Evo-Stik League First Division South - Norton United 2 Spalding United 2
Just a few hours after resigning as manager, Pat Rayment was back in the dug-out for Spalding United’s encounter against Norton United at Newcastle Town’s Aspire Stadium on Saturday.
Rayment gave notice of his decision to leave the club early on Friday morning, but following some reassuring and lengthy telephone conversations during the day retracted his notice and was back with his team for the trip into Staffordshire.
A number of spurned scoring opportunities, however, on a pristine ‘bowling green quality’ playing surface left the Tulips within minutes of surrendering their super unbeaten league run.
They were 2-0 down with just six minutes of normal playing time remaining before substitutes Lee Clarke and Tom Waumsley hit the target to snatch a share of the spoils.
Firstly Clarke, who had replaced Lewis Webb in the 57th minute, back-headed a long throw into the Norton area by Jamie Thurlbourne to reduce arrears on 84 minutes.
Then Waumsley, a 68th-minute replacement for Andrew Tidswell, turned smartly inside the six-yard area to rifle the ball past keeper Chris Fletcher with a minute to spare to level the scores and break Norton’s hearts.
The Tulips could so easily have won the game in added time with Waumsley missing out on an unlikely hat-trick.
In a largely uninspiring first half Spalding did create scoring opportunities.
As early as the sixth minute Jack McGovern’s free-kick zipped inches wide of the woodwork and almost immediately a crisp Jordan Hempenstall header sailed just above a top angle of the home goal.
Within minutes the striker collected a long defensive clearance, turned his marker and hit the ball into the side netting.
With their long-ball approach Norton always posed a threat, with the influential Michael Lennon controlling the midfield.
They had the ball in the Tulips’ net on 12 minutes following a free-kick but an alert referee’s assistant raised his flag to cancel Mark McDonald’s celebration.
Midway through the opening half Chris Hall forced a good save from Fletcher and Tidswell fired wide following an assist by Hall, while at the other end Glynn Blackhurst gained the upper hand when shadowed by two defenders but his finish did not match his determination with his shot directed wide of the advancing Michael Duggan.
Duggan produced a spectacular mid-air save to keep out a free-kick, but blotted his copybook from the resulting corner, dropping the ball in a packed area and leaving Jon Beaumont to scramble the opening goal in the 44th minutes.
The opening moments of the second period saw the Tulips have four consecutive shots blocked in a packed area before Thurlbourne, who had replaced the injured Nathan Stainfield during the break, fired wide.
The scores should have been levelled in the 55th minute but Lewis Webb had a ‘fresh air’ flash at the ball and the opportunity was lost.
A minute later the impressive Lennon increased the home lead when afforded a free shot 12 yards out.
Rayment’s decision to make team changes paid dividends as they subjected Norton to a heap of pressure in the closing stages, but again without making chances count. A home win certainly looked the most likely outcome, but Clarke’s late header incited panic stations in the home defence and Waumsley’s last-minute leveller certainly gave the game the result it deserved.
Spalding: Duggan, Leary, Jackson, Stevens, N Stainfield (J Thurlbourne h-t), Bell (Clarke 57 mins), Griffiths, Hall, Tidswell (Waumsley 68 mins), Hempenstall, McGovern. Sub not used: Oliver.