Stocksbridge PS 2
Spalding United 0
Spalding United’s ambitions to feature in the end of season play-offs in Evo-Stik NPL First Division South suffered a set-back in Yorkshire on Saturday with a below par performance and 2-0 defeat at the hands of mid-table hosts Stocksbridge Park Steels.
The Tulips remain in third position with a four points advantage and better goal difference over their nearest rivals Newcastle Town, who have played a game more.
But Chris Rawlinson’s side will have to pick up themselves quickly to get anything from their next two outings on the road – trips to second-placed Witton Albion on Thursday and at unpredictable Kidsgrove Athletic on Saturday.
Spalding had a bright opening spell at the Look Local Stadium, but after going behind to a cracking headed goal by Matt Reay on 19 minutes, fell well off the pace and at the end were a well beaten side.
Things may have been better had Leon Mettam’s 57th minute penalty not been spectacularly saved by goalkeeper David Reay at the foot of a post, the home side’s Scott Ruthven having been guilty of handling Jordan Lemon’s deft cross in the area.
Lemon had been first to threaten the home goal at the outset, forcing an excellent save at a stretch from David Reay.
Within minutes Bradley Wells fired wide following a Mettam assist. Mettam also tested the keeper, but as the game progressed he was all too often found wandering into off-side positions and some promising movements came to an abrupt end.
Spotting Tulips’ keeper Michael Duggan well off his line, Steels’ Richard Stirrup tried his luck with a dipping shot from 30 yards out, but the ball was always rising over the bar.
The pattern of play changed dramatically following Matt Reay’s opening goal, with Steels commanding a greater part of the game with some neat passing and fast moving attacks from all areas of the pitch, only some astute defending denying them further reward.
The Tulips appeared to have won a penalty in the closing stages of the first half when Mettam took a tumble over the spread-eagled David Reay.
But, for once, referee Martin Ashworth was right in spotting the keeper had the ball firmly in his grasp.
There was no hesitation also from the official when he penalised Ruthven for handling the ball early in the second half. Unfortunately for the Tulips, Mettam’s resulting penalty kick failed to beat the excellent home keeper.
The game was put out of the Tulips reach when the lively Brodie Litchfield pounced at the far post to turn in Nathaniel Croft’s penetrating cross in the 68th minute.
There was a questionable finale to the game when a totally bemused Kern Miller was sent off for an apparent off the ball offence, the referee admitting afterwards that he had taken the advice from one of his assistants.
But spectators standing quite near to the alleged offence said the wrong player had been targeted by the officials.
Tulips: Duggan, Walker, Jackson (Field 80), Varley (Beeson 64), Stainfield, Miller, Lemon, Whitehead, Wells, Mettam, Acar (Higginson 45).