Athletic bounce back with convincing display

Moor Mead Athletic 5 - ESPA Juniors Saints 1

Moor Mead Athletic bounced back from heavy defeat to record a hugely impressive win at an autumnal Marble Hill. The Parakeets fell to a comprehensive defeat to Albury Eagles last time out, but up against their other arch-rivals from last season ESPA Juniors, they produced a tremendous all-round display to get their season back on track.

If the first half was satisfying, in some respects the second period was even more meritorious, as Moor Mead withstood re-focused opponents and a rising tide of bad blood eventually to run out easy winners.

There were fine performances all over the pitch. Rory was outstanding at full back, with Jake resolute on the other side of defence. Miles gave ballast to midfield, Ollie and Will Sutton produced some lovely touches, Shaifulah and Zac were a constant threat, and Sam, after a subdued start, found his old sparkle.

Under slate grey skies, against opponents in slate grey kit, and with Alec marshalling a goal mouth that could have doubled as a First World War movie set, Moor Mead took an early lead. Rory burst down the right flank, and switched play to the opposite wing where DANIEL arrived late in acres of space to side foot home (1-0).

The Parakeets moved the ball around well. Ollie went close from distance, and then stretched well to intercept a clearance and feed Zac whose snap shot went narrowly wide. In fact Zac did everything but score, three times going close, and having a tap in ruled out for offside after another surging run by Rory.

ESPA, combative and physical, with some lovely passing moves of their own, posed a constant threat, feeding their skilful number nine down the right, but he couldn’t quite convert nice touches into clear cut chances.

Instead it was the home side who extended their lead. Zac released OLLIE with slide rule precision, and he produced an exquisite chip from distance into the top corner (2-0).

Moor Mead finished the first period in control with ESPA pinned back in their final third, but their opponents pressed hard after the break, dominating possession in the early stages. The number nine should have reduced the deficit, but shot wide when unmarked in the box. His frustration started to show, and he instigated a shoving match with Will W on the touch line.

The game got increasingly tetchy, and Moor Mead had to put up with an increasing number of niggly fouls. But the parakeets stood firm at the back, Shaifulah rising high to head away danger from a free kick. But then a moment’s hesitation by Alec allowed ESPA to stab home a soft goal (2-1).

Moor Mead responded, with Sam producing his trademark slaloming runs in the centre of the pitch, and Zac, off balance, shooting just wide. ESPA continued to test the referee, but it was Miles who earned the first yellow card of the season, with a late challenge that raised the temperature even further.

Sam nearly rounded the ESPA keeper, who had a fine game in the away side's nets; but then a lovely bit of pressing and swift passing by Shaifulah and Will Sutton set up ZAC, who burst clean through and buried a shot with his left boot and with it, the away side’s chances of a point (3-1).

Alec twice tipped away long range efforts, and produced a superb point blank block to thwart the opposition. Then SAM set the seal on a very satisfying win with a quick fire brace: first volleying in the rebound after Zac crashed a shot against the bar (4-1), then producing an emphatic header straight from a Will Sutton corner (5-1).

So, a mirror reflection of the 5-1 thumping ESPA handed out to the Parakeets last season, and a result and performance to savour. The title challenge is alive and kicking.