Match Report – Saturday 9th February 2019

Sleaford Town FC v Harborough Town FC

 In tough conditions with a strong wind and a bobbly pitch, Harborough returned from Sleaford with a hard earnt 3 points.

Sleaford has always been a difficult place for Harborough to visit with no win in their past 4 outings at Eslaforde Park. There was an initial doubt as to whether this game would go ahead after all of the rain, but actually the pitch had held up well. The wind however was a different problem all together and in very blustery conditions and on a very bobbly pitch the crowd could be forgiven to think this may not be a pretty match to watch.

Harborough played into the wind first half and both teams struggled to control the opening 15 minutes with the ball either running out too long or holding up and not reaching its intended target. On 18 minutes a long ball from defence found Aaron Preston, who was through on goal, from what looked like an offside position, Preston entered the penalty box but the keeper narrowed the angles well and Preston shot tamely at the keeper who saved easily.

Harborough settled well from this moment on and started to dominate possession and played some very neat football not panicking and controlling their passing with some neat interchanges, especially down the right flank where Bartlett, Milne and Forbes were working well together. Bartlett put in a couple of dangerous crosses which were tantalisingly inches away from an incoming Harborough player.

On 27 minutes Sleaford had a shout for a penalty when a hooked shot from Coupland hit Bartlett under the arm, with both arms raised the Sleaford players were screaming for a penalty but with the referee in an excellent position he indicated, rightly that the ball had hit the defender’s side and not his arm, much to the frustration of the Sleaford crowd.

Harborough continued to play some good football and deservedly took the lead on 39 minutes when some neat hold up play inside the Sleaford box by Alfie Harris, saw the Harborough player lay the ball back to Forbes who hit his shot high into the Sleaford net from 20 yards giving the keeper no chance, 0-1 Harborough.

Sleaford were nearly level within 2 minutes when hesitation from a corner by defenders saw the ball drop to Coupland who was quickly closed down by Giles in the Harborough goal, which did not allow the Sleaford forward to get a clean strike and he saw his shot agonisingly come back off the post and away to safety.

Half Time 0-1.

Having defended the wind and controlled the game for much of the first half Harborough could be forgiven to thinking that the second half would be an easier game to control but with a difficult pitch to contend with and a changed Sleaford formation it was the home team that would take the game to the visitors. Sleaford played 3 up top for the whole of the second half and went in search of an equalizer. As much as Harborough had dominated the play in the first half, Sleaford were equally dominant with possession in the second half. Both teams seemed to find playing into the wind easier than with it at their backs.

That said in the first minute of the re start a back pass was intercepted by Preston but with support alongside him the Harborough forward saw his shot go wide of the Sleaford goal, when a pass inside amy have been the better option. Sleaford settled well after this initial scare, but credit to Harborough they defended very well with the back 3 of Williams, Walsh and Traynor standing firm. A low cross from the right on 58 minutes eluded everyone with the pitch certainly playing a part when both a Sleaford forward and Callum Traynor in the Harborough defence both missing their kicks at the ball and the ball running harmlessly away to safety.

5 minutes later an exact repeat this time the ball evading the first attacker but finding Coupland again at the far post, 10 yards out, but his first touch took the ball just far enough away for Traynor to get an important tackle in on the Sleaford man.

Harborough should have extended their lead on 67 minutes when Milne was put through on goal after some neat play again by Preston. The Harborough midfielder was being tracked by 2 defenders and with the goal keeper advancing the keeper made a good stop with his feet. Buoyed by this Harborough came back into the game and looked threatening on the attack, the early pressure from Sleaford was dwindling but with the home side still pressing it left spaces at the back for Preston, Forbes and the Harborough midfield to get in behind. Preston soon found himself in on goal but, again the home keeper made a very good save to his left, with the ball going out for a corner.

At the other end Sleaford got around the back and a neat save was needed by Giles at his near post to keep parity. Sleaford kept pressing and trying to find the equaliser, at the other end the introduction of Mo Zakariah, for Preston on 83 minutes gave Harborough another dimension with Zakariah’s pace.

Neither team created any further charges although the home side never gave in and were trying to pile the pressure on without really creating any great dangers in the last 10 minutes.

A resolute defence from Harborough and some neat football for the goal was the decisive factor in this game. I am sure Sleaford may think they did enough in the second half to get something but, Harborough were excellent in defence and dangerous on the counter and will also think they did enough at both ends of the pitch to deserve this win.

A home game on Tuesday (12th Feb) is next up for the BEES, when Leicestershire rivals Leicester Nirvana visit the Harborough Town Community Football Ground. Your support as always is greatly appreciated.