HOLBEACH UNITED 2 SPALDING UNITED 1: Holbeach moved a massive 12 points clear at the top of the UCL Premier Division with a deserved derby win at Carter’s Park on Boxing Day.
Goals from Jonny Allen (2) and ex-Tulip Andrew Tidswell sunk fierce rivals Spalding, who had equalised through TJ Nightingale (32).
It was a major shock that the game even went ahead, with an already soaked Tigers pitch taking heavy rain for pretty much the entire 90 minutes.
Undeterred, Holbeach started much the better and went ahead with their first attempt of the match when Allen expertly swept home a knock-down into the bottom corner.
The hosts thought they should have had a penalty soon after when Luke Kennedy appeared to block an Allen flick with his hand, but the referee waved the appeal away.
The talented Tulips quickly came back into the ‘South Holland clasico’ though – and carved out a number of golden opportunities.
The first saw Dan Cotton race clear down the right and deliver a perfect cross, but the ball was bundled wide at the back post.
Moments later it was Cotton again who sent in a lovely cross towards the back post, only for Chris Hall to fire just over.
At the other end, Mitch Griffiths saw a free header fly straight at debutant Spalding keeper Alex Street, then Ben Brown nodded wide from a Griffiths cross.
But the Tulips were well on top at this stage and Nightingale deservedly hauled them level just after the half-hour mark.
The strike tapped home confidently from close range after a surging run from Freeman down the left. It was a lovely team goal in the most testing of conditions.
With Tony Battersby instrumental in their progress, Spalding went on to boss the remainder of the first period – but they failed to create any decent openings.
Their only sniff of goal came with the very last attack of the half, as Miles Chamberlain just failed to connect with a Cotton free kick.
That was almost the final action of the game, with the referee calling bosses John Chand and Pat Rayment to his office during the interval. The officials then took an extended look at the pitch and seriously considered abandoning the clash before finally agreeing to start the second half.
The break seemed to be just what Holbeach needed, as they once again flew out of the traps and re-took the lead within three minutes of the re-start.
Two former Spalding players combined to deliver the goal, with Andy Toyne releasing Tidswell down the left. He fired a powerful left-footed effort past Steet at his near post – and although the keeper did get a hand on it, he couldn’t keep it out.
Holbeach’s leading scorer Tidswell then had a decent chance to make it 3-1 seconds later, but he screwed a half-volley wide of the far post.
With the conditions getting worse by the minute, Spalding struggled to put their rivals under the kind of pressure they managed in the first half – and almost fell further behind when Allen’s goal-bound header was kicked off the line 12 minutes from time.
Cotton did go close to grabbing a last-gasp leveller when his long-range blockbuster dipped wide, but Holbeach held on to pull 17 points clear of their South Holland rivals in the race for the title.
It’s now 11 wins on the trot in all competitions for league leaders Holbeach, while Spalding suffered their first loss since October 9 – a run that spanned 12 matches.
Spalding do have four games in hand on the leaders, but it looks a long way back for them from here.
Reaction to follow.
Tigers: Emery, Allen, Griffiths, Toyne (Lewis 80), Smith, Brown, Flack, Hughes, Tidswell (Harrold 87), Treacher (Turner 60), Parker. Not used: Elston, Overton.
Tulips: Street, Smedley, Freeman, Chamberlain, Fuff, Kennedy (James 63), Cotton, Steadman, Battersby (Sanders 78), Nightingale, Hall. Not used: Doherty, Hussey, Drury.
• Saturday: Kempston v Holbeach; Spalding v Wellingborough (both 3pm).