MATCH REPORT: Neal fires in to secure victory for Ely
THURLOW NUNN LEAGUE
Ely City 2
Haverhill Rovers 1
The phrase ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ could have been coined to describe Ely City.
While The Robins do have a sprinkling of individual talent within their ranks, much of what manager Brady Stone and his assistant Martin Grey have built at The Unwin Ground centres around organisation, hard work and team spirit.
Those characteristics were significant in Ely’s promotion last term — having been relegated the season before with just 22 points — and they were also a leading factor in this year’s record-breaking run to the last 16 of The Buildbase FA Vase.
So, it came as little surprise on Friday evening when substitute Craig Neal struck four minutes from time to earn Stone’s men a 2-1 home win over Haverhill Rovers — a result that opened up a five-point gap to the bottom three.
“We said to the lads before the game that it does not matter how they win games like this, just as long as they start doing it,” said Stone.
“It was a scrappy game, but we have got the victory and that says a lot about our character.
“We can all go to places like Mildenhall and play good football — like we did — but when you play the teams that are down there with us, you have to fight, because they will do it.
“A lot of sides may have fallen apart (after the relegation), but we stuck together and went on a great winning streak last year.
“Now, we have had the Vase run and we have told them that run counts for nothing if we end up going down. It would be a waste.
“At the start of the season the target was to stay up and while there is still plenty of work to be done, wins like this one have us moving in the right direction.”
Goalscoring chances were few and far between during the first half as both teams found it tough going in the wintry conditions.
It was visiting Haverhill that went closest to breaking the deadlock when, after 38 minutes, Ryan Weaver saw his shot cannon against the post with Ely goalkeeper Harry Reynolds stranded in no man’s land.
Up the other end, Ely’s best openings fell to George Darling and Tom Williams, but neither could keep their attempts on target.
However, while the opening 45 minutes were lacklustre, Ely in particular were much improved in the second half.
Darling raced clear in the 52nd minute and lobbed Haverhill goalkeeper Charlie Turner, only for the retreating Sam Holmes to get back just in time to clear the danger.
Three minutes later the experienced Adie Cambridge, who would later limp off with a thigh injury, swept the ball out wide to right for Kelvin Enaro and the winger in turn played in the overlapping Jamie Alsop.
The left-back’s cross was perfect for leading goalscorer Alex Theobald, but for once the striker’s radar let him down and the volley skidded wide.
The pressure finally told, though, in the 69th minute. Theobald was again left frustrated — this time by a block — but the rebound fell kindly for Darling 20 yards from goal.
The playmaker’s shot was true, and proved to be too powerful for Turner as he could only help the ball into the net.
Strangely, the goal took some of the intensity out of Ely’s play and they were punished in the 83rd minute when it appeared Rovers had stolen a point.
It seemed Neal was fouled higher up the pitch, but the match official had no interest and play continued.
Once the ball was lofted into their box, Ely had numerous opportunities to clear their lines, but they neglected to do so and Haverhill debutant Jordan Palmer was on hand to poke the ball in from close range.
Yet, Ely refused to lick their wounds and instead rolled up their sleeves, with the reward coming just three minutes later thanks to Stone’s three substitutes.
Dominic Hunt’s long throw was flicked on by Sam Reed for Neal. It would have been easy for the left winger to send the rising ball high over the crossbar, but he showed good technique to fire into the roof of the net.
It was a goal that moved Ely, who travel to Long Melford on Saturday (3pm), on to 30 points for the campaign — last year’s third-from-bottom team Swaffham Town only accrued five more.
There are bound to be more twists and turns before the end of April, but more results like this one will keep Ely the right side of danger.
Ely: Reynolds, Jeffrey, Alsop, Cambridge (Hunt 76), Williams, Littlefair, Enaro (Neal 72), Walter, Theobald (Reed 72), Darling, Simpson
Journal Man of the Match: Darling
n On Tuesday night, Ely’s Cambridgeshire Invitation Cup tie at home to Wisbech St Mary was abandoned due to a serious injury to Wisbech’s Dan Emmington in the first half.
The Robins were leading 1-0 after George Darling’s shot took a massive deflection and looped over the Wisbech goalkeeper. A rearranged date for the tie is yet to be confirmed.