United end the year with a defeat

Will Mellors-Blair was a threat throughout the second-half.

Will Mellors-Blair was a threat throughout the second-half.

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Sunday, December 26, 2011

NCEL Premier Division

Long Eaton United 0

Arnold Town 1

During dreary and windy Boxing Day conditions, Long Eaton United slumped to a narrow home defeat against Arnold Town in a game that produced little in the way of memorable incidents.

Having secured an interval lead the visitors seemed content with their advantage and spent long periods of the second-half ensuring that the status quo remained, creating little in the way of opportunities that would increase their lead.

In truth, United saved their best moments for the final quarter of the game and when they were able to find the target they found visiting ‘keeper Martin Kearney in good form.

United again fielded a young starting line-up but once more strike options were limited with Matt Weightman being unavailable due to work commitments.

Consequently, Shaun Rickford featured as a lone striker and United began the contest with a five-man midfield that included Michael Armstrong in a more forward role.

Seventeen-year-old Harry Daykin retained his place in United’s goal following the recent departure of Ross Whalin.

The game’s opening exchanges were littered with misplaced passes as each of the two young sides battled to combat the windy conditions and during the first 15 minutes over-hit balls brought frequent end to any promising build-up play.

On 20 minutes Armstrong found space at the heart of midfield and eluded the attention of two visiting defenders before firing in an awkward wind-assisted effort that Kearney did well to hold on to.

Ten minutes later, following further ineffective approach play from both sides, Arnold grabbed an important lead when the eye-catching Luke Smithson pounced on a rebound off the post to force the ball over the line.

United’s Jacob Webster made a vain effort to prevent the goal but an assistant referee had no hesitation in signalling that the ball had crossed United’s goal-line.

Moments later, a promising United move faltered and Daykin was forced to produce a good save as a swift counter attack resulted in a visiting striker bearing down unchallenged on United’s goal.

There were no further moments of note before the interval arrived and Arnold Town were clearly the happier of the two local rivals.

During a more fluent second period United were marginally the better side but they were unable to find the vital spark that would open the visiting defence.

Will Mellors-Blair was more prominent throughout the second 45 minutes and caused some anxious moments for the visitors and Rickford and Nathan Parker both had well-struck efforts saved by Kearney.

Elliot King was given a late introduction in an effort to boost United’s strike threat and one promising run by the substitute was thwarted as he was closed down by weight of numbers.

Defensively, United’s back line was again in good form, with Dean Whiley and Isaac Marshall snubbing out any Arnold threat in confident fashion.

But the visitors’ solitary first-half strike ensured that the points were surrendered during a game in which United’s overall performance perhaps deserved a point on a drab afternoon at Grange Park that resulted in their fourth 1-0 home loss of the current campaign.

Having concluded their 38th NCEL game of the year against Arnold, it served to highlight United’s attacking options and the impact of scoring so few goals when it is realised that their defence has conceded 15 goals fewer than the next best in the Premier Division during the whole of 2011 - a year in which United have rarely found themselves above the half-way position in their division.

United: Daykin, Webster, Whiley (c), Marshall, Winfield, Mellors-Blair, Armstrong, Hooley (King 71), Parker, Hunter, Rickford.

Next Monday United travel to Staveley Miners Welfare for a league fixture against a side that has only lost one home game to date.