Clipstone are homing in on the Toolstation NCEL Division One title after a superb 3-0 away win at Hall Road Rangers last night.
A magnificent display in the first half and a lesson given on how to defend in the second half were both produced in what could prove to be the pivotal game of the season.
In the run up to last night’s match at a spirited Hall Road, Clipstone were in third position, five points behind leaders Pontefract Colleries with two games in hand, and two points behind second placed AFC Emley, also with two games in hand.
With AFC Emley losing away at Hallam, this win means Clipstone have moved up to second place, now just two points behind Pontefract with a game in hand, and ahead of Emley by just one point with still two games in hand,
The first half started as it finished at 100mph, both sides eager to show the other that whoever was going to take the three points on offer were going to have to earn them.
On seven minutes Clipstone won the first corner of the game over on the left. Matt Austin swung the ball in, but on this occasion placed it too close to the home keeper Mark Wain, who collected the ball safely in his hands.
It was not long before Hall Road were making inroads towards the Clipstone goal themselves.
A cross in from Andy Harrison from the left found Sam O’Mally only a few yards out from goal, Clipstone keeper Nick Siddons showing why he is one of the best keepers at this level with a tremendous point blank save.
Ash Rawson found himself out wide on the left and was clipped from behind.
Austin clipped the free kick onto the penalty spot area, only half cleared by the home defenders, the ball falling to Tom Robley who hit his shot slightly off balance, and the ball went high over the crossbar.
On 20 minutes Luke Thomas was unfortunate as his 20 yard run and shot was deflected out for another Clipstone corner.
This time Austin got his bearings right from the set piece, causing all sorts of problems inside the home side’s area.
The game suddenly looking more like a pinball machine, but the defenders cleared their lines at the fourth time of asking.
Clipstone were feeling more confident as the game went on and on 24 minutes Callum Mawby found the ball out wide.
He laid it off to Jamie Smith who, with his back to goal and 20 yards out, cut inside and fired a shot towards the keepers’ right. The only thing the keeper could do was clutch at thin air, as the ball swept beyond him and the Cobras were one goal to the good.
Just three minutes later Rawson put a high ball into the area to test the home defenders once again. Mawby jumped up with Paul Wilson, and seemed to go down under heavy challenge. The referee was having none of it and dismissed away the claims for a penalty, Mawby receiving the first caution of the game for showing his frustrations to the referee.
All the attacking play was with Clipstone now. On 32 minutes Matty Ord was tripped just outside the D to gain yet another free kick for Clipstone.
Jamie Smith fancied this one, and made the keeper save well down to his left, as Smith drove the ball underneath the wall.
Great team work on the 40 minute mark involved Rawson, Rob Paling and Smith, who cheekily put a through ball with a back heel for Mawby to chase, Mawby hitting a half volley at full pace across the keeper and into the right hand corner of the net, to double Clipstone’s advantage.
Hall Road were playing the offside trap as often as they could, but not very efficiently, which proved costly on 42 minutes.
Ord latched on to Austin’s through ball and, with the home side standing still asking for an offside decision, the assistant on the near wing was right in line and let play roll on. Ord coped well with the bobbly surface at Dene Park, placing the ball beyond the keeper and giving Clipstone a 3-0 lead to go into the break with.
The second half was a hard-fought affair. The home side re-grouped after the interval, and set their stall out to compete. Most of the play was between both penalty areas, with neither team finding that key pass to unlock either defence.
The second period was interrupted by substitutions, Luke Thomas came off as a precaution on 53 minutes after picking up a knock. He was replaced by Blake Owen, Hall Road Rangers also taking advantage to freshen up some weary legs.
On 75 minutes Siddons was at his very best again with a flying save to the top right corner of goal as he tipped over Kris Churchill’s effort.
On 80 minutes Owen announced himself to the game as he battled well on the far right corner to win the ball and get a great cross in, which deceived everyone, and bounced onto the crossbar, and went out for a throw in.
Clipstone won the ball straight back from that throw in and Mawby passed to Ord on the left edge of the area.
He played the ball across the edge of the area to Rawson who, with a terrific drive at goal, hit the post, the ball rebounding back into play, which the home defenders hoofed clear.
COBRAS MAN OF THE MATCH: Nick Siddons.