FOOTBALL: Tigers grind it out to maintain title challenge

Jonny Allen went close with his first-half header. Photo (Mike Davison): SG241112-264MD
Jonny Allen went close with his first-half header. Photo (Mike Davison): SG241112-264MD
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HOLBEACH UTD 1 NEWPORT PAGNELL TOWN 0: The day could hardly have panned out much better for Holbeach United. Of course, they would have preferred Craig Parker’s second-half penalty to have extended the lead and Quorn to have dropped points but you can’t have everything.

John Chand’s side made the most of St Ives Town and Spalding United having their matches postponed to underline their ChromaSport UCL Premier Division title credentials.

The Tigers leapfrogged the Tulips to go third in the table, with almost half the season gone.

And whilst the statistics show they have the most miserly defence in the league – just 13 goals conceded in 18 matches –this squad is doing well because of its quality all over the pitch.

And when that quality shines through on a sticky pitch such as Saturday’s, it can only be good.

Yes, the passing deterioated as the game went on but that was down more to the state of surface than the desire of the players. Whether they can maintain their momentum on the poor pitches throughout the winter months could prove key to the outcome of their season.

Wednesday’s Lincs FA Senior Trophy quarter-final at home to Bourne Town had been postponed due to a waterlogged pitch and this one was in the balance too until Saturday at 10am. And it may not have gone ahead if the persisent rainfall throughout the match had come just a few hours earlier.

Of course, it will not help their cause to fall too far behind on league matches so Saturday’s go-ahead was very welcome.

It could have been a dream start for them too, but penalties are seldom awarded in the opening seconds of a match – and so it proved.

Craig Parker dinked a little pass over the top and striker Andrew Tidswell was away. An apparent clip of the ankles later and he was sprawling just inside the box, but the ref was having none of it.

Mitch Griffiths flung himself headfirst at a Dan Flack centre but narrowly failed to make contact as the Tigers’ traditional high-tempo start continued.

Jonny Allen appears to be relishing his deployment as a forward and he wasn’t too far away from breaking the deadlock with a header from another Flack whipped cross.

And it was the new strike partnership which combined for another chance on 24 minutes. Tidswell worked a neat one-two with Allen but Pagnell keeper Josh McAdoo parried well at Tidswell’s feet.

McAdoo’s team-mates featured little in the first half but midfielder Liam Smythe’s growing influence began to rub off in the latter stages. Tigers keeper Michael Emery was called into action a couple of times but nothing too worrying.

The half ended in some disarray when injury forced the referee to be replaced.

Allen set up Griffiths nicely after the break but his header agonisingly crashed off the underside of the bar and to safety.

But a brilliant goal – further testament to the Tigers’ passing philosophy – finally nudged them in front on 58 minutes. Parker, Allen and Flack were involved in the build-up and Tidswell’s diving header sparked a mass celebration in the mud.

It just five minutes later it should have been 2-0. Another lovely build-up ended with Tidswell nodding down to Allen who was brought down in the box.

But Parker made a hash of the spot kick, sending a left-footer high over the bar. It made for a much tighter finish than it should have been.

Although the Tigers’ stingy defence was never in serious trouble, there was the odd heart in mouth moment through a header from Pagnell centre-half Dave Baiter and further efforts from Jared Cunnliff and sub Darren Lynch.

With the first half being so badly held up due to the referee’s injury and, apparently, discussions on the state of the pitch, the final whistle came well after 5pm.

There will be fingers crossed in the Tigers’ camp that the pitch can recover sufficiently to enable tomorrow night’s match with Peterborough Northern Star to go ahead – and potentially enable more pressure to be heaped on their championship rivals.

Tigers: Emery, Flack, Jackson, Toyne, Smith, Stevens, Griffiths, Hughes, Tidswell (Treacher 78mins), Allen, Parker. Subs not used: Warfield, Brown, Elston, Harrold.