MATCH REPORT: Bristol Manor Farm 2-2 Larkhall Athletic

A 97th minute penalty saw Bristol Manor Farm take a share of the spoils in an opening day that truly had everything, writes Jack Davies.

Both sides had big cup wins last time out and both came out of the traps early. Archie Ferris dragged a shot wide for the visitors before Lloyd Mills headed a corner just over the bar. Youngster Evander Grubb was making a mockery of the windy conditions with his clever touch and quick footwork leaving two Larkhall defenders in his wake, but his snapshot drifted across goal and away to safety. Farm then had last week’s opening scorer Aron Robbins to thank at the other end. He got back behind keeper Seth Locke to hook a certain goal from off the line. The referee had been centre of attention as he struggled to get to grips with the feisty opening exchanges and he was in the thick of it twice in a crazy minute before the half hour. A clever corner found Bament who was wiped out in the area by Larks defender Thomas Bradley and the man in the middle pointed to the spot. Bament himself stepped up but was denied by Arthur Nasta, who’s save proved even more crucial within the same phase of play. Larkhall broke quickly and after a risky back pass, Locke was adjudged to have fouled Harley Prior inside his area to give the visitors a chance from 12 yards of their own. Defender Lewis Graham stepped up and put the Larks a goal up. Owen Brain scored a dramatic winner off the bench, on his debut last week and he was looking lively in his first full start. He nipped in ahead of Jack Camm to win a free kick before placing the dead ball narrowly wide.

If the first half didn’t have enough drama, the second was worth a full series. Farm got themselves level early after the break and it was that man Brain with it. Grubb almost found Nielsen at the back post before the latter recycled and found Brain, who chopped outside his man and drilled his low effort in for the equaliser. The referee was on the spotlight again before the hour. The manner and amount of soft early yellow always suggested a red could follow and it was Larkhall who received it. Eben Taylor with a pretty poor challenge on Nielsen, which left the official with little option. Nielsen was causing havoc in the Larks defence and was beginning to exploit the extra space. His neat footwork bought him a yard and his deflected effort nicked the base of the post and bounced just the wrong side of it. He created the next big chance too. More clever dribbling took him inside two defenders and his pass found Grubb who was brilliantly denied by Nasta. Larkhall seemed content to soak up pressure but found themselves back in front with 15 minutes left. A goal Farm won’t want to see back as they failed to deal with a high clearance and the resulting loose ball before Archie Ferris’ effort deflected past Locke. Both Farm centre backs had presentable chances as they piled forward late on. Ford crashed a header at Nasta before Kingdon lashed wildly at a bouncing ball from a corner. One advantage of the change to the rules this season, was the instruction to add more time for time wasting and breaks in play. So just as Farm looked like they were heading for opening day defeat, in the 7th minute of added time, one more refereeing decision would see the home side share the spoils. A combination of a flailing arm and a push on Ford resulted in the third penalty of the game and Brain earned his brace and Farm’s point.