Shaw Lane AFC 3
Spalding United 1
There was no dream start for Spalding United’s new manager Chris Rawlinson in the top of the table Evo-Stik NPL First Division South clash at pace-making Shaw Lane on Saturday – but plenty of positives and what ifs despite a 3-1 defeat.
The positives from his depleted squad were there in abundance, with every player giving 100 per cent in support and effort.
As for the what ifs – Spalding felt Shaw Lane’s opener could have been given offside, that they should have had a penalty when the lively Cenk Acar was upended in the area and that keeper
Michael Duggan could have held onto the ball better in the closing stages when the hosts grabbed their third goal.
Ultimately the main difference between the two sides on an unforgiving playing surface was the alertness in front of goal of Gavin Allott who scored two of his team’s three goals at crucial times of the game.
He gave the hosts a 1-0 lead with a goal on 30 minutes, but the second-placed Tulips hit back to level when Nathan Stainfield (52) converted Lee Beeson’s delivery.
Parity only lasted 12 minutes, however, with Allott (63) putting Shaw Lane 2-1 up before Gary Burnett (74) clinched the points.
A reflective Rawlinson felt his side gave it a good go, but accepted that Shaw Lane did enough to take all three points – and conceded that they will likely go on and win the title now.
Rawlinson said: “It was a little strange for everybody on Saturday, not having (former boss) Dave Frecklington there with us.
“But that’s the past now. The lads were great and did what was asked of them.
“We went there with a plan, but not having Matt Varley (suspended) and Leon Mettam (injured) did make things a bit tougher.
“The two teams cancelled themselves out in the first half, but they took their one real chance – which is what teams that win the league do.
“I thought we gave it a right go in the second half and, when Nathan equalised, we felt like we could go on and win the game.
“But Allott is a striker that has scored goals at a higher level and he took another chance for them.
“We should have done better on the third goal, but overall I thought we did OK despite the result.
“Shaw Lane are a good side and I think they’ll now go on and win the league, which would be deserved.
“The challenge for us now is to go on and secure a play-off place. We have some big games coming up and need to start picking up wins and draws in the games against teams that are in and around us in the table.
“That’s the gauntlet we’ve laid down to the players and is something we need to do if we want to secure a play-off place, which has to be our minimum aim now.”
The early stages in Barnsley were a bit mundane, with little in the way of goalmouth activity. But the pattern changed.
The first real threat on either goal arrived on 25 minutes with Shaw Lane’s Jon Wafula heading Kieron Lugsden’s free kick narrowly over the bar.
And at the other end, Jordan Lemon’s effort in a packed goal area was blocked by a maze of legs.
The deadlock was broken on the half hour.
Burnett – perhaps looking offside down the left flank – whipped the ball into a crowded Spalding area for the ever-alert Allott to stab the ball home.
The Tulips responded immediately, but keeper Jon Stewart was equal to the effort of Beeson.
And in first half added time two more shots by the Tulips from corner situations failed to find their mark.
However, the 52nd minute saw the Tulips back on level terms with skipper Stainfield getting a firm head to Beeson’s free kick to give Stewart no chance.
Shortly afterwards Lemon was just inches away from putting the visitors into the lead.
But Shaw Lane began to find an extra gear and subjected the Tulips to considerable pressure in and around the penalty area.
From a goalmouth melee the ball was not fully cleared and Allott seized the opportunity to restore the home lead.
The Tulips battled relentlessly to get back on level terms and were denied a penalty when Acar was sent sprawling by Neil Austin as he juggled his way into the area.
But referee Scott Simpson ignored the appeals.
The game was out of reach 15 minutes from time when keeper Duggan, although saving Spencer Harris’ shot at full stretch, failed to hold onto the ball and Burnett was on hand to toe-poke the ball into the net.
Spalding visit AFC Rushden and Diamonds on Tuuesday night (7.45pm).
Tulips: Duggan, Walker, Jackson, Spafford (Downey 68), Stainfield, Miller, Beeson, Whitehead, Wells, Lemon, Acar. Not used: Wightwick, Butland.