East Midlands Counties League: Holwell Sports pipped as Birstall avenge hiding

Ian Bitmead helped keep the game goalless until half-time EMN-160410-105331002
Ian Bitmead helped keep the game goalless until half-time EMN-160410-105331002
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Holwell always looked second best against a strengthened Birstall side unbeaten in four matches since their 4-0 defeat at Welby Road in August.

In torrential rain, both sides set about imposing their play as the ball moved quickly on the rain-soaked surface. Timings of tackles had to be accurate to avoid any unnecessary bookings.

Foster was given a good early chance when Hibbitt powered a header over the top of the defence, but the forward was not aware of how clear the chance was and Birstall cleared.

Another chance fell to Wells at the back post, but he was unable to control a cross after good work from Hazeldine down the right.

A loose tackle on Lewis Dodd on the edge of the Holwell box nearly brought about the opener. Witham did very well to get down low to his left, and between him and David Reeves they kept out Dodd’s powerful free-kick.

But five minutes later the early Birstall pressure told as Dan Jelley was allowed to collect the ball midway in Holwell’s half and run into the box and shoot as the defence backed off.

Bitmead sliced the ball at Witham who could not stop the ball agonisingly squirming in at the near post.

Holwell just could not get to grips with Dodd who harried the defence into clearances and it was Birstall who were first to the ball for most of the half.

The visitors’ only real chance to get back into the game came on 34 minutes as Birstall’s keeper was at full stretch to turn away Hammond’s strike.

Holwell were all over the place at the start of the second half and the troublesome Dodd again looked threatening, crashing a shot against Witham’s left-hand post with a shot from just outside the box.

But apart from Dodd, Birstall were not taking advantage of the percentage of possession they were enjoying.

Manager Webb decided to make two tactical changes and the early signs were better as Holwell forced two quick corners.

Foster had another breakaway chance before the hour, but again his finish deserted him.

Mark Tinsley was putting in a hard shift up front, chasing down defenders as Holwell seemed to have grabbed the ascendancy.

Hazeldine was replaced by Chiavetta and Wells moved up top with Tinsley, while Foster moved to right midfield and Holwell immediately looked more balanced.

The much improved visitors started to make decent chances for Tinsley who got beyond a defender to get in a shot before Wells worked half a chance, but still the elusive equaliser would not come.

Better service into the forwards was beginning to work for Holwell as Tinsley broke, after a great through ball, and crossed for Wells, but his goalbound effort was tipped over the bar.

Birstall had the chance to finally kill the game as Dodd was given his best opportunity of the half, but his shot was weak and Witham gathered.

Woodcock came on for Cropper, who had done well for Holwell at left-back, with 10 minutes left and the new boy was quickly involved in gaining the advantage in midfield as the game.

Sports looked the likelier scorers of the next goal, but another two chances for Tinsley and Bitmead went begging with the latter’s effort cleared off the line in the closing minutes.

Holwell must have rued another narrow defeat, but a more settled side, with players in their more natural positions might start to improve fortunes.

Holwell: Witham, Reeves, Cropper (Woodcock), Bitmead, Ridout, Hazeldine (Chiavetta), Hibbitt, Hammond (Norris), Wells, Tinsley, Foster.