Bridlington Town 4 Retford United 2
NCEL Premier Division
TOWN beat the league champions in a feisty encounter on an emotional afternoon at Queensgate, with the players dedicating their win to popular kitman and physio Ken Knight.
His wife Betty and son Roger joined both sides in the centre circle for a minute’s applause before the game, and many of the players went to embrace the family at full time.
The Seasiders had been determined to secure the three points in Ken’s memory, and it was grit and fighting spirit which saw them through, more than finesse and craft.
Their efforts were not helped by spoiling tactics of the visitors, whose 2-2 draw in Bridlington in their penultimate game last season, all but won them the title.
This was a completely different Retford side, but no less challenging, and the game was at simmering point for much of the 90 minutes with tempers boiling over in the tunnel at the end.
Bridlington’s persistence saw them score four times in the last 20 minutes to keep up the pressure on leaders Scarborough Athletic, who had to settle for a draw at Liversedge.
The Seasiders struggled against the wind in the first half, with The Badgers creating the best chances. Wayne Aziz was excellent at the back all afternoon and on 12 minutes he produced a magnificent piece of defending to keep the scores blank.
First he headed away a dangerous right wing cross, then as he lay on the ground, two yards out, he deflected Jack Cross’ strike on to the bar with his boot.
Aziz was at it again a few minutes later, producing another great effort to block Kyle Hadley’s shot, but Retford were enjoying success down their right. From their next attack, Tom Lee blocked Hadley’s first attempt and Mark Wilberforce beat his second away at his near post.
Town earned a couple of free kicks in similar positions after the half-hour mark. Ash Allanson was crudely stopped by Rob Sanderson on the edge of the area, but Chris Batchelor curled his set-piece too close to keeper Jake Turner.
Sanderson was furious when Josh Greening hit the deck a few minutes later, accusing the forward of diving, but referee Duncan Street awarded the foul, although Batchelor was off target.
Free kicks were all Town were able to create, and they fell behind on 41 minutes. Lee allowed a simple pass to slip under his foot and Kyle Hadley raced through and fired across Wilberforce and into the far corner from 15 yards out.
Street showed yellow cards to four players in the 15 minutes either side of half time, as fouls littered the game. Retford’s Brett Lucas and Richard Medcalf were joined in the book by the hosts’ Tom Fleming and Greening.
Greening was punished for a foul on Graeme Severn by the corner flag, although keeper Turner deserved a card of his own for needlessly dashing 20 yards to push the striker in retaliation.
Again, Town were struggling to create anything apart from set-pieces, and their equaliser came direct from a free kick. Severn’s elbow hit the back of Fleming’s head in an aerial collision, and Batchelor had used up his chances, so Billy Logan stepped forward to thump a free kick through the wall and in off the far post.
That was the catalyst to a thrilling end to the game. On 79 minutes, sub Craig Hogg was tripped by Sanderson, who escaped a second yellow card, but was punished when Scott Phillips fired the penalty low past Turner’s right hand. Have The Seasiders finally found a reliable man from the spot?
Hogg should have calmed the nerves straight afterwards but blasted over, and in the blink of an eye, Retford were level. Craig Fisher spread the ball out wide and Hadley was given far too much room to meet the cross from six yards out and bundle a diving header past Wilberforce.
The visitors had 10 minutes of time to waste if they were to get their point, but held out for just three. Greening, Town’s liveliest attacking threat all afternoon, fed Phillips from the right and he showed great composure before side-footing a precise finish past Turner.
The points still weren’t in the bag and Wilberforce scrambled to save a long range effort by Lucas at his near post, as the match entered injury time.
With 93 minutes on the clock, Town could finally breathe easily. Adam Scott played the most woeful of back passes straight to Craig Hogg, and he took his time and picked his spot.
Forget the needle, and the questionable refereeing, the win was all that mattered. And it mattered most, because it was for Ken.