MATCH VERDICT: Vital victory for Pinchbeck United over title rivals
The first fixture in February certainly feels too early to be talking about a title decider.
There is absolutely no doubt that Saturday’s top-of-the-table showdown produced a vital victory for Pinchbeck United.
Surely now they will go on to be crowned champions – and that would be a quite remarkable achievement in the Knights’ first-ever season at this level.
Tom Sergeant’s first-half strike and another clean sheet sent Pinchbeck 10 points ahead of their nearest rivals, plus a game in hand over second-placed Raunds Town.
So it’s looking very good with 15 wins from a 17-match unbeaten run.
If Pinchbeck somehow miss out on the title, it would be an incredible dip in form.
After four successive away wins, Raunds lost for the first time since November.
They completed a hat-trick of defeats to the Knights who won at Kiln Park in the league and Knockout Cup as well.
The goal was a moment of quality in a hard-fought game on a sticky surface at the Sir Halley Stewart Field.
Tyler Wright delivered the ball to Sergeant who took a touch inside his marker and smashed a right-foot drive beyond Shopmates skipper Chris Jones.
Having taken the lead, it was perfect for Pinchbeck to sit back and protect what they had.
The five-man defence did a much better job than the error-strewn efforts in the Knights’ 4-4 draw at Bourne Town eight days earlier.
Ash Murrell’s return was a key factor at the heart of the backline – although Dan Swan was still called into action to show his shot-stopping skills.
The keeper’s mistakes had almost proved so costly when Bourne looked on course for victory until two stoppage-time goals denied them.
Captain Jack Smith was grateful for Swan’s low save to keep out Raunds striker Ty Clark after a mis-kick.
Swan made a fingertip save before the break and dived to his right in the second half to push out substitute Mason Thomas’ header.
Raunds thought they had rescued a point at the start of stoppage-time, only for Clark’s smart volley to be disallowed for offside.
Pinchbeck also had the ball in the net again but Chris Shipley’s first-half header was ruled out for a foul.
Substitutes Josh Smith and Nick Bishop wasted late chances to make it much more comfortable.
However, the Knights had been happy to hang on after Sergeant’s strike.
Raunds passed the ball but struggled to find a breakthrough in the final third.
Murrell and James Gordon showed the determination to block out Thomas near the end and seal a huge win.
5-3-2: Swan 7; Gordon 7, Brooks 7, Murrell 7, Jack Smith 7, Wright 7; Tidswell 7, Eyett 7 (sub Josh Smith 79 mins), Shipley 7; Maltby 7, Sergeant 7 (sub Bishop 84 mins). Subs not used: Dunn, Buzas.
4-4-2: Jones; Devereaux, Manning (sub Gotch 82 mins), Wills, Randall; Davis, Fowler, Russell (sub Lea 69 mins), Townsend; Porter (sub Thomas 59 mins), Clark. Subs not used: Looker, Le Masurier.
Sergeant (29 mins, 1-0).
Ash Murrell – key role in clean sheet after missing 4-4 draw at Bourne.
Stewarts & Lloyds (A) – Saturday.