NON-LEAGUE FOOTBALL: Whittlesey Athletic survive second-half scare to extend United Counties League unbeaten run
PUBLISHED: 09:58 21 January 2020
Whittlesey Athletic survived a second-half scare to extend their unbeaten run on Saturday.
Ricky Hailstone's side earned a 1-1 draw with Birstall United in Division One of the United Counties League to go five games without defeat.
Jack Carter's first-half penalty was cancelled out by Lewis Saunders' own goal in the closing stages, leaving Whittlesey in 13th place and one point above their Leicestershire opponents.
A feisty first period saw chances come thick and fast for two teams sitting next to each other in the table, but one lapse of concentration allowed Whittlesey to hit the front.
Matt Heron was fouled by Lewis Ballard after pouncing on a misplaced touch from the defender, before Carter dispatched from 12 yards to net his 10th goal of the season.
Wide areas proved to be Whittlesey's strength, full-back Ollie Long profiting with the freedom to deliver crosses that should have been converted on a bright winter's day in the Fens.
First, he was denied by a dangerous defensive clearance yards from goal, before Aaron Warrener saw a close-range header drift the wrong side of a post.
Birstall threatened with poise thanks to the quick-footed Dion Potter and Ethan Bibby, but the home defence were equal to their efforts.
Runs in-behind the likes of Long and Alex Pacey proved difficult to handle at times, something that always looked to be Birstall's most likely method of scoring.
This nearly paid off in the space of a minute, Potter firing just wide after reacting first to a rebound before his cross towards a teammate was cleared from close-range.
Birstall's grip on the contest tightened as much as tensions in Whittlesey's rearguard increased, goalkeeper Jonny Pullan needing to be alert as the number of attacking threats mounted.
If Athletic were to record a fifth home league win of the campaign, they would have to be patient and clinical when the opportunity arose, but they were unable to show the quality required.
Warrener wasted a rare opening after the break, aiming straight at goalkeeper Freddie Young when one-on-one following neat link-up play from Saunders and Heron.
Whittlesey's number 11 was a concern for the visitors all afternoon, bursting from midfield on occasion while producing nimble footwork to peel away from danger.
It was unfortunate for the Fenland team that he was not able to seal a third victory in seven league outings, which ultimately led to the inevitable.
Intricate build-up on the right enabled Potter to use his electric pace to fashion a shot, which was saved by Pullan before ricocheting off the former Raunds defender and into an empty net on 86 minutes.
Substitute Matt Ilsley was denied a stoppage time winner for Whittlesey by a superb Young save from point-blank range, in what was a frantic end-to-end affair.
Frustration could be an accurate description for the end result for Hailstone's men, but in hindsight, Whittlesey Athletic were lucky not to suffer any further damage as they survive another day.
Whittlesey Athletic: Jonny Pullan; Ricky Hailstone, Ollie Long, Harry Jenkins ©, Lewis Cook, Lewis Saunders, Alex Pacey, Ash Jackson (sub Matt Ilsley, 84'), Jack Carter, Matt Heron, Aaron Warrener (sub Dan Redhead, 75').
Unused subs: James Hill-Seekings, Lee Davison.
Goals: Whittlesey Athletic - Carter (13' pen)
Birstall United - Saunders own goal (86').
Cautions: Whittlesey Athletic - Dan Redhead (foul).
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Man of the Match: Lewis Saunders.
Referee: Mr Scott Hanna.