Another victory, another clean sheet and another step towards promotion. That was the straightforward verdict on AFC Mansfield’s 1-0 success at Knaresborough Town on Saturday in the first leg of an Easter weekend double-header.
A single goal in the 20th minute by Rayn Williams was enough to beat a Yorkshire outfit who began the day in ninth in the Toolstation Northern Counties East League, First Division table. And coupled with a fourth defensive shutout in five games, the Bulls remained second ahead of a trip to Hull to meet Hall Road Rangers on Easter Monday, to be followed by just five more games as they look to clinch a place in the league’s top flight.
On paper, the Knaresborough fixture was identified as the the most difficult of the season’s run-in. But manager Rudy Funk named an unchanged starting 11 for the fifth game in a row, and his side responded with a solid, professional performance.
With a blustery wind at their backs, they spent most of the first period in the hosts’ half and made the all-important breakthrough when Phil Buxton turned his marker and found Craig Mitchell. He rolled the ball into the path of Williams, who took a touch before hitting a low drive from the edge of the box that beat fully stretched ‘keeper Jack Rushworth.
The rest of the half was scrappy, with AFC Mansfield failing to bag that crucial second goal. But despite having to contend with the wind in the second period, they survived, with centre-backs Grant Allott and skipper Chris Timons in commanding form.
One mix-up gifted Brad Walker the chance to round ‘keeper Jason White, but full-back Rob Paling got back to cover. In fact, the Bulls went close to doubling the lead as Allott somehow fired wide in the six-yard box and Ryan Williams’s glancing header was pushed wide.
AFC MANSFIELD LINE-UP -- White/ Paling, Jeffs, Allott, Timons, Naylor, Williams R., Buxton (Park 65), Patterson, Mitchell, Ghaichem (Williams D. 57). SUBS NOT USED: O’Malley, Annable, Spencer.