Manor Farm proved their fighting character with a storming finish to a highly entertaining game played in soul-sapping heat in Hereford on Saturday afternoon.
Westfields, The Portwaymen’s Hellenic Premier League hosts, had largely seen more of the ball and created the better chances during the game and after 80 minutes at 3-1 up they appeared to be somewhat cruising to victory. But Lee Lashenko’s men dug deep to find extra reserves of fitness and energy, striking twice in the last ten minutes to level the scores and earn a draw that felt in that furnace much more like a victory.
Farm’s first real flicker of heat came in the game’s 10th minute when Lloyd Mills fed Mike Bryant who advanced before lofting a nice cross to the far post where Ben Bament, back in a Manor Farm shirt once more, just failed to make contact.
The home side responded by notching up the temperature a degree or two around the quarter-hour mark and Farm ‘keeper Ben John was grateful to see Cawley Cox’s close-range touch fall straight into his arms before moments later gathering well low down at his near-post to save a shot from the right by Harrison Summers.
Either side of a well-earned drinks break, Westfields forced a series of free-kicks in Manor Farm territory and tried firing, floating, and flinging their hand in from 30, 40, and 45 yards out respectively but each time the defence held their high line strong and John stood firm.
Then, with just under five minutes left in the half, Manor Farm took the lead. Everyone in the Westfields box except Ben Bament seemed to momentarily freeze following a corner, allowing the striker to head past a rooted goalie from close range amid a sea of statues. After some consultation with his assistant, the referee finally confirmed the goal as good.
The returning Bament then had a chance to double his tally and Farm’s lead on the stroke of half-time when Jamie Bird set him up nicely only to snatch his effort wide.
After a swift hose down at half-time, the two teams were quick into action early in the second half and within two minutes of the restart, the home side had levelled the scores. Farm skipper Aron Robbins looked to have done plenty enough when ushering Westfield’s winger Summers wide and away from danger as he looked to tee-up an opening in the box. Summers somehow however managed to get a low shot off from an acute angle which agonisingly beat the barely- warmed-up substitute ‘keeper Harry Thomas-Barker at his near post.
The encounter was cooking now and Farm thought they had immediately retaken the lead when Bament produced a good finish but was ruled offside. Up the other end, Cox cut through the centre but blasted the ball over the Manor Farm bar. Kyle Tooze for the visitors shot close across the goalmouth after a typically strong and bustling run.
Manor Farm’s Josh Ford and Sam Boulton looked a good center-half pairing all afternoon and it was Boulton again just before the hour reading the game well and taking up an excellent rearguard position to sweep the danger away as the Farm penalty area came under strong Westfield’s pressure.
Just after the hour-mark, the home side got their noses in front for the first time when Richard Greaves flicked home from a free-kick on the left and soon extended the lead to 3-1 when Mikey Bryant was dispossessed 25 yards from goal by Harrison Iddles who took a touch before curling an unstoppable shot into the keepers top right corner of the net.
It had taken just 25 second-half minutes for Farm’s lead to burn up and evaporate into thin air. Most teams would’ve been forgiven for wilting entirely at this point given the game’s “friendly” status, the match position, and the towering, infernal heat. But encouragingly enough with the new season almost upon us, Manor Farm’s resilience grew quickly from the adversity, and – as though sparked suddenly to life – the team began playing their best football of the game.
In a concise and flowing move, Tooze linked well with Bird whose fierce drive was pushed away for a corner. Substitute Lewis Leigh-Gilchrist then flashed a shot wide after some good attacking interplay around the edge of the Westfields box.
With ten minutes left on the clock and Farm increasing the pressure, Bird beat the offside trap to coolly sell the keeper and slot home in the opposite near corner to set up the sizzling finale.
In the 85th minute, Cox had a chance to put the game beyond Manor Farm’s reach when he broke through but slashed his effort across an empty goalmouth instead. A minute later Farm was awarded a free-kick for shirt pulling about 22 yards out on the right hand side. Leigh Gilchrist’s subsequent effort was deflected goalwards and the Westfields keeper was only able to parry the ball into the stealthy path of a watchful Stuart Tovey who gleefully smashed home the rebound from four yards out, thus completing another great personal performance by the Manor Farm full back and a notable comeback for Lee Lashenko’s team.
The pre-season heat continues with full training this week and trips to Shepton Mallet and Merthyr Tydfil next Saturday and the following Tuesday respectively. Ice-packs on, notifications on, bring it on…
(STAR MAN: Sam Boulton, Bristol Manor Farm)