Evo-Stik League Division I South: Rainworth 0 Sheffield 0
RAINWORTH keeper Mark Hales’ heroic display preserved a point which enabled them to end a run of three straight defeats
Evo-Stik League Division I South: Rainworth 0 Sheffield 0—by Gordon Foster
RAINWORTH keeper Mark Hales’ heroic display preserved a point which enabled them to end a run of three straight defeats.
Although the Wrens had chances of their own in an entertaining encounter lacking only goals, Sheffield’s were the greater in number and the more clear cut in opportunity.
But Rainworth’s defence was in mean mood to give little away, and when Sheffield did find a way through, they were frustrated by the towering figure of the home keeper who, in one amazing incident, somehow stopped four shots in succession during a scramble in the home six yard box.
It was an important point for Rudy Funk’s side, for a fourth straight defeat in all competitions may have been seen as an early season slump in some quarters.
And Funk was quick to praise the contribution of his defence and goalkeeper.
“It was a hard-earned point against a good side,” he said. “You could see by the way Sheffield played, how they reached the Play-offs last season, and they are clearly a very good side who haven’t quite got going this season yet.
“At times we matched them but at the moment we are drawing on our reserve tanks, and hopefully in the next couple of weeks we will have one or two players back or will have signed one or two more on.
“So I cannot praise the players too much for the way they have earned a point today.
“I’ve seen some good goalkeeping in my time, but today Mark Hales was immense. At one stage he saved four shots on the bounce, and how he got to two of them I will never know.
“But he wasn’t on his own because for many years we have prided ourselves on our defending—forget the aberration at Brigg—and the back players were superb.
“We’ve now got four points from four games which is not a bad start.
“One further thing to mention is the growing number of people who are coming to watch us, and getting behind us.”
Indeed the 165 crowd was better than anything in the league at Kirklington Road last season, and they were treated to a pulsating encounter against the world’s oldest football club.
Chances were traded at both ends in the opening exchanges with Sheffield’s star midfielder Ashley Burbeary a whisker away from opening the scoring in the second minute and, at the other end, Craig Mitchell’s tremendous 20-yard volley just clearing the bar two minutes later after a neat build between Michael Hewitt and Matt Baxter.
Craig Charlesworth, who kept a tight rein on former Alfreton striker Brian Cusworth throughout, got in the way of a Chris Adam volley, and then Jermain Hollis, back at Rainworth after starting the season with Eastwood Town, stretched a leg to deny the busy Burbeary another shot at goal.
Hollis was soon instigating another Rainworth move as the home side showed that they can play football on the deck. Breaking down the right he fed Mitchell whose lay-off Ant Lynam fizzed narrowly wide.
Mitchell was unlucky again when he beat the offside only for Hewitt’s ball over the defence to hit him in the back, but Cusworth wasted a glorious opening for Sheffield. Adam had outpaced Lee Wilkinson on the right and crossed low to the far post where Cusworth only had to touch it in, but the normally prolific striker seemed to be put off as Hollis closed in on him.
Then came that amazing escape in the 32snd minute, with Hales somehow stretching one way and then the other to keep out three successive attempts in a scramble before turning the fourth, from Adam, for a corner.
And the keeper’s first half show had still not finished, for in stoppage time he tipped Burbeary’s goalbound effort away at full stretch after the classy midfielder had interchanged well with Adam Burley.
Two minutes into the restart Hewitt found himself in with a chance to give the Wrens the lead, but he elected to square for Mitchell and the pass was cut out.
Super work by Lynam enabled him to escape the attentions of Sheffield substitute Lee Cooksey and set up Mitchell whose strong shot was well saved by former Sutton Town and Scarborough keeper Leigh Walker, who was then well behind Baxter’s solid shot from distance.
This was Rainworth’s best spell of the match, and Brendan Sweeney, who had his usual fine game in midfield, miscued Lynam’s lay-off wide from a good position.
And when Ryan Carolan—who also enjoyed a very good game—created a half chance for Sweeney the unwitting Burley got in the way of the shot.
But the swingometer swung back Sheffield’s way in the final 10 minutes as they pushed on and forced Rainworth into a rearguard action.
But the closest the visitors came was right on 90 minutes when Hales again tipped Cusworth’s close range header over the bar from Burbeary’s pin-point free kick.
Sheffield forced three successive corners in stoppage time as Rainworth struggled to clear their lines, but the home side held out, and perhaps it would have been an injustice on Hales had that not been the case.
RAINWORTH: Hales, Hollis, Carolan, Wilkinson (Hunt 57), Charlesworth, Draper, Baxter (L. Jackson 62), M. Hewitt, Mitchell, Lynam (Pickess 68), Sweeney. Subs not used: A. Jones, Dobbs.
SHEFFIELD: Walker, Wright, Burley, T. Jones, Lowe, Woodhouse (Cooksey 51), Burbeary, Outram, Cusworth, Adam (Turner 77), Gascoigne (Roney 6). Subs not used: Davis, K. Jackson.
REFEREE: Mark Sutton of Belper.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Mark Hales.