Holwell Sports hold on to beat in-form Birstall United

Ian Bitmead gave a captain's performance with a first-half double against Birstall EMN-181029-181454002
Ian Bitmead gave a captain's performance with a first-half double against Birstall EMN-181029-181454002
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A late penalty save from Ben Challis earned Holwell Sports a dramatic win over in-form Birstall United on Saturday.

The 3-2 victory made it two wins in three attempts for new manager Neil Miller and lifted Holwell up to 13th in United Counties League Division One.

Ben Challis capped an outstanding display with a late penalty save EMN-181029-181505002

Ben Challis capped an outstanding display with a late penalty save EMN-181029-181505002

Birstall arrived at Welby Road on a cold and wet afternoon on a five-match unbeaten run and following a good draw at Melton Town seven days earlier.

And the two sides served up a pulsating game packed with incident and plenty of goalmouth action for a good-sized crowd.

After conceding three early goals the previous weekend, Holwell were sent out with instructions to keep it tight from the off, but they were a goal down within minutes when Bibby swung in a corner with pace which eluded everyone and crept in at the far post.

Despite the setback, Holwell rolled up their sleeves and got on top by playing some good football.

Connor O’Grady led the line well up front, and with Ambrose, McGarry and Harris combining skilfully in support.

Holwell’s enterprising play was rewarded after 20 minutes when a free-kick swung in from deep was met by Bitmead who rose above Coser and Ryder to power a superb header past Handley.

On the wet surface both sides carved out several half-chances, but it was Holwell who found the net again when Birstall conceded a corner.

Once again when the ball was played into the danger area, skipper Bitmead was on hand to apply the finishing touch to give Holwell a deserved lead.

The home side almost increased their lead when O’Grady skipped past Ryder, but Handley made an excellent save with his feet and smothered the follow-up shot from the rebound.

At the other end, keeper Challis made two smart saves to deny Rowley and Fitzpatrick.

The second half began with Holwell still having the edge as Stevenson showed neat footwork to carve out a shooting opportunity, but his shot cleared the bar.

Sports looked in control as Birstall’s attacks fell down as they were wasteful in possession.

However, the visitors drew level when Aiden Black turned his marker in midfield and played a quick one-two with his brother Aaron Black before applying the finishing touch past Challis.

Holwell responded to the setback almost immediately with a goal of real quality.

Stevenson broke up a Birstall attack and played a quick pass to Ambrose who in turn found O’Grady.

He slipped a deft pass into the path of the lively McGarry who finished in style, shooting low and hard past Handley.

Birstall threw caution to the wind and in a pulsating final 20 minutes applied heavy pressure on the Holwell defence.

Aiden Black was the fulcrum of their attacks, but with Betteridge, Ridout, Bitmead and Hendey all defending superbly, Birstall were becoming increasingly frustrated.

Behind the resolute defence, Holwell’s keeper Challis was in scintillating form, making three outstanding saves to deny Birstall the equaliser.

Their frustrations came to the boil when Fitzpatrick kicked out at Bitmead and was shown a red card.

Despite being down to 10 men, Birstall continued to pen back Holwell as wave after wave of attacks floundered as the packed home defence kept them manfully at bay.

With time running out, Birstall were given a great chance to level when they were awarded conceded a penalty.

But the inspired Challis guessed correctly to turn away Rowley’s effort with just two minutes left on the clock and allow Holwell to collect the three points.

Holwell have a blank weekend to reflect on their good start under the new management regime before returning to action on Saturday, November 10 at seventh-placed Northampton Sileby Rangers.

Holwell: B. Challis, D. Hazeldine, I. Bitmead, A. Ridout, B. Betteridge, T. Harris (M. Cowling 80), L. Ambrose (S. Wright 85), M. Stevenson, Matt Hendey, R. McGarry, C. O’Grady.