by Max Bradfield
It was a battle between first and second on Saturday, as Harpenden came to town with hopes of knocking their rivals off the top of the table. The Hertfordshire side ran out 0-2 victors after an impressive display – making the most of a lacklustre Leighton who suffered their first league defeat of the season.
Unable to ride the coattails of midweek success against Dunstable and last week’s hammering of Holmer Green, it was a disappointing outing for the home side. The first half started poorly for Town, as Jordan Frederick picked up an early booking. From here, it proved to be a tight affair for the sides that were evenly matched in form before this game had even begun.
Inside 13 minutes, Harpenden squandered a 1 on 1 – spooning the ball over the bar. Minutes later inside 20’, Leighton saw an Ollie Cox free kick just fly wide of the Harpenden goal. Continuing a theme of back and forth, Harpenden had another chance a near five minutes later. However, again they couldn’t find the net as the effort outside the box rose high and wide, much to the joy of the home crowd.
Just before half an hour, the home side exercised their first substitution as Tom Bryant came on for James Towell. Fresh legs seemed to be a welcome addition for the men in red and white as on 38’, Leighton carved out a great chance to take the lead – although David Parkinson saw his header go over from close range. Just before the half time whistle there was a flurry of action as another Cox free kick came close and after that the away side picked up a yellow card of their own on the 45-minute mark.
The second half saw coach Sweeney throw another sub into the fold, as centre back mainstay Dave Murphy was replaced by the more offensive Danny Webb in what could be considered a change up in tactics. After tight opening exchanges in the second period, Harpenden forced a brilliant save from keeper Connor Coulson.
Shortly after this, Leighton introduced a third and final substitute in the 65th minute, as set piece threat Cox was off for Ross Adams. Four minutes later Leighton had a glorious chance to go in front. Alas, it would be another chance among many that the home side just couldn’t convert. Webb expertly took the ball past two defenders before forcing a save out of the travelling keeper. Eventually Harpenden cleared and looked to move up the pitch.
On the 72nd minute the Yellows got a free kick on the right and floated in a perfect ball for Daniel Palmer who rose to nod the ball down into the ground. The bounce evaded Coulson and the away bench erupted. It had been coming…
Although a side renowned for spirit and resilience, this goal seemed to take the wind out of Sweeney’s men. The final 20 minutes were a scrappy display, mainly it felt, down to the home side’s frustration. Harpenden attempted a bit of gamesmanship in the corner, but Frederick was in there lunging for the ball. With the player then falling to the ground, the ball was cleared but it looked as though the man down had taken a kick. Madness ensued and enraged away fans and players alike were readily giving the ref an earful. Players cooled off and it could be considered lucky no one walked away with a booking or worse.
Another big blow for Leighton was when the visitors doubled their lead in the dying embers. A good through ball on the counter-attack was held up and squared to the onrushing Mulik Rickman. He slotted home emphatically and the victory in the top of the table clash had been confirmed. Amid the frustrating celebrations, Town would’ve had flashbacks to the number of squandered chances.
For many of the fantastic 418 fans in attendance it was a disappointing afternoon. Town lacked the final ball and failed to put themselves forward when in the ascendency. However, the support around the team is always undying and even away fans were surprised by such a well-attended game.
Regardless of this week’s bump in the road, attention turns to Tuesday and a trip to 5th place Leverstock Green.
Harpenden’s first goal courtesy of the club’s Twitter and @veocamera: https://twitter.com/Harpenden_Town/status/1437074097469599745
The away side’s second: https://twitter.com/Harpenden_Town/status/1437074386205528066Strength in numbers… Town’s impressive attendance via @NonLeagueCrowd on Twitter: https://twitter.com/NonLeagueCrowd/status/1437089149295726596