Bristol Manor Farm secured a famous victory at the Snows Stadium on Saturday in a pulsating top of the table tussle against AFC Totton, writes Kevin O’Donohoe.
It was the proverbial ‘game of two halves’ as the visitors dominated the first period and took their advantage into a second 45 which saw the home side predictably roaring forward in search of an equaliser.
In our seven previous Southern League encounters the Stags had won six and drawn just once – a 2-2 game earlier this season at The Creek in which Owen Howe had scored twice for the Farm. Following brief subsequent sojourns at Tiverton and Barnstaple, the experienced striker had returned to the club in midweek and started Saturday on the substitutes bench. His late contribution from it would prove ultimately decisive.
The Portwaymen had performed well on our previous visits to the well-appointed South Coast club but, with no luck at all, had ever came away with anything other than unlucky defeats. Things always looked very different from the off on Saturday.
Following bright, early probing and the game not five minutes old, right-back Mason Winter hit a clever, long-range shot from just inside his own half that had the Stags goalkeeper Louis Noice back-pedalling furiously to pluck the ball out of the air.
After a quarter of an hour, Farm ‘keeper Ben John produced a fine low dive to punch away a 25-yard free kick that was but a prelude to his own mighty heroics later in the game.
More sustained pressure from The Farm ended with Josh Ford striking just wide and a Jake Gosling free-kick causing chaos in an unsettled Totton defence.
Just before the half-hour mark, Manor Farm deservedly took the lead when Ben Bament swept majestically home from the left hand side of the penalty area.
Ten minutes from the interval, a Lloyd Mills shot from the edge of the box was well saved low to his left by Noice and Totton responded immediately with a Robert Flooks header that flew through a crowd and just wide of John’s right upright.
A quick break by Manor Farm in the 40th minute saw Bament intelligently feed Jake Gosling who cut inside to produce another good save by Noice.
With just six minutes gone in the second half, a Totton effort squeezed past John’s dive, struck his left-hand post and rebounded across an empty goalmouth and away for a goal-kick. Up the other end, a Gosling cross just evaded Mike Bryant’s touch as the ball fizzed from one side of the Totton goalmouth to the other.
When Ben John stood strong and brave to thwart a Hisham Kasimu effort in the 65th minute he was already well on the way to a man-of-the-match accolade but his supernatural efforts in the 69th minute of the game made him a dead-cert shoe-in for the prize. And then some…
The Farm keeper somehow, quite miraculously, pulled off an amazing triple save that made Jim Montgomery’s famous efforts in the 1973 FA Cup Final look like mere child’s play – the Bristol glovesman diving left, then right, then left again in quick succession to keep out almost certain goal-bound strikes.
Three minutes later he was at it again – bravely going down at his near post and sustaining injury on the way to turning behind another dangerous effort. It was breath-taking stuff and very much appreciated by the large, sun-kissedcrowd of 624.
Totton sub Sam Griffin was next to try his luck, chipping the ball just over the bar from 20 yards out before the home side, with just ten minutes left on the clock, finally eked out the equaliser that their second half response had deserved. Stags’ top scorer Kasimu struck a loose ball firmly and true through a crowd of players and straight past the unsighted Ben John to nestle into the far corner and send the vast majority of the Snows crowd into raptures.
But it was another prolific striker who had the last word on the events of the day just three minutes from full time.
Summoned from the Manor Farm bench, Owen Howe, at his combative best and from a hopeless looking prone position in the Totton box, somehow squirmed and twisted his body to stretch out his right leg and firmly poke an effort beyond Noice’s despairing dive in the Totton goal.
The small but noisy contingent of Manor Farm fans were sent into ecstasy as their team snatched all three points and leap-frogged the Hampshire side into third place in the table. What a game. What a day…
STAR MAN, Ben John.