All square in the Division One top of the table clash at Worcester Raiders
By Simon Cox
A goal in each half produced a stalemate, despite Worcester being reduced to nine men in the 88th minute
A big crowd saw this battle of the top two in West Midlands Regional League Division One end all square as both teams extended their unbeaten runs to 17 and 14 games respectively. The game never rose to the heights of two teams pushing for promotion as the attacking power and flare of both teams was snuffed out by the quality, resilience and tactics of both defensive line ups. The two goalkeepers were rarely troubled.
Darlaston's preparation for the game was hindered after goalkeeper Liam Whittaker suffered a midweek injury with back-up keeper Dan Elwell also unavailable 20-year-old Jack O’Day signed from Gornal Athletic came in for his debut.
Worcester opened brightly and made a dream start going ahead in the 3rd minute. A slip by Scott Glasby let in Richie Smith who took the ball into the penalty before driving home from 15 yards beyond O'Day whose first touch of the ball in a Darlaston shirt was to pick the ball out of the net.
An over fussy referee did not help the flow of the game awarding 10 free kicks in the opening 20 minutes including an 8th minute booking for Worcester's Martin Fowler. Darlaston were shell shocked for a while and on the back foot as the impressive Richie Smith and Matt Andrews looked threatening with their pace and quality keeping central defenders Luke Charlton and Scott Glasby at full stretch.
Darlaston eventually settled down from their early set back and the game was largely confined to a 60-yard area between both penalty areas as defences took charge. Neither side created any clear opportunities until the influential Smith again was on the end of a well worked move in the 27th minute his 20-yard effort clearing the bar.
Raiders Anthony Smith and Darlaston's Sam Causton were both cautioned as the game was littered with niggling free kicks as neither side gave no quarter.
Darlaston’s first effort of note came on 30 minutes a left footed shot from Isaac Cooper was blocked by Matt Tyler for the visitors first corner of the game. From the resulting corner Raiders keeper Lewis Pinches punched the ball to the edge of the box, Daniel Bolzon picked up the ball but again his 18-yard shot was blocked and cleared.
On 38 minutes it was Darlaston’s turn to be on the back foot, Raiders Martin Fowler received the ball wide on the left before cutting inside defender Sam Causton stuck to him before blocking Fowler's attempted 18-yard shot.
As the half drew to a close Bekir Halil became the fifth player to find his name in the referee’s notebook in the first half and Bolzon again missed the target with his snapshot.
Whilst Raiders had the edge in the first half it was Darlaston who opened the second half much better, Daniel Bolzon beating his defender, squaring the ball to Leon Taylor whose half hit left foot shot missed the far post by inches.
Darlaston's bright start to the second half was rewarded on 52 minutes. A foul by Paul Smith on Halil 22 yards out allowed Isaac Cooper to step up and curl the ball around the ball with pace giving Raiders keeper Lewis Pinches no chance.
Raiders response was immediate Paul Smith smashing a 35-yard thunderbolt inches over the bar. After a fairly comfortable first half Raiders central defensive partnership of Dean Waldron and George Corbett were now under more pressure from a resurgent Darlaston attack but the pairing were superb at the heart of the home defence.
Fowler brought a comfortable save from O'Day on 65 minutes before Raiders were reduced to 10 men on 68 minutes Anthony Smith picking up his second caution for a foul on Scott Glasby. The linesman also brought the referees attention to an incident which resulted in Leon Taylor and Richard Smith picking up yellow cards.
Going down to 10 men seemed to inspire the home side and on 72 minutes the visitors had Ashley Evans to thank for keeping them in the game his acrobatic goal line clearance from Matt Tyler kept the scores level.
Injuries to both Darlaston full backs Causton and Evans resulted in substitutions forcing a reorganisation of the back four which didn't help as the visitors took a few minutes to settle defensively.
With two of the Division's top goal scorers Leon Taylor and Richie Smith both subdued by excellent defensive play a draw looked on the cards some 15 minutes from full time. Jamie Holder for Darlaston and Raiders Martin Fowler having efforts blocked before Raiders had to see out the final 2 minutes and added time with 9 men. Fowler receiving his second yellow card for dissent.
The final chance fell to Darlaston in added time Bolzon cut the ball back from the left for Taylor, but the striker’s acrobatic overhead kick went just over the bar.
Both teams are respected for their quality, pace and fluency but with such pressure on the game neither side reached the dizzy heights they are capable of. Defences and midfield came out on top and overall a draw was a fair reflection of the game. With games in hand on all of their rivals Worcester will probably be happier with the point but Darlaston will be content with an away point at the title favourites as they enter the final 6 league games of the season with all still to play for.
This Saturday Darlaston have another tough fixture when they entertain near neighbours Wyrley FC at the Paycare Ground, Bentley Road North, Bentley, Walsall WS2 0EA kick off 3.00pm.