Wrens go top after smash and grab victory
GRANTHAM Town’s South Kesteven Stadium, with its running track separating the spectators from the pitch, may not be everyone’s idea of their favourite football ground.
But anyone from Rainworth will have other ideas after the Wrens came away from Tuesday night’s visit with their second victory at the venue in five months.
Ugly, and smash and grab, it may have been, but the three points gained meant that, maybe for only 24 hours, Rainworth and their fans could savour the sight of the league table with the Wrens perched on top, in their highest ever league placing within the Pyramid.
Last season Welfare won 3-1 at Grantham despite the Gingerbreads having the lion’s share of the play.
This time it was even more one-sided, as over-worked goalkeeper Gavin Saxby and his heroic defenders somehow kept a clean sheet in the face of a 90-minute onslaught by a home side which became in equal measure increasingly determined but frustrated.
However, winning football matches is not just about having the greater territorial advantage, and on the night the Wrens’ defending frankly outperformed the Town attacking, so much so that Craig Mitchell’s 17th minute goal on the counter-attack was enough to break home hearts.
Managers Lee Wilkinson and Billy Millar had selected a side to do a job, and even if their plans did not entirely come off at the front end they could have no complaints at the performance at the back.
Yes, Rainworth were inclined to sit too deeply and defend in too great numbers as they shut out the home side, meaning that there was little outlet and, as fast as the ball was cleared, back it came putting them under more pressure. But fortunately they were strong enough to sustain and resist that pressure.
The whole evening made choosing the man of the match invidious, and arguments among the sizeable away following raged afterwards as to who deserved the honour.
Any one of the back four could have taken it. Left back Joe Carter had his hands full dealing with the dangerous overlapping runs of Sam Purcicoe who took the home accolade, yet Carter rarely came off second best. Meanwhile Cameron Fearon at right back, and Chris Timons and Steve Kennedy in the middle were individually and collectively immense, and when the home side did find a way through there was always the imposing figure of Saxby in the way.
Grantham were on the front foot from the first whistle and the opening five minutes gave an accurate indication of what was to follow.
In that time home skipper Ben Saunders’ head just failed to connect with a Sam Purcicoe angled cross at the far post, and Sam Saunders stabbed over from close range following a free kick into the box.
Meanwhile Loughborough referee Andy Newbold was unimpressed by Ben Saunders’ too easy fall in the penalty area, the first of at least half a dozen occasions when the home fans appealed more in hope than expectation for a spot kick.
It was already clear that Rainworth would have to rely on breakaways, but the Wrens did come a little more into the game around the 15-minute mark for a short spell, and home defender Alistair Asher might well have seen red instead of yellow when, as last defender, he upended Mitchell on the edge of the box—the referee thereby contriving to upset the away fans too by allowing the former Stags defender to remain on the field.
Two minutes later, though, Mitchell extracted his revenge when Sean Cann escaped on the left and, as home keeper Rob Murray left his goal, the ex-Grantham striker slipped the ball inside for Mitchell, whose flick seemed to take for ever to roll into the net.
Grantham continued to press in a bid to undo the damage and, after Kennedy had stopped Ben Saunders with a superb challenge, the home skipper for once robbed Fearon and brought a brilliant diving save out of Saxby to his right.
Shortly before half time Mitchell headed straight at Murray when another rare chance came Rainworth’s way, and Joe Ward sliced wide when Ian Clarke and Mitchell combined to set him up with a half-chance.
In between, Saxby again did well, coming out quickly and positively to hold Purcicoe’s accurate delivery into the area at Sam Saunders’ feet.
The second half brought no change to the pattern as Rainworth continued to deal admirably with sustained home pressure. Saxby was down well to save from Rhys Lewis early on and Clarke did well to force Jamie McGhee wide, the home forward firing over from a tight angle.
Ben Saunders went close with a vicious 23-yard drive in the 62nd minute, and when Carter was penalised for a foul on the right edge of the area Saxby tipped away Asher’s probing free kick and then dealt similarly with the resulting corner.
The home side sacrificed defender Martin Ball for forward Rob Norris in the 65th minute, and thought they had equalised five minutes later when Ben Saunders sidefooted home Niall O’Rafferty’s cross but an alert assistant referee had spotted the offside and it was ruled out, heaping more frustration on the home side.
Kyle Gee-Pemberton replaced the injured Sean Cann in the 76th minute and immediately won a corner, but with Grantham increasingly turning the screw on the visitors Fearon threw his body in the way to block a shot from Ben Saunders, Lee Potts’ volley rebounded to safety off Clarke, and when another Potts cross was headed wide Mr Newbold mysteriously awarded a corner which Saxby again tipped aside for a second flag kick which Fearon headed clear.
Two minutes from the end of the 90 Saxby pulled off an amazing double save to deny first Lewis and then Ben Saunders.
But in the first minute of stoppage time Mitchell really should have made the points safe for Rainworth. However, given a dolly of a chance by Lavell White’s good work on the right, the striker somehow contrived to sidefoot over the bar.
It meant that Rainworth faced a further five anxious minutes of added time, brought about to some extent, it must be said, by their own blatant time wasting midway through the half.
And, during those added minutes, Ben Saunders miscued a header from Potts’ cross while Fearon headed Lewis’ cross shot off the line right at the death to preserve the win.
GRANTHAM: Murray, Purcicoe, Potts, Asher, Ball (Norris 65),Watt, Lewis, S. Saunders, McGhee, B. Saunders, O’Rafferty. Subs not used: Carchedi, Brindley, Maddison, Glass.
RAINWORTH: Saxby, Fearon, Carter, Timons, Kennedy, Ward, White, Clarke, Cann (Gee-Pemberton 76), Mitchell, Hanson. Subs not used: Cooksey, Briggs, Jones, Wood.
REFEREE: Andy Newbold of Loughborough.
GOAL: Rainworth—Mitchell 17.
MEN OF THE MATCH: Grantham—Sam Purcicoe; Rainworth and overall—Gavin Saxby.