SPALDING UNITED 3 N’TON SILEBY RANGERS 1: Three goals in 16 second-half minutes fired title favourites Spalding to victory in their UCL Premier Division opener on Saturday.
The much-fancied Tulips had trailed for more than half an hour after Dan Pritchard’s 27th-minute opener, but battled back to knock off promoted Sileby Rangers.
Captain Lee Canoville led by example with an impressive leveller, before Jake Gibson rifled the Tulips ahead from close-range.
Veteran hitman Tony Battersby completed the scoring with a bullet header from a corner, as Pat Rayment’s men cleared the first of many hurdles in their bid for glory.
Tulips boss Pat Rayment said: “We did OK, it was one of those games that we really needed to score early in to make a bit easier for ourselves.
“They got the first goal out of the blue and it was a bit of a shock. But once we scored it was a question of how many.
“If I’m honest, we should have scored a lot more. But credit to (Sileby boss) Scott Goodwin, he’s done very well to get a team together.
“We’ve not had the best pre-season in terms of continuity, so this was one of the first times we had everyone together.
“It showed a little, but a 3-1 win isn’t to be sniffed at. We’re off to a winning start and that’s all that matters at this stage.
“We’ve got a ‘favourites’ tag to live up to and we’ll only get better, I’m sure.”
The Tulips bossed the opening 20 minutes without really impressing. They did have chances to go ahead, however, with Battersby seeing a close-range effort blocked and Sam Mullarkey denied by the feet of Sileby keeper Liam Stanton.
Decimated by depatures on the eve of the new season, Division One champions Rangers finally launched their first meaningful attack just before the half-hour – and how.
Winger Pritchard took down a crossfield pass on his chest, raced past Nathan Stainfield and hammered a half-volley past the helpless Michael Duggan.
Midfield enforcer Lewis Webb stung the palms of Stanton from 25 yards and Gibson fired a ferocius effort just wide of the top corner as Spalding went in search of an equaliser before the interval.
It didn’t come, leaving the hosts to face the wrath of Rayment at the break. Whatever the Tulips chief said did the trick in the second period, with the hosts producing a much better showing.
For a while, you did wonder if it wasn’t going to be their day, though. Beeson saw a whipped 25-yard free kick drop just wide of the near post and an acrobatic volley from Stainfield had Stanton scrambling for another top stop.
But where everyboy else failed, captain Canoville succeeded. The right back stormed forward with the ball and skipped past a man before unleashing a low 18-yard drive that gave Stanton absolutely no chance.
With the shackles now well and truly off, Spalding went for the jugular and should have gone ahead when Beeson blazed a gilt-edged chance way over the bar a minute later.
It mattered little for the hosts, as they went ahead for the first time seconds later.
Jonny Allen, very impressive at the back in his first competitive game since joining from Holbeach United, met a hopeful high ball with his head and directed the ball towards goal. It was blocked, but left-sider Gibson was on hand to smash the ball home from about eight yards out.
The Tulips’ purple patch continued with Stainfield heading an Allen knock back over from underneath the crossbar and Mullarkey rattling the underside of the bar from an acute angle.
Stanton then tipped a towering Stainfield header over, before Batterby sealed the points from the resulting corner 17 minutes from time.
The ex-Lincoln City ace met Beeson’s centre with a powerful header that flashed into the far corner.
There was still time for Beeson to sky another chance way over and Adam Jackson to drop an effort onto the roof of the net as Spalding closed out their first win of the season.
Tulips: Duggan, Canoville (c), Jackson, Allen, Stainfield, Webb (Doherty 77), Beeson (Stevens 75), Hall, Mullarkey, Battersby, Gibson (O’Neill 73). Not used: Ebdon, Hussey.
• Tonight: Boston Town v Tulips (7.45pm).