Michael Duggan saves penalty and Conor Marshall nicks equaliser for Spalding United against Stocksbridge Park Steels
Michael Duggan making a penalty save and Conor Marshall scoring a decisive late, late goal, were key factors in the Tulips returning home from Yorkshire with a valuable Evo-Stik League East Division point on Saturday.
Remarkable, however, was that manager Matt Easton was able to assemble a full complement of players for the game.
Kegan Everington was ruled out of the selection process due to suspension and Danny Brooks had not recovered sufficiently from the ankle injury received against Tadcaster a week earlier and was also sidelined.
There were further problems facing the gaffer, however, with Jack Brownell still recovering from the illness that had forced him to miss the last two matches and influential centre back Neal Spafford reporting unwell with a virus complaint. Under normal circumstances, neither would have been considered for selection. But they rallied to the cause.
Jenk Acar (shoulder) and skipper Ben Davison (knee) were also doubtful starters but committed themselves to taking part.
On the day, to gain a share of the points was a tremendous achievement against a free-moving home team who had the lion’s share of the scoring opportunities on offer but, with a number of glaring misses and against a determined Tulips’ rearguard, they would certainly have considered that it was two points lost rather than one won.
The opening stages of the game saw the Tulips on the offensive, with Liam Marshall and James Hugo assisting Jenk Acar down the left side and Davison testing ‘keeper Edward Hall with a firm header from the cross. Shortly afterwards, Davison again tested the keeper.
But Steels, fielding former Tulip Jordan Lemon (on loan from Matlock Town), were soon hitting back. Scott Ruthven’s effort posed no real problem for Duggan but the keeper was kept fully occupied in the minutes that followed, making an excellent near-post block and then being thankful to James Hugo for clearing the follow-up shot off the line.
Liam McFadyen was afforded a free header from a corner but sent the ball high over the bar and then Lemon completely missed connection with the ball with the goal at his mercy following a corner.
The 38th minute saw Liam Marshall concede a penalty, but Duggan denied Ruthven from the spot with a superb save at full stretch to turn the ball round the post.
Five minutes into the second half, Leon Mettam grazed the woodwork with a shot from 18 yards but at the other end, the wasteful Ruthven missed another glorious opportunity by firing high over the bar following a brilliant four-man passing movement down the left side.
For the Tulips, Scott Floyd’s shot clipped the top of Hall’s crossbar and Hugo’s attempt was comfortably collected by the home keeper.
The Tulips were coping well with Conor Marshall working his ‘socks off’ in the heart of defence. But the deadlock was broken in the 77th minute, with Brodie Litchfield adding the icing to the cake to a speedy left side movement, giving Duggan no chance to save.
But there was still fight left in the Tulips, with plenty of encouragement from the bench and the few travelling fans. Reward finally arrived the closing seconds of normal time, with the industrious Conor Marshall parked at the far post for a corner kick and slamming the ball over the line.
Tulips: Michael Duggan, Conor Marshall, Liam Marshall, Scott Floyd, Neal Spafford, Jack Fixter, James Hugo, Jack Brownell (Ellis Humble 55 mins), Leon Mettam, Ben Davison (Jack Brown 85 mins),Jenk Acar (Luke White 72 mins). Sub (not used) Alex Smith.
MoM – Duggan and Marshall. Att: 114. Referee: Gareth Thomas