FC United moved one step closer to promotion to the Conference North with a 1-1 draw at Curzon Ashton on Easter Monday in front of 3,071 supporters, with Craig Lindfield on the scoresheet.
The league-leading Reds went ahead three minutes before halftime when Lindfield slid the ball over the line from close range but they were pegged back in the 65th minute when Ryan Brooke’s low drive squeezed underneath goalkeeper Dave Carnell.
The result leaves Karl Marginson’s side five points ahead of second placed Ilkeston with two games in hand and seven points ahead of Ashton United, who have played the same amount as the Reds and therefore also have five games to go. The draw also means FC United are now guaranteed a top five finish and a play-off place, although nobody at the club will be interested in settling for that at this stage in the season.
United were far from their convincing best and, although the Reds had a strong first half penalty appeal turned down, they were perhaps fortunate to come away with a draw after substitute Ashley Stott fluffed a glorious late chance to win the game for Curzon.
After a cagey and uneventful opening half an hour, which was punctuated at regular intervals by referee Mark Astley’s whistle, the game sprang into life. Greg Daniels went on one of his trademark mazy runs into the box and was wrestled to the ground by centre-back Simon Woodford, who made no attempt to play the ball. With both players grappling with each other, Mr Astley decided waving play-on was the correct decision. The FC United faithful didn’t agree and serenaded the officials with a question about whether we were indeed playing rugby league rather than the beautiful game.
FC United continued to press the visiting team, who, as our temporary landlords were playing at their own ground. Fewer than 10 minutes later, the Reds got the breakthrough. Rightback Liam Brownhill took a throw-in near the corner flag and Lindfield guided the ball back to him before running over to the back post to await Brownhill’s delivery. Brownhill obliged neatly, Lindfield chested the ball down and slid in before goalkeeper Hakan Burton to prod home the opening goal. Simple but very effective football by two great players.
Unfortunately, The Nash started the second half a lot better than United and, for a 20 minute spell, our usually resolute back four looked all at sea. Within two minutes of the restart, Carnell did well to beat away a free-kick from the edge of the box by captain Sam Walker, which was en route to the top right corner.
Another warning followed 13 minutes later. Lindfield blazed over a beautiful opportunity on the hour mark after sneaking over to the back post unmarked and United were nearly made to pay for that miss within seconds. From the goalkick, Niall Cummins beat the offside trap to go one-on-one with Carnell as United’s defence looked half asleep. Thankfully, Carnell made an excellent save with his feet on the edge of his penalty area.
But the joy of a reprieve was short lived as Curzon were level just four minutes later. United were failing to get back into the game and retain possession in the middle of the park. Added to this, The Nash were doing their best to unsettle the Reds with Woodford and Cummins in particular determined to wrestle players off the ball and put in niggly, late challenges, which all went unpunished by the officials.
As such, it was no real surprise when Curzon powered through a disorganised United backline to get the equaliser. The ball was played out to the unmarked Brooke on the right and, although his shot was straight at Carnell, he somehow netted a deserved equaliser.
The goal acted as a wake up call for United and 10 minutes later Jerome Wright nearly restored the lead as he weaved his way into the box. However, just like Lindfield earlier, the United leftback opted for power rather than precision and lashed a great chance over the bar.
With five minutes to go, Curzon could have been down to 10 men. Centre-back Darren Thornton committed an awful two footed lunge on Lindfield, which cleared out the United winger. Mr Astley decided the foul only warranted a yellow card.
When the game restarted, United failed to take advantage of the freekick and The Nash hit the Reds on the break with what should have been the winning goal. The ball was worked out to the right and a low cross was played to the back post. Stott was unmarked and had all the time in the world to pick his spot and deliver a blow to United’s title hopes. Thankfully, he spooned the chance high and wide, meaning the spoils were shared. The Reds now travel to Witton Albion on Saturday, looking for three of the nine points to be certain of winning the title.
Website man of the match: Dave Carnell. Will be disappointed with the goal but he made three impressive saves in the match to limit Curzon to one.
Report by Matthew Haley