still a difficult proposition against teams with decent home form.
Unfortunately, three points at Brighouse would have made everything a lot more comfortable.