Well, what a cracking advert for Friday Night Football this turned out to be!
The fixture – re-arranged to accommodate a long-standing commitment to a charity event – pulsated from start to finish – and what a finish it was for Manor Farm! Owen Howe’s 87th minute strike sealed the three points for the home side and the Farmy Army fans lifted the lid off an electric, pressure-cooker atmosphere in wild celebration.
The passionate atmosphere was reflected by the passion shown by both teams on the pitch and the game was played for an hour with ten men on each side following a double sending off in the 33rd minute.
Evesham United came into the game in fourth place in the division table and in good play-off form – and it showed, during a good lively opening by the visitors.
Evesham’s early pressure was rewarded with the award of a penalty kick during the sixth minute of the game. Farm keeper Ben John was shown a yellow card by the referee for clipping an attacker’s heels after coming out to dive low and palm the ball from feet in a challenge just inside the penalty box. The home side and most of the crowd breathed a collective sigh of relief, however, as the resultant spot-kick was hit hard but high – the ball clipping the crossbar and flying away into the car park. Still nil-nil.
Ben John then saw a sweetly-hit volley by Liam Harding fly over the crossbar too in a Manor Farm penalty area under intense pressure following a Will Tunnicliff corner.
Manor Farm now began to assert themselves into the game with Jack Durrant leading the way in a well-contested midfield battle and John Lock and Kai Fisher beginning to restrict the danger in defence.
An Ashley Kington free-kick hit into the box caused problems for Evesham, but they managed to clear their lines. Nick Hancock then challenged Farm’s dangerous young winger Jamie Bird in the box, but penalty appeals were waved away.
Evesham’s Kye Simpson – one of three brothers playing in the game – then flashed a header just wide on 18 minutes.
Two minutes later Ashley Kington threaded a great ball wide for Jordan Metters but Metters’ cross was headed clear by full-back Nick Hancock.
It was just past the half-hour mark, with the hard-fought battle for midfield supremacy at it’s fullest height, when the incident occurred that led to the sending-offs.
Jack Durrant became entangled with his opponent on the ground following a particularly robust challenge and the needless 22-man melee that followed was always going to have consequences. When calmer heads prevailed and the dust finally settled two minutes later after a lengthy inquisition between the referee and her assistant, both John Lock for the Farm and Archie Haskayne for the visitors were given their marching orders.
Now the game became understandably less constricted and space began to open up for both sides going forward. Shots flew wide or over, great defensive blocks were made and both sides forced corners as the space down both flanks was exploited with balls played in behind.
Manor Farm’s Lloyd Mills came close with a header from a corner ten minutes before the break but Robins’ keeper Andrew Hannah saved well from the big midfielder now playing at centre-half since Lock’s dismissal.
In the 42nd minute of the first half Manor Farm crucially took the lead when Jordan Metters played a nice ball through for Owen Howe. The Farm skipper and striker duly unleashed a powerful right-foot strike from 25 yards that flew past Hannah into the net, sending his side into the dressing rooms with their noses in front and their tails well-up.
Six minutes after the restart a fizzer from the edge of the box by Jamie Bird was well-gathered by Hannah.
Five minutes later Ben John produced a great point-blank save from Kye Simpson to maintain the Manor Farm lead but moments after that he could do nothing about the Evesham equaliser that was hit with great power and accuracy from 25 yards out by Kye’s brother Cory. 1-1…
Manor Farm responded well to the temporary setback. A minute later Owen Howe brought the ball down with an exquisite first touch before hitting a fine shot that was very well saved by Hannah in the Evesham goal and a Jordan Metters volley was again denied by Hannah sixty seconds later.
Just past the hour mark Cory Simpson’s low cross was sliced away over his own crossbar by Aron Robbins for a corner whilst up the other end Jamie Bird cut inside smartly from the left to send a low drive goalwards that Hannah did well to get down to and tip away at his right hand post.
Bird bustled forward once again in the 73rd minute but shot straight at Hannah with better options either side of him. The Farm number 11 then played a sweet back-heel into the path of Aron Robbins over-lapping run from left back but Robins – enjoying perhaps his best game of the season – sent his shot over the bar from a tough angle.
Farm boss Lee Lashenko might have been forgiven for shutting up shop and accepting what would have been a good point on the face of it at this stage of the game considering Evesham’s play-off position and his own sides recent frustrating mis-fortunes. Not a bit of it. The Farm manager showed great faith in his players and made his substitutions with a clear attacking mind for which he should be applauded.
When Troy Simpson came off the Manor Farm bench to replace Jordan Metters in the 74th minute, the Simpson brothers triumvirate was complete and it was Troy that almost stole the show with a great marauding run through the centre after a neat one-two but the Farm striker couldn’t get quite enough power on the ball as he stretched to beat Hannah who was able to gather easily.
A half-chance for Robbins from an even tighter angle with ten minutes left to play only found the side-netting and substitute Chas Hemmings (on for Jamie Bird) was soon in the thick of the action – heading on for Owen Howe who put the ball away well but was ruled offside and the goal was disallowed.
With time ticking away and just three minutes of normal time still to play the atmosphere in the crowd grew to a triumphant crescendo when Owen Howe ran through onto a decisive headed flick-on by Troy Simpson and rifled the ball past Hannah with aplomb. The home crowd erupted amid great scenes of celebration between players and fans.
For putting on such a great display of football both sides were warmly applauded from the pitch at the final whistle which sounded just minutes after Howe’s electrifying winner. Both sets of appreciative Friday night fans will surely be advocates for a repeat experiment – it really was end-to-end stuff at times and the atmosphere throughout was brilliant.
Manor Farm showed great character to wrest these valuable three points from their high-flying visitors and hopefully now the performance and result can provide a strong platform for Lashenko’s men to continue climbing the table to a league position that better reflects the undoubted quality of their football. One thing is for certain and that is that it will be Troy that holds the bragging rights amongst the Simpson clan this weekend.
STAR MAN (Owen Howe, Bristol Manor Farm)