United’s painstaking efforts to secure their NCEL Premier Division status were again thwarted after another encouraging performance which saw them lead their Yorkshire hosts for a significant period, yet succumb to a late equaliser for the second time in six days.
Thackley had beaten United 3-1 at Grange Park earlier in the season and had only suffered one defeat in their previous eight NCEL fixtures. They had also not dropped a point at their Dennyfield home since Boxing Day and had spent the season in the top third of the Premier Division.
Bank Holiday work commitments ensured the absence of Blaine Hancock
, Jimmy Hunter
and Matt Weightman, resulting in Josh Hooley and Danny Chambers
being added to United’s starting line-up. Leigh Warman was also included, making his second appearance following his full debut at Brighouse Town last weekend
Club skipper Shaun Rickford
relinquished his usual role as the sole strike option to occupy an anchor position in midfield, with Chambers taking on the responsibility of providing the goals that would help alleviate the spectre of becoming embroiled in a relegation struggle right through to the closing moments of the season.
United’s bench looked fairly fragile with only Ethan Winfield
and Taylor Gardner, who has only featured in rare occasions for the reserve team this season, in support.
In recent weeks United’s youngsters have led in games against a number of the leading sides but have conceded late goals that have left them with little in the way of vital league points. Significantly, they reserved their most downbeat performance for their clash with fellow strugglers Lincoln Moorlands a fortnight ago, resulting in an uncertain aura as the season draws to a close.
Maltby Main, who only a month ago appeared doomed to accompany Selby Town in the drop into Division One, have produced a significant run that has given them a real chance of avoiding the trap-door. Their final three games are now against the remaining three sides in the bottom four, including United.
The game itself again saw United producing a controlled pattern to their approach play and as has been the typical of their performances of the last two months, the back line were once more in good form.
Thackley had much of the early possession but despite some clever build up, they lacked their usual clinical finish and United’s defensive trio of Kial Thurman, Michael Armstrong
and Isaac Marshall continued to illustrate their growing comfort at NCEL level.
With the overall balance fairly even, United won successive corners after Will Mellors-Blair had used his pace to unsettle the home side and on twenty-five minutes United edged ahead when Chambers provided a powerful headed finish that brought un-biased applause from a home crowd heavily boosted by the attendance of a large number of ‘Ground Hoppers’.
As expected, the home side responded and for most of the remainder of the half United were forced to defend in numbers and Jacob Webster
and Rickford were both prominent in the spoiling style needed to upset the Thackley momentum. Dom Jones too was also impressing with his capacity to forge forward and still defend with equal energy when necessary.
United’s cause was not made easier when Thurman was unable to resume after the break after sustaining a broken toe and Ethan Winfield
was called to provide replacement for his colleague for the second successive game.
The home side did control much of the second period but United gave their hosts some moments of concern when they broke forward and on two occasions Mellors-Blair almost carved out openings.
Unfortunately, as has been typical of United’s season, a second goal which would have provided much-needed comfort failed to emerge and the pressure imposed by Thackley forced an error, resulting in a late equaliser by John Mallinson.
Warman was booked some time after his supposed offence at the end of a foray by the home side and Gardner was given his first run out with the first team after United’s first substitute Winfield was himself injured during the closing stages..
Thackley continued to press as the game concluded and when earlier hopes of all three points were uppermost, the final whistle came with not a little relief as United held on to at least take something from yet another awkward away fixture.
Long Eaton United: Webb, Armstrong, Thurman (Winfield 45, Gardner 82) Marshall, Warman, Jones, Webster, Hooley, Rickford, Mellors-Blair, Chambers
The point gained at Thackley would surely have been grasped if on offer prior to the game but to have led the contest for so long it was another disappointment for the efforts of the players to have not left Yorkshire with all three points, as with the game at Brighouse a few days previous.
A victory in either game would have doubtless secured their Premier Division safety and though the Saturday success for Maltby against Parkgate will have increased everybody’s concerns the drubbing handing out to Lincoln Moorlands by Bridlington at least provides United’s survival options with a ‘Plan B’.
The old adage that things even themselves out during the course of a season is not holding particularly true for United during this campaign as they continue to come up against sides that are in decent form and whilst the opportunity to meet Pickering and Maltby may have seemed straightforward six weeks ago, United now have to face two teams who are experiencing their most profitable run of the season.
Even Hall Road Rangers, United’s final opponents, who couldn’t buy a win ten days ago, have eased their own relegation concerns with victories in their last two games.