Spalding United 0
Stocksbridge Park Steels 1
A second-half strike from Stockbridge Park Steels’ star man Luke Mangham sentenced Spalding United to a narrow 1-0 defeat on Saturday.
In a game that could easily have gone either way at the Sir Halley Stewart Playing Field, Mangham showed great strength to fire home a lethal finish on 67 minutes and settle the BetVictor NPL South East Division contest.
The Tulips had earlier had just the better of a largely even first half, with new loan signing Owen Betts impressing at right back and skipper George Zuerner going close with an acrobatic effort.
But Steels were stronger in the second period and just about did enough to hand Matt Easton’s side a defeat that extends their run without a win to seven games.
The Spalding supremo was mostly happy with what he saw from his team, but accepted that striker Mangham – who is the league’s top scorer on 11 goals – was key on the day.
“Mangham was the difference between the two sides,” admitted Easton. “He’s big and strong – and he bullied us a little bit if I’m honest.
“It’s difficult for us. We’ve got a bit of a centre half issue. We had to move Taron Hare in there and Jack Withers hasn’t played in a while either.
“They just weren’t quite strong enough on the day. Owen (Betts) played very well on the right of the defence, but obviously he lacks that strength to go into the centre too.
“We felt like we needed to make those changes otherwise they’d get in behind us too much. That worked, but we just got a little bit outmuscled for their goal – we had to be tighter and stronger.
“However, I thought we defended pretty well throughout. It was a very tight game that was always going to go one way or the other. We probably shaded the first half and they probably shaded the second.
“George (Zuerner) going off probably made a bit of a difference as he was keeping the ball for us and breaking the lines. Unfortunately, he felt his hamstring and we took him off before it properly went.
“We lost a little bit of control after that as we were asking Kegan (Everington) to do it all the time.
“I thought we knocked the ball around well, especially in the final third, and created a few opportunities. Saying that, we didn’t quite support the frontmen as quickly as we might have done.
“It was about as tight a game as you’re going to get. We could have been singing and dancing in the dressing room, but instead we’re not. To be pragmatic, it was one of those games where they took one of their chances and we didn’t.
“I can’t ask for anymore from the boys. After the last couple of games had been difficult, the work rate was top drawer from everybody and we moved the ball around, so I can’t ask for a great deal more. It just wasn’t our day.”
Spalding, fresh from a two-week break, started well and worked the Steels keeper early on through Joel Brownhill’s low effort.
A Kegan Everington cross then picked out Jamie Jackson at the back post, but his header across the face of goal was just out of reach of the on-rushing George Zuerner.
Everington went close again as his long-ranger took a big deflection and narrowly missed the bottom left corner.
Then came the highlight of the first period, with Zuerner expertly juggling the ball in the Steels box before sending an acrobatic volley just over from the left side of the box.
It was from then onwards that the visitors came into the game, with the front two of Mangham and Scott Ruthven causing plenty of problems.
A sustained period of pressure resulted in Ruthven spinning in the box and dragging a good chance wide of the post, while the same player nodded wide when well placed from a corner.
Play didn’t flow quite as well in the second period, with Spalding struggling after the loss of Zuerner to injury just after the break.
His replacement Charlie Hart forced a routine save out of Edward Hall, but it was Steels who looked the more dangerous throughout the half.
They duly got their reward when a throw in was flicked into the path of Mangham, who turned his man and lashed a strike past the despairing dive of Michael Duggan.
Duggan was called into action soon after when Josh Nodder got hold of a rasping long range effort, before the keeper was left stranded when Ruthven’s cross-shot found Mangham, who was unable to convert from a tricky angle.
Spalding were unable to mount any pressure in the closing stages as Steels held on to avenge their 3-1 defeat in the reverse fixture back in September.
Tulips: Duggan, Betts, Hugo, Zuerner (Hart 49), Withers (Richards 62), Hare, Floyd, Everington, Jackson, Brownhill (Rudman 80), Acar. Not used: Mason, Smith.
Sponsors’ MOTM: Betts.