Shire Colt's defensive spirit is enough to earn the points against Broadwalk
SHIRE Colts picked up a precious three points to leapfrog previously unbeaten Broadwalk at the top of Division Two, thanks to goals from Jay Spicer and Star Man Henry Bennett, who capped off a strong and resilient team performance.
Shire started brightly and created the first chance of the game a minute in when Tom Green's long ball from the left fell kindly for Jay Spicer on the edge of the box, but the striker got under the bouncing ball and his effort dropped just over and wide of the goal.
Soon after, Broadwalk created their first attack when Mitchell Sully broke swiftly down the right, cleverly beating two men before looking for Jordon-Lee Walters in the middle, but Luke Bennet had tracked his runner well and beat Walters to the ball clearing it for a throw-in near the corner.
The throw-in was launched deep into the box by Elliesha Ashfield and was flicked towards the far bottom corner by Thomas Morfitis, but Josh Blackman sprang to his right and managed to get a hand on the ball, with his defenders then mopping up and clearing the danger.
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The game then settled down as both sides tried to establish a rhythm and control the play, but both struggled as the match turned into very much a midfield battle, with Josh Bailey for Shire and Christian Ayabaah for Broadwalk both using their height and strength well in the middle of the park.
Halfway through the first half, Shire created their second decent chance of the match when Bailey played a lovely ball into the chest of Dan Whetton, who then moved it left to Ntihemuka, but the winger's poked shot was pushed on to the side netting by Taylor Williams.
After another period of stalemate, Shire took the lead in the 22nd minute. Henry Bennett's whipped free-kick from the left travelled through a crowd of bodies untouched and bounced just in front of Williams, who spilled the ball as he tried to gather it in among a forest of legs, and Spicer was first to react as he fired in the loose ball from close range to make it 1-0.
Two minutes later, the home side could have doubled their lead when, after linking up nicely with Whetton, Spicer poked the ball left to Henry Bennett who, after switching wings with Ntihemuka in order to try and contain the dangerous-looking Sully, fired his shot narrowly wide of the near post.
Shire were not only attacking well, but they were also playing well at the back, Tom Green having to concede a corner in order to prevent Keegan Thorne's lofted ball from the edge of the box from reaching Cody Vile, who was steaming in from the right.
The corner was fired in by Sully and Blackman managed to divert the ball away from his goal only for Morfitis to hook it back goalwards, meaning that the Shire keeper had to once again climb highest and push the ball out of the danger zone for his defenders to clear.
However, the clearance only made it as far as Sully, who fired the ball back through the crowd of bodies from distance, but Blackman was equal to the shot, getting down low and holding onto the ball well.
Just before half-time though, the visitors were dealt a major blow when Shire doubled their lead. A long goal-kick was flicked on to Ntihemuka by Whetton and the little winger pulled off a sublime pass, picking out the run of Henry Bennett down the left and, after catching his marker flat-footed, Bennett took the ball cleanly in his stride at full tilt.
Bennett still had a lot to do as, with Sully on his heels, he burst into the box where from 14 yards out he neatly slotted the ball beyond the onrushing Williams to cap off a superb piece of football.
On the whole, Shire deserved the 2-0 lead they took in to the half-time break as they had not only looked the more threatening going forward, but had also looked very strong at the back with Green, Luke Bennett, Gabe Brown and Danny Conway all defending superbly, while Bailey and Ben Stevens anchored the midfield just in front of them.
Shire started the second half just as brightly as the first, with Spicer again firing narrowly over the bar from just outside the box, but just six minutes into the second period their brilliant defence was finally breached as Broadwalk pulled a goal back.
Reece Morgan found himself in between the Shire midfield and defence from where he smashed a loose, bouncing ball speculatively goalwards from 30 yards out, but it turned out to be a brilliant decision as the powerful shot dipped late and dropped in just under Blackman's bar near the top right corner of the goal, making it 2-1.
A minute later, Broadwalk came within inches of grabbing an equaliser when Sully's whipped corner was bundled goalwards by Lewis Neale, but in the nick of time Bailey just managed to get enough on the effort to prevent it from crossing the line and Luke Bennett then quickly hoofed the ball away before Neale could follow up.
Broadwalk were now really starting to press in search of an equaliser, and Neale came close again a minute later when he deftly flicked Thorne's cross from the left goalwards at the near post, but Blackman reacted well and clung on to the ball.
Shire were really having to dig deep now and defend as a unit as the visitors launched wave after wave of attack, spending almost the whole of the second period camped in the Shire half, but the home defence held strong under the intense pressure and didn't allow the visitors to create any real chances in the final twenty minutes.
So, there was to be no late goalmouth action as the referee blew his whistle to signal the end of the game much to the delight of the Shire fans and players.
On the whole, Shire probably deserved the three points not only for the attacking threat they displayed in the first half, but also for the way they defended and repelled countless Broadwalk attacks in the second half of the game.
Bailey and Ben Stevens in particular had dominated in midfield for Shire with their strong, powerful and ultimately brilliant tackling and ball-winning skills.
And with Henry Bennett pretty much marking the dangerous Sully out of the game after switching wings in the first half, Shire had the standout player of the game who capped his display with a goal.
Shire Colts: Josh Blackman, Luke Bennett, Danny Conway, Tom Green, Ben Stevens, Josh Bailey, Theo Brice, Dan Whetton, Llewellyn Ntihemuka, Henry Bennett, Jay Spicer, Gabe Brown, Ed Stevens
Broadwalk: Jordon-Lee Walters, Taylor Williams, Taylor Morrison, Ross Hopkins, Reece Morgan, Joseph Hendrickson, Sachin Gurung, Christian Ayabaah, Mitchell Sully, Lewis Neale, Keegan Thorne, Ethan Kingdon, Thomas Morfitis, Daniel Clark, Elliesha Ashfield, Cody Vile