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Athletic defeat the formidable league leaders ESPA Juniors in classic match

Moor Mead Athletic 3 - ESPA Juniors Saints 0

The Parakeets produced their performance of the season against league leaders ESPA Juniors, in a game of high quality and intensity in front of a large and supportive crowd.

Spice was added to the mix, as this game represented a precursor to the Cup Semi-Final between the two sides scheduled for the weekend after - so Moor Mead gained a valuable boost to their confidence by keeping a clean sheet and scoring three against such capable opposition.

The omens were good from the start with Dilly winning the toss on a crisp, calm morning. The pitch was in good order for January and both teams set about their task quickly, fully committed to tackles and pinging the ball around swiftly.

The referee marshalled the game well to ensure that the highly competitive match didn’t bubble over as both sides jostled for the lead. Louis and Dilly were setting the tempo in midfield, relentlessly tackling and hassling the opposition - whilst Ollie was seizing onto the loose balls to set up attacks.

Almost immediately, Daniel and Ollie combined well down the left to set up Mani who was just denied by a last ditch tackle. Alec was called into action rarely, but had to be quick to deny the ESPA forwards a chance, then smartly caught a couple of long shots. But the defence was largely holding firm, restricting ESPA to hopeful efforts.

Shots from Jake and Mani went close and Zac’s pace was starting to cause havoc, but ESPA were determined to battle for the points and were very resilient. The game was becoming increasingly tense for the supporters to watch - but suddenly the Parakeets got the crucial breakthrough on approx the 30th minute. LOUIS at the near post, headed in powerfully straight from a corner by Ollie (1-0).

Zac shot just wide after a searing pass from Shaifulah, and Moor Mead ended the half strongly. Half-time advice from the coaches was 'more of the same’ and to beware of the backlash from ESPA’s talented players.

The second half saw ESPA attack more forcefully, and Jeremias, Will W and Miles all made crucial tackles to stop dangerous forays into our half. At the same time, gaps were opening up in the ESPA defence as the Parakeets hit quickly on the break. Will S and Jake caused problems with their direct running on the right flank, and Shaifulah, Mani and Zac were now finding better possession consistently.

Elliot burst through and had a half chance smothered; then Shaifulah just failed to connect with a cross cleanly after good work to pressurise their defence. ESPA were getting rattled as their passing game was being stifled by Moor Mead tackling like demons, but the quality in their play was always evident and they remained a threat for the whole game.

ESPA should have scored when their forward blazed over from 6 yards after a ball broke loose. A close escape, but it was the Parakeets who extended their lead. This was a beauty, a series of passes reached Ollie, who then sliced open their defence with a gem of a through ball into the path of ZAC, who sprinted through and finished expertly across the keeper (2-0).

To their credit, ESPA redoubled their efforts again, and put increasing pressure in and around the Moor Mead penalty area; but the Parakeets once again broke away to score and settle the match. This time OLLIE was put through, and lined up a low shot past the impressive keeper (3-0).

Right to the end, the match was contested at full speed - so for Moor Mead to deservedly win against the league leaders in this manner showed real character. The challenge is to repeat this performance next week in the cup - which will undoubtably be another cracker of a match against a very strong team who will be smarting for revenge!

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