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MATCH REPORT: Mangotsfield United 1 Salisbury 3

Mangotsfield United 1 Salisbury FC 3
Evo-stik Southern League South and West Division
Saturday 15 April 2017

By Alec Hayter 

From my seat I saw the well-known pointed steeple of the local church, or, was it a mirage!? Why a mirage? Well in front of me and marked out with white lines was a pitch which had seen even less water than the Sahara Desert, or so it seemed. The surface was, to say the least, difficult. The Whites overcame that and a Mangotsfield side who until recently had been vying for a place in the play-offs, and it was easy to see why any team visiting Cossham Street would find it difficult.

After the game Steve Claridge commented: "Pitches are getting worse away from home but today this was a totally professional performance, and we are now looking very strong. I was pleased that, having conceded an equaliser just before the interval, we didn’t let that get to us and took the points.”

For the first 15 minutes however Mangotsfield had the majority of possession and early on Matt Groves cut in from the right but saw his shot deflected for a corner, from which Scott Brice put his header wide.

The Whites were stung into action and on 18 minutes thought they had the lead when Justin Bennett turned and netted, only to see the assistant's flag rule out the effort. Six minutes later Taurean Roberts cut in but his shot hardly troubled keeper Steven Phillips and on the half-hour, in spite of the balance of play moving towards Salisbury, the Mangos had another opportunity. Groves crossed and Dale Evans' contact sent the ball downwards before it reared up from the rock hard surface to force Alex Bass to touch it over to safety.

Minutes later, in the home side’s most effective spell of the whole game, the Whites could have gone behind to a bizarre goal. A Mangotsfield corner saw Elliot Wheeler, in trying to head away, loop the clearance towards his own goal, but his blushes were spared by Lewis Benson’s goal-line clearance.

Just after my notes had been embellished with the comment “Salisbury 70% Mangotsfield 30%” in terms of possession, the Whites obliged with the opening goal.

Tom Whelan, who now holds the record as the first player to make 100 appearances for Salisbury FC, has not taken that long I’m sure to learn how to deliver a trademark corner, and he duly obliged with an arrow-like delivery into the danger area where Kane O'Keefe and George Colson got touches, the ball landing at the feet of Tommy Wright. There was only going to be one outcome and Wright nearly burst the net to make it 1-0.

On 38 minutes another Whelan corner found O'Keefe at the near post but he disappointingly headed wide from close in, and two minutes later Lewis Benson chipped the ball forward to Wright who nearly pulled off that most difficult of skills with the ball arriving over the shoulder followed by a volley towards goal. Wright did the first bit okay but unfortunately the ball went over the bar. It would have been a spectacular strike had he succeeded.

Out of the blue, and by that time also very much against run of play, Mangotsfield snatched an equaliser when a looping freekick from their left touchline saw Ryan Batten bundle the ball home in amongst Salisbury central defenders. I'm not sure he knew a lot about it but that’s of no consequence as his side had grabbed an equaliser at an important time, but the at the worst time for the Whites.

It did not take long to see the Salisbury’s positive reaction and, with the wind now in their backs, they began to camp in the Mangotsfield half. My notes again echoed my thoughts – “they’re on a mission” - and three minutes into the second period Benson worked his way to the bye-line, but instead of pulling the ball back decided to finish the job himself with Phillips conceding a corner. Nothing came of that but on 53 minutes Benson was again effective with a free kick which found Wright, with his back to goal. He got a touch on the ball which looped just wide of the upright, and we were entering a period when my notes reflected "it's now all Salisbury".

On 54 minutes Roberts showed his trickery once more delivering a great cross into the box where Justin Bennett appeared to miss an easy header, but the ball was slightly behind him, making things more difficult. The home side were under pressure, and to complete his hat-trick of probing and effective actions in quick succession, Benson sent in a teasing diagonal cross. Conor MacCormack, in attempting to head clear, could only beat his own keeper, and the Whites were ahead for the second time in the match.

A lead in fortuitous circumstances maybe, but by that time it was a wonder that Salisbury had not scored anyway. Suffice it to say that apart from one breakaway where Lewis Powell was through, there was no further danger or threat to the Salisbury goal. Powell became the victim of the hard surface as the ball reared up and he handled. The Assistant Referee raised his flag but I have some sympathy with those who thought “ball to hand”. Had he scored it would have evened things up but with Salisbury in control, that would probably have had little, if any, effect on the result.

On 68 minutes Roberts again crossed and Bennett was guilty of missing a good opportunity, heading wide under pressure from a Mangos defender. Not to be outdone, two minutes later Wright had a great chance close in but fluffed his finish, allowing a relieved Phillips to gather.

In order to put that right the striker then worked his way to the byeline and pulled back an inviting ball across the box but O'Keefe's attempt was blocked out for a corner, and as the Whites came forward yet again Bennett tried a snapshot from 25 yards which shaved the upright.

It seemed inevitable that Salisbury would score again and they did so with on 78 minutes after a Benson corner caused chaos in the box, Bennett taking the opportunity to belt the loose ball in to make it 3-1, and make the game safe.

In spite of that the Whites still continued to press and on 87 minutes Wright saw a firm 22 yard drive go straight at Phillips. By this time Jesse Waller Lassen had joined the action and had been immediately impressive, nearly capping a fine if short appearance with a rasping shot on 90 minutes which brought the best from Phillips.

Shortly after Mangotsfield's Conor McCormack was dismissed for a second yellow card (at a time when it made no difference whatsoever to anyone), Colson also let fly with a 30 yard rocket which beat Phillips but unfortunately missed by a whisker. (Sorry George, but you did score on Tuesday night against Amesbury!)

This match was a difficult challenge and the Whites rose magnificently to the occasion, with some home supporters and officials indicating what we already knew – that Salisbury were the better side and had thoroughly deserved the points.

So with one difficult Bank Holiday game behind us there is an equally difficult local derby on Monday against Wimborne Town. Although they surprisingly went down 3-0 at home to Yate Town in the first of their holiday matches, don't be fooled - they will be no pushovers.

To some extent, success or otherwise in remaining matches depends not only on the players, but also on your support. Everything is set up for a grandstand finish to the season, and for the last scheduled home game of the campaign is there any reason why we should not get near the 1800 attendance against Hereford? Also we ought to be able to bank on a similar turnout for any home playoff tie.

To that end, husbands are advised to offer their wives their credit card to go on an unlimited shopping spree, (ensuring of course that the card’s expiry date has passed!), so that they themselves are freed to come to the Ray Mac, and bring their friends with them, for what promises to be an exciting tussle – the right result enhancing our chances in the play-offs.

Mangotsfield United: Phillips, Withey, McCormack, Batten, Brice, Warren, Evans (Tippins 67), Hogg, Monelle, (Hillard 75) Powell, Groves (Powell Jr 73).
Sub not used: Lloyd.

Salisbury FC: Bass, Colson, Perrett, Whelan, Dutton, Wheeler, Benson, O'Keefe (Clarke 80), Wright (Waller Lassen 79), Bennett (Onoufriou 78), Roberts.
Subs not used: Herbert, Ball.

Attendance: 325                               Referee: C Simpson (Crawley)