Pontefract Collieries won their second game in four days when they narrowly beat a strong Eccleshill United side 2-1 in a competitive contest at the White Rose Stadium on Tuesday night.
Victory, courtesy of goals by Mark Simpson and Andy Catton, moved Colls up to fifth spot in the Baris NCE Division One.
With an ever-growing injury list, Nathan Perks was transferred from scorer to stopper, while Liam Radford and Kingsley Wetherald traded roles – Wetherald restored up front while Radford was dropped back into the engine room for what was expected to be a tough, physical encounter.
Neither disappointed with Wetherald excelling alongside Mark Simpson and Radford putting in a man of the match performance in the midst of the fray.
If anyone thought that this game would be a tame, end of season affair, they had another think coming. Both sides tore at each other from the start, with both attacking intent and combative challenges.
Both teams played some good football, but it was Eccleshill who had the best of the early exchanges with the ever dangerous Marcus Edwards rampaging across the forward line. Solid work from the Colls rearguard – marshalled by skipper Dean Twibey – meant that Perks was not called upon to make a save during the period of pressure, however.
Despite being pushed back Ponte created the better chances during the opening stages, breaking away with verve and purpose whenever they regained possession. One such counter-attack culminated in Wetherald directing a lob over the keeper that went inches wide, before the same player was denied by a last-ditch tackle from Jermaine Springer, having been played in by an excellent sliding pass from Andy Catton.
Catton continued his role of provider for the opening goal. A sharp turn was followed by a neat pass to Luke Durham, who executed a pirouette of his own to flummox his marker, before rolling the ball into the path of Simpson, on the edge of the Eccleshill penalty area. The youngster steadied himself, skipped around a marker, then calmly directed his shot low beyond the outstretched hand of Karl Martens in the visitors’ goal and into the net.
Catton continued to torture the visitors’ defence. In between being repeatedly clattered from behind, the winger showed ultra-quick feet to feed Simpson, who laid the ball into the path of Wetherald in the box. Wetherald raced to the byline before cutting the ball back across the face of goal, but despite a goalmouth scramble that resembled a game of pinball, the ball ricocheted harmlessly wide.
Wetherald fed Simpson with a fine pass, and the youngster shaped to shoot before being dumped unceremoniously on the floor by Springer. The referee waved away the penalty claims, as Simpson had managed to get a shot away in the process of being downed, much to the amazement of the hosts.
Radford came close to adding a second when he curled a 30-yard free-kick towards the top corner of the net, but Martens was both agile and athletic to pull off a fantastic save.
At the start of the second half, Wetherald did well to hold the ball up despite the attention of three defenders, while his colleagues joined him in the attacking third. Wetherald then fed Catton, who skipped around a marker before finding Durham on the left. The winger cut inside his man to create an opening, and rifled a powerful right-footed shot inches over.
With 20 minutes remaining, Eccleshill drew level after being given a controversial free-kick from which Edwards curled a superb free-kick over the wall and beyond the outstretched hand of Perks into the net.
Despite the sense of injustice, Ponte were not to be denied. The hosts responded superbly and bossed the remaining quarter of the match.
Within five minutes they were back in front. Radford – who seemed to have decided to make it his personal mission to make sure that his team regained their lead – drove forwards repeatedly. One such run saw him cut in from the right flank before being felled. The referee did not miss this one and pointed to the spot with Catton stepping up to fire his penalty into the corner of the net.
The late stages of the game saw the introduction of three more of the talented Colls youngsters, Matty Marsden, Josh McKeegan and Jordan Bray joining the fray. Marsden worried the Eccleshill back line with his energy, while McKeegan belied his lack of inches to put in a competitive cameo in the middle of the park.
This was a different sort of win to the 9-0 dismantling of Askern Villa four days earlier. Finding themselves up against a good, tough side, Pontefract could not rely on quick passing and good movement alone to gather three points. They had to battle, scrap and dig deep. They also had to keep their heads in the face of some robust challenges.
To have triumphed in such a match is a real credit to the character and attitude of the team, and the spirit that managers Handley and Bray have engendered within this group of players.
Pontefract: Perks, Twibey, A Robinson, Staley, Forsyth, Robinson (J Bray 90), Catton, Radford, Simpson (Marsden 75), Wetherald (McKeegan 82), Durham.