HOLBEACH UNITED 1 YAXLEY 0: Winning ugly is key to any title charge – and on Saturday a late Rob Hughes strike allowed the Tigers to do just that.
Holbeach’s rise to the top of the UCL Premier Division has been something of a highlight reel, with no side scoring more than their league tally of 79.
But few wins will have generated a bigger buzz than this in the Carter’s Park dressing room; because they really had to work for three massive points.
It took one moment of opportunism from ex-Nottingham Forest midfielder Hughes to break the resolute resolve of an impressive side.
He lashed home from fully 25 yards just seven minutes from time, with a welcome deflection helping guide the ball into the far corner.
For the 82 minutes prior to that game’s crucial moment, you wondered if another wheel was going to come off Holbeach’s title bid.
Yaxley arrive with a reputation as one of the most competitive teams in the league – and Brett Whaley’s side certainly were a very tough nut to crack.
In a tight first half, Holbeach created more openings, but the Cuckoos had the best chance.
Andrew Tidswell, as ever, was the hosts’ biggest threat. After Andy Toyne’s raking pass picked out Tommy Treacher, he delivered a great cross for strike partner Tidswell – but he could only ripple the side netting.
Moments later the league’s leading scorer hit the outside of the post after showing incredible touch to bring the ball down.
At the other end, Holbeach were left relieved when Ondre Odain lashed a golden opportunity over from ten yards.
The Tigers upped the tempo in the second period and were left fuming when Treacher was booked for alleged diving after what looked like a foul in the box by keeper Aaron Butcher.
Yaxley were always a threat on the break though. It took a goalline clearance from Dan Flack to keep them out from a corner – and then Adam Jackson pulled off a super last-ditch tackle to deny Matt Barber.
With time running out, Hughes then clocked the Cuckoos with a bolt from the blue. His drive from the left side took a deflection and flew across Butcher into the far corner.
Wild celebrations followed, with the entire ground knowing just how big that goal may be come April.
There was nearly a sting in the tale for Holbeach though, with keeper Leigh Overton – on for the injured Michael Emery – forced to pull off a remarkable point-blank save to deny Luke Hipwell in the dying seconds.
With title rivals St Ives and Quorn dropping points, the Tigers lead at the top grows back to a whopping 17 points.
Tigers: Emery (Overton 60), Allen, Jackson, Toyne, Smith, Stevens, Flack, Hughes, Tidswell, Treacher (Harrold 67), Griffiths (Parker 85). Not used: Warfield, Brown.
Boss John Chand
“I think this was a massive win. The game had draw written all over it, so to pinch it could prove a defining moment in the season.
“It was important to bounce back from last week’s loss at Cogenhoe and the results really went for us too. Yaxley were very well organised and could easily have taken a point but for Leigh Overton.
“In this league it’s very rare that you can carry a second keeper of his quality. If it wasn’t for the team spirit here, he’d probably have gone. He’s been patient after getting injured and really took his chance with a top save.
“We’ve now got just 13 games to go and are in a very good position. We need to keep chipping away and make sure that St Ives are put under as much pressure as possible as they play catch up.”