Dramatic finish sees United secure safety

Long Eaton United striker Will Mellors-Blair (left) scores the equaliser for Long Eaton United against Maltby Main on Saturday. They went on to win 2-1 thanks to a last minute goal.
Long Eaton United striker Will Mellors-Blair (left) scores the equaliser for Long Eaton United against Maltby Main on Saturday. They went on to win 2-1 thanks to a last minute goal.

Long Eaton United’s arduous season finally had a moment of cheer on Saturday when they overcame Maltby Main in dramatic circumstances at Grange Park.

NCEL Premier Division

Long Eaton United 2

Maltby Main 1

Long Eaton United’s arduous season finally had a moment of cheer on Saturday when they overcame Maltby Main in dramatic circumstances at Grange Park.

And the win ensured they will again be playing Premier Division football in the Northern Counties East League next season.

Victory in the final minute of the game had hardly seemed likely after Maltby had stolen the first-half advantage and it wasn’t until the 80th minute that United were even on terms with their visitors.

Maltby arrived at Grange Park on the back of a six match unbeaten run that had seen them create a realistic chance of surviving the drop after appearing doomed barely a month ago.

In contrast, United had only gained a single victory in their previous 20 games despite producing a number of improving performances of late.

Defeat against Maltby would have meant they would be involved in a last-day struggle to avoid relegation.

Understandably, the early exchanges were somewhat tentative but it was United who got into their stride the soonest with Will Mellors-Blair and Dominic Jones both prominent on United’s left side.

Shaun Rickford and Jacob Webster both appeared in combative mood in United’s midfield and they each helped to set up long range efforts from Michael Armstrong and Mellors-Blair that tested the visiting ‘keeper Andy Carney.

After 26 minutes hesitancy in the Maltby rearguard resulted in Elliott King closing down Carney and the keeper’s desperate clearance ricocheted off the United striker and deflected inches past the post.

Ironically, just as United appeared to be gaining greater control, the visitors edged ahead after 30 minutes in fairly simple fashion.

A long throw-in was not dealt with effectively and Lee Whittington was on hand to divert the ball past ‘keeper Scott Webb from close range before any blue-shirted defender was able to react.

The goal was a hammer-blow to United’s hopes and in light of their home form it produced an uneasy atmosphere around Grange Park and despite Armstrong and Jones having further efforts the interval arrived with the situation remaining bleak for United.

The second-half became even more edgy and consequently the overall pattern was scrappy at times.

After 60 minutes United’s position could have become even more desperate when Kial Thurman deflected a cross from the right past his own ‘keeper. To the relief of the home contingent the goal was ruled out after the assistant referee spotted a push on Thurman.

After missing the two previous games, Blaine Hancock was introduced late in the contest and it was his cross from the right that led to United’s equaliser. Carney misjudged the flight of the ball and Mellors-Blair was alert to the situation and took the opportunity.

As United pressed during the latter stages there was obvious tension in the ranks, resulting in Isaac Marshall, Jones and Thurman all producing desperate interventions as the game drew to a close.

But in a blessed twist to United’s struggles, the afternoon was completed when Jimmy Hunter rifled home a low strike in the dying moments of the game following a low cross Jones.

After conceding so many points following late goals themselves, Hunter’s sweet winner provided wild celebration from players, management and supporters alike that clearly illustrated the overall relief felt by those with the club at heart.

United: Webb, Armstrong, Marshall, Thurman, Warman (Hancock 77), Jones, Webster, Hunter. Rickford, Mellors-Blair, King (Taylor-Gardner 67)

United conclude their season at Hull-based Hall Road Rangers on Saturday.