SPALDING UNITED 2 IRCHESTER UNITED 0: For anybody that’s followed Spalding in recent times, the idea of a team coming to the Sir Halley Stewart Playing Field for a draw is an alien one.
But on Saturday, for the second time in seven days, the current Tulips crop were tasked with breaking down attritional opposition with nothing but defence in mind.
Luckily for the hosts, this group of players is vastly superior to most that came before them – and they eventually secured an 11th UCL Premier Division win from 14 games thanks to cracking second-half strikes from Dan Cotton and Jay Smedley.
Spalding chief Pat Rayment, who missed the game after tearing a calf muscle playing for the Peterborough United legends side on Friday, had warned his charges to expect an afternoon that would test their patience.
And much like Peterborough Northern Star a week earlier, Irchester – who were tonked 11-1 by Rayment’s side back in September – almost bored the Tulips into submission.
An early goal would’ve changed that, but visiting keeper Michael Freeman put paid to any home hopes of a goal-fest.
He tipped an early Miles Chamberlain header onto the bar and over, while also denying Francis Green and Tom James in a drab first period.
Green’s chance was the better of the three, but Freeman got down well to save his left-foot strike after a quick counter-attack involving young guns James and Callum Earls.
After the break, James volleyed a presentable opening wide at the near post, before Spalding finally broke through – and how.
Teenager winger James delivered the perfect cross for Cotton to meet on the full and smash spectacularly past Freeman into the top left corner.
The Tulips had chances to extend their lead, the first of which seeing sub Luke Kennedy dribble effortlessly past three men before having and near-post strike blocked.
Green then clipped an effort just wide after racing clean through, before being forced off with an injury.
His replacement was player/coach Danny Hussey, who surprisingly went up front alongside leading scorer Shane Tolley. The veteran defender proved a real handful, with a neat flick through allowing Cotton to fire an effort into the side netting.
But it was another defender who wrapped up the points. Back from a lengthy injury, Smedley lashed home a Tolley pass into the top corner from 20 yards, ending any hopes Irchester had of a late leveller.
Much tougher tests will lie ahead for Spalding, but their title charge continues to gather real momentum.
Tulips: Drury, Doherty, Earls, Chamberlain, Fuff (Smedley 71), Steadman, James (Kennedy 65), Hall, Green (Hussey 77), Tolley, Cotton.
Spalding player/coach Danny Hussey
“It was like a training session really, I’m pretty sure (keeper) Lee Drury didn’t touch the ball.
“We didn’t really play with any tempo and didn’t support the front two very well. It was a six out of ten performance at best, but we got the goals when we needed to.
“It’s now three clean sheets in a row, which is encouraging. We seem to have ironed out our defensive problems. It’s also good to see the other lads chipping in with goals – it’s important that we don’t rely too heavily on Franny Green and Shane Tolley.
“Credit to Irchester, they’ve made big chances since we beat then 11-1 and are a much stronger side.
“Personally, I could’ve done without coming on. But it was good fun playing up front – even if the lads were giving me a bit of stick afterwards!”