After three promising performances against Brighouse Town, Bridlington and Barton Town, which all ended in 2-1 defeats, United entertained lowly Lincoln Moorlands on Saturday and in an important basement encounter they produced a low-key display that resulted in yet another 2-1 defeat.
Moorlands arrived at Grange Park in as equally poor form as United and had not won a league fixture on the road in their previous fourteen games. United themselves had only recorded one success in fourteen NCEL matches prior to the meeting with Moorlands and both teams were in desperate need of a victory to ease their lingering relegation concerns.
United began the game with a five man midfield, ensuring Shaun Rickford
ploughed a lone furrow in a solitary strike role and Will Mellors-Blair was consigned to the substitute’s bench after appearing in the previous two games against Bridlington and Barton Town. Kial Thurman also returned to the centre of United’s defence after being unavailable in midweek.
The visitors began the game the more cautious of the two struggling sides and United pressed with some conviction in the early stages, though no clear-cut opening were carved out. Jimmy Hunter
was prominent in the centre of midfield as United made efforts to get the ball out to the flanks though invariably their progress stalled as passes went astray.
tried his luck from distance but his effort was safely gathered and Rickford was closed down on more than one occasion as he battled to give his side an edge.
The visitors began to become more of an attacking threat midway through the half, just as United’s frustrations at their own lack of progress began to manifest.
After a couple of scares in the United goalmouth, Moorlands were awarded a penalty after Thurman was adjudged to have upended Danny Hargreaves and despite protestations in the home ranks Luke Forbes stepped up to send Scott Webb the wrong way and edge the visitors ahead.
Shortly afterwards, Armstrong diverted a cross from the right into his own net but to the relief of United’s young defender, the goal was ruled out due to an offside decision, which was considered fortunate by some.
Dom Jones, United’s most effective player in the first half, had two good attempts to get his team back into the game but Moorlands deservedly doubled their advantage moments before the break when Ben Garrick was given too much time in the box as he latched onto a headed pass from Ben Good to fire past Webb with some efficiency.
After the interval, Mellors-Blair replaced Andy Rhodes to take up a role on the wide left and Jones dropped back to fill the left back position vacated by Rhodes.
Though United were a little more effective in the second half, the visitors almost increased their lead after fifty-eight minutes when Garrick rattled the crossbar after the ball had ricocheted around the penalty area.
Mellors-Blair began to cause some concern with his pace in the visitor rearguard and after sixty-three minutes he got between two defenders to strike the ball past the advancing Craig Turner with a degree of style and give his team some hope.
Despite periods of pressure, and a rising expectation amongst the Grange Park faithful that their team could draw level, the much needed penetration was lacking and the visitors coped successfully with United’s efforts.
In the dying seconds, United ‘keeper Webb advanced forward and crashed a shot goal-wards, bringing appeals for a penalty as his effort struck a defender but the referee turned away and brought proceedings to an immediate end.
Defeat for United in their final home game against Maltby Main next month will result in equalling the club’s poorest ever home record, though the importance of the fixture against Maltby, who are currently second from bottom of the Premier Division, may have even more significance as their final three fixtures see them meet the other sides in the bottom four places of the NCEL.
Long Eaton United: Webb, Armstrong, Thurman, Marshall, Rhodes (Mellors-Blair 45), Webster, Hunter, Hancock (Hooley 62), Jones, Weightman (Warman 60). Rickford