Evo-Stik League First Division South - Mickleover Sports 2 Spalding United 1
Three words summed it up perfectly – not good enough.
That was Spalding United boss Pat Rayment’s honest assessment when asked for his verdict at the start of his post-match interview at The Raygar Stadium.
It was exactly what I had been thinking for the majority of the afternoon as well.
The Tulips got off to a dream start as Jamie Stevens headed home after 31 seconds but they didn’t build on it.
The equaliser came 20 minutes later but it was no surprise as Mickleover Sports were already on the attack and forcing Spalding back.
The winner was a great strike and well deserved as the Derby-based side showed why they are the bookmakers’ odds-on favourites to be crowned champions.
The nine-point gap looks likely to be too much for the Tulips to overturn.
So the focus should stay on a play-off place which would represent a real achievement for a newly-promoted club – especially as that would mean a highest-ever finish.
The manner of the defeat must be more disappointing than the result.
After all, Mickleover have a formidable record and until a couple of months ago they had won every home league game.
Sports can boast the best defensive record and goal-difference, if required, would put them ahead of their rivals as well.
The pre-match talk was about how Mickleover and Spalding are two of the title contenders.
But after 90 minutes there is no doubt that the Tulips were second best.
Considering they had failed to score in two previous games, the first minute was a perfect response to criticism.
Spalding kicked off, won a corner from Dwayne Wiley’s mistake, Jamie Thurlbourne delivered the set-piece and Stevens sent a header into the net.
The last time Spalding suffered a league defeat they went on a 15-match unbeaten run.
This time, though, they were immediately put into defensive mode.
Sports had crashed to a 5-1 defeat at the Sir Halley Stewart Field in November in the Doodson Sport Cup.
But they looked full of determination that Spalding would not get the upper hand with three vital points on offer.
Nathan Stainfield cleared inside the six-yard box to keep out a header by Gary Ricketts which seemed to be going inside the far post with keeper Michael Duggan stranded.
However, the 39-year-old striker – making his home debut – was not to be denied.
Duggan was given no chance from Ricketts’ close-range header to convert a left-wing cross by Andy Dales.
Soon afterwards Jordan Nuttell – who fired over at 1-0 – was taken off in a tactical switch by Rayment and his coaching team.
Spalding started with a diamond midfield as Nuttell looked to support the front two.
It wasn’t working so the Tulips reverted back to a more traditional 4-4-2.
That didn’t make much impact either, proving it is all about performances rather than systems.
Indeed, for the closing stages Spalding changed it again as Stainfield was sent forward to partner substitute Nathan Adams.
While Adams barely had a touch in his first appearance and Alex Simmons also had a quiet debut, Spalding’s only second-half chance fell to Stainfield.
He went into the penalty box for Thurlbourne’s long throw-in and when the ball fell kindly, Stainfield fired wide of the far post.
Tom Waumsley – who struck four times in the cup win over Sports – wasted his only opportunity when a shot was kicked out by keeper Chris Martin six minutes before the break.
Duggan denied Dales and Ricketts while Anthony Griffith smashed an effort off the top of the crossbar.
Dales’ 20-yard drive flew past Duggan into the top corner of the net to make it 2-1 and the Tulips never looked capable of forcing a leveller.
It could have been even worse as Jacob Hazel’s tap-in was ruled out for offside.
Sports enjoyed plenty of possession as Spalding were guilty far too often of giving the ball back. The passing was poor and simply the display wasn’t good enough.
4-4-2: Martin; Bryant, DeGirolamo, Wiley, Palmer; Griffith (sub Bennett 72 mins), Walshe, Lloyd, Dales; Demidh (sub Hazel 76 mins), Ricketts (sub Oshoboke 86 mins). Subs not used: Burrows, Foster.
4-1-2-1-2: Duggan 6; Griffiths 6, Stevens 6, Stainfield 6, Jackson 5; Hall 6; Webb 6, Thurlbourne 6 (sub Leary 76 mins); Nuttell 4 (sub Hodge 28 mins, 6); Waumsley 6, Simmons 5 (sub Adams 71 mins).
Stevens (31 secs, 0-1); Ricketts (20 mins, 1-1); Dales (63 mins, 2-1).
Jamie Stevens – headed home in the first minute and did a decent job defensively but more Tulips players needed to match his commitment.
Ilkeston (A) – Doodson Sport Cup quarter-final, Tuesday.