United’s safety hopes still hang by a thread

Long Eaton striker Will Mellors-Blair (right) takes possession at Pickering Town.

Long Eaton striker Will Mellors-Blair (right) takes possession at Pickering Town.

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A DRAW and a defeat over Easter have left Long Eaton United facing a tough battle against relegation in the final games of the season.

NCEL Premier Division

Thackley 1

Long Eaton United 1

Long Eaton United’s painstaking efforts to secure their NCEL Premier Division status were again thwarted after another encouraging performance which saw them lead their Yorkshire hosts for a significant period, yet succumb to a late equaliser for the second time in six days.

In recent weeks United’s youngsters have led in games against a number of the leading sides but have conceded late goals that have left them with little in the way of vital league points.

The game itself again saw United producing a controlled pattern to their approach play and as has been the typical of their performances of the last two months, the back line were once more in good form.

Thackley had much of the early possession but despite some clever build up, they lacked their usual clinical finish and United’s defensive trio of Kial Thurman, Michael Armstrong and Isaac Marshall continued to illustrate their growing comfort at NCEL level.

With the overall balance fairly even, United won successive corners after Will Mellors-Blair had used his pace to unsettle the home side and on 25 minutes United edged ahead when Danny Chambers provided a powerful headed finish that brought un-biased applause from a home crowd, heavily boosted by the attendance of a large number of ‘Ground Hoppers’.

As expected, the home side responded and for most of the remainder of the half United were forced to defend in numbers and Jacob Webster and Shaun Rickford were both prominent in the spoiling style needed to upset the Thackley momentum.

Dom Jones was also impressing with his capacity to forge forward and still defend with equal energy when necessary.

United’s cause was not made easier when Thurman was unable to resume after the break after sustaining a broken toe and Ethan Winfield was called to provide replacement for his colleague for the second successive game.

The home side did control much of the second period but United gave their hosts some moments of concern when they broke forward and on two occasions Mellors-Blair almost carved out openings.

Unfortunately, as has been typical of United’s season, a second goal which would have provided much-needed comfort failed to emerge and the pressure imposed by Thackley resulted in an error, resulting in a late equaliser by John Mallinson.

Thackley continued to press as the game concluded and when earlier hopes of all three points were uppermost, the final whistle came with not a little relief as United held on to at least take something from another awkward fixture.

United: Webb, Armstrong, Thurman (Winfield 45, Gardner 82) Marshall, Warman, Jones, Webster, Hooley, Rickford, Mellors-Blair, Chambers

Monday, April 9, 2012

NCEL Premier Division

Pickering Town 2

Long Eaton United 0

Long Eaton United made the longest trip of their NCEL season when they travelled to Pickering on Easter Monday to fulfil another awkward fixture in what has been a difficult campaign for the young side from Grange Park.

Having battled manfully against one of the most in-form sides in the NCEL they conceded after 59 minutes and as they pushed forward in search of an equaliser they were caught short in the final minute when the home side added a second.

During a contest in which United defender Michael Armstrong became the youngest player in the club’s history to register 50 first-team starts, Pickering enjoyed control for most of the first period but were unable to find the clinical edge that would give them an advantage at the interval.

In the second-half, United were again under pressure for long periods and just at the point when they seemed to be breaking free from the shackles imposed on them by the clever movement of the home side, they allowed a cross from the right to elude their attentions and Tom Fenwick had the easy task of giving his side the lead close to the hour mark.

The goal inspired United to produce their best phase of the game but despite their willingness to press forward in numbers there were few clear cut opportunities created.

In the closing moments, Pickering’s leading scorer Carl Stewart benefited from United’s efforts to retrieve a vital point and scored his team’s second with some ease.

As the situation at the bottom of the NCEL Premier Division becomes more fraught, the simple equation is such that if Maltby Main, who are now on a very good run at the critical time, secure six points from their remaining three games, Lincoln Moorlands find the strength to take four points from their last three matches and United suffer the unthinkable by losing their final two fixtures, they will be in the bottom two at season’s end.

United: Webb, Armstrong, Marshall, Warman, Jones, Webster, Hooley (King 64), Hunter. Weightman (Wiggins 75), Rickford (Gardner 87), Mellors-Blair

l United are now out of action until Saturday, April 21 when they face the important Grange Park fixture with Maltby Main.