Winchester City 1 Bristol Manor Farm 3
What a fantastic win ‘on the road’ this was for Manor Farm following the horror-show second-half performance at Highworth Town the week before. The aim of finishing a difficult season as strongly as possible had taken a bad blow with that meek 4-0 capitulation and with Winchester City starting the day in the last promotion play-off spot, this looked, on paper at least, to be by far the toughest test for The Portwaymen from the four remaining games left this season. Certainly even tougher than Highworth.
Thankfully for the well-represented ‘Farmy Army’ present at the Simplyhealth City Ground it was the ‘real’ Manor Farm that came most fiercely out of the blocks against their Hampshire hosts yesterday. It begat a physically dominant performance from start to finish by Lee Lashenko’s men and the win completed a sequence of four wins out of four against ‘The Citizens’ in our Southern League life so far.
Owen Howe and Jordan Rodgers were a proper handful for the Winchester defence early on, both challenging strongly, holding the ball up well, creating space and making good runs when needed as they probed at Ryan Pryce’s goal three times in quick succession. This was more like it from the ‘Manor.
It felt completely against the run of play then when Winchester City took the lead from their first meaningful attack. Midway through the half, a corner-kick was played into the heart of a crowded Manor Farm penalty area and with his back-to-goal Rob Flook tried a kind of bicycle-flick over his left shoulder that rebounded back out to Oli Bailey who gratefully toed the ball home from close range.
Encouraged however by their brighter start The Portwaymen came fighting right back with Pryce diving superbly well to tip a looping header by Howe out from underneath the crossbar and Rodgers also went close with a header from a Lewis Bamford cross.
Just before the half-hour mark Simba Mlamba should have made it 2-0 to the home side but his shot was just over Ben John’s crossbar.
Just after the half-hour mark Ashley Kington drew the scores level at 1-1 when he hit a well-struck, late-dipping free-kick from 28 yards out that although it took a very slight deflection had Pryce well-beaten despite it. Game on.
Winchester City made a much better start to the second-half and Aron Robbins had to make an excellent saving block to thwart Oli Bailey from close range as early as the 47th minute. Ten minutes later Ben John had to make a great save low-down to his right to palm a shot across goal behind for a corner.
Manor Farm withstood the resurgent Winchester pressure and regained the upper hand in the contest with just over an hour played. A good break by the visitor’s resulted in a fine shot by Howe that Pryce saved equally well for a corner. The pressure on Pryce’s goal grew.
From another corner in the 66th minute Steve Kingdon was on hand to get the decisive touch on a ball that had seemed to get lost in a six-yard box melee. The Farm skipper, chased down by his team-mates, wheeled away in celebration, as the Farmy Army, dotted in all parts of the ground, jumped up and down accordingly.
Farm then had to defend their precious lead when a great combination of tough tackling and a firm clearance were required by Stuart Tovey and Steve Kingdon respectively. Winchester substitute Rob Carr did his best to pull his team level with an excellent low drive across the Farm six-yard box but both Bailey and Mlamba, arriving late, just failed to get a touch on the ball.
With six minutes left to play Ashley Kington sealed all three points for the ‘Farm when his second 30-yard free-kick of the day this time took a definite deflection to leave Pryce stranded and the Farmy Army going understandably doo-lally.
To ensure the win was well-earned Ben John still had to make two excellent saves in time added-on, firstly from Tyrell Mitford and then from Josh Harfield, but following the result and performance at Highworth this felt like a proper return to the Manor Farm ‘way’. A tough and uncompromising performance defensively, backed up by decisive flashes of top quality in attack. It was a buoyant bus that took the three points home to Bristol, giving the Farm and their vocal fans renewed hope and belief for a strong end to this season and a better one altogether next time around.
STAR MAN (Stuart Tovey, Bristol Manor Farm)
*The end of season run-in starts next Saturday (20th April) with a home game against relegated Fleet Town. This will be followed swiftly by a trip to Bath on Easter Monday (22nd) in which the team will be looking to avenge a crucial 2-0 defeat last year at the hands of Larkhall Athletic (3pm ko) – and finally, winding things up for the 2018/19 season, back here at The Creek on Saturday 27th with a Bristol derby against Paulton Rovers (3pm ko). If the team can play with the same passion and fire as they did here in Winchester, then there is no reason at all why they can’t take maximum points from these fixtures. What a week it could be! FARMY ARMY!