United began their new season with a well deserved success at Armthorpe Welfare after recovering from a first half setback that saw them surprisingly trail at the interval.
New signings Mark Littlewood
and Jordan Hunter
made their full debuts in United’s re-shaped back line and Cameron Martin led the line after a prolific scoring season with Belper Town Reserves last season. Veteran Scott Miles was drafted in to fill the goal-keeping role in the absence of Scott Webb.
United ended a difficult season last time round with two victories that ensured they ended their NCEL season in 15th place, during which their opponents on Saturday had completed the double over United.
In decent conditions, it was the home side that found themselves under the most significant early pressure as United’s midfield were displaying an obvious desire to get their campaign off to a profitable start. Blaine Hancock
and Michael Armstrong
were both prominent and Jacob Webster
, Shaun Rickford
and Martin all had chances that perhaps should have edged their team ahead.
When the home side were able to make inroads into United’s half the combined efforts of Jordan Hunter
, Dom Jones and Littlewood ensured their efforts were broken down. In particular, Kial Thurman appeared to be in total control on the right hand side of United’s rearguard.
Despite United appearing to be the most likely of the two sides to prosper, it was Armthorpe who were able to take the lead when a break down the right led to Andrew Allott heading a low cross past Miles during a moment of defensive hesitancy.
A superb move involving Armstrong and Jimmy Hunter
immediately before the interval failed to bring reward and a bemused Mick Galloway followed his team into the dressing room after the first forty-five minutes.
Whatever was said during the break appeared to have the desired effect as United were soon in command in all areas, producing some very good football in the process.
Hancock retained possession well on the edge of the Armthorpe area but his shot was blocked and on a rare break out of defence moments later Miles produced a good save to keep out the home side.
United’s pressure brought warranted reward after fifty-three minutes when last season’s leading scorer Rickford rose to deflect his header into the Armthorpe net, despite of the close attentions of a clutch of home defenders.
As United continued to dominate, the home side were in danger of capitulating completely and a free-kick from Jones on sixty-two minutes saw the ball meet the diving head of Martin and elude the outstretched reach of Will Biggs in the Armthorpe goal.
The outstanding strike was a just return for United’s new target man and the nature of the celebrations from his team-mates bore testimony to the value of his hard running.
A further free-kick from Hancock almost increased United’s advantage and Rickford, Martin and substitute Elliot King
nearly added to the home side’s misery. ‘Keeper Miles made another late save of note and Thurman and Armstrong completed the ninety minutes as the star turns in an encouraging start to the season, resulting in United winning the opening game for the first time in four seasons.
The only cautionary note, on a pleasing afternoon, was the realisation that United’s hosts could themselves be facing a difficult season on the display they provided at their Welfare Road ground. More difficult obstacles surely lie ahead for United in the coming weeks.
Tuesday evening sees United face a difficult opening home fixture against Staveley Miners Welfare and on Saturday they entertain Dunkirk at Grange Park in an FA Cup extra preliminary round encounter
Long Eaton United Team: Scott Miles, Kial Thurman, Jordan Hunter
, Mark Littlewood
, Dominic Jones, Jimmy Hunter
, Michael Armstrong
, Jacob Webster
, Blaine Hancock
, Shaun Rickford
, Cameron Martin.
Subs: Kelvin Mushambi (Webster 57), Elliot King
The most encouraging feature of the game against Armthorpe was the recovery after falling behind to a poor goal, especially after dominating the early stages. In the more recent past, heads may have gone down and the confidence in the team’s ability to turn the game around may not have emerged.
As was apparent in many games during the final third of last season, chances continue to be created. The difference on Saturday was that there seemed to be a belief that victory was attainable and three straight wins, albeit spread across the end of one season and the start of another. has been a rare sequence in recent times.
United’s squad still has a threadbare look to it but the core of the side is based a group of young players who have been with the club for some years and who are now beginning to appreciate their own ability to play comfortably at NCEL level.
As they continue to develop, and perform effectively, their realisation that they are becoming experienced players will only enhance both themselves and the club. so long as their performance levels are acceptable.
Tuesday’s game against Staveley will perhaps be a much stiffer task than the last three games against Maltby, Hall Road and Armthorpe. Games in which the majority of the current squad were involved in.