Another breathless evening’s football in the ESPSFA on Thursday, ended with Rosary top of the table, Harper Bell leaving Shard End with their 100% record intact and Blakenhale ruing a last kick penalty miss that denied them top spot.
Rosary shot to the summit after two back-to-back wins. Firstly, over a tiring Brookfields side, they ran out 4-0 winners, then faced a much harder 25 minutes against Alum Rock rivals, Highfield. Trailing 2-0 with just a few minutes remaining, Highfield pulled a goal back to set up a grandstand finish, but Rosary caught ‘field on the break and netted with thirty seconds remaining to run out 3-1 victors. The opening game at Stud Lane saw Highfield secure a 3-0 win over a battling, hard-working Brookfields – the energy-sapping pitch taking its toll on the Hockley-based outfit in their, aforementioned, second game.
Meanwhile, Harper Bell travelled across to Shard End to lock horns with hosts, Brownmead, and a tough-to-beat Corpus Christi side. Bell returned to their Digbeth base with maximum points, making it 6 wins from 6 games to boot - both games were won, 2-0. Bell opened against Brownmead, and playing some flowing, passing football, goals either side of the break sealed the points for Mr Hynan’s charges. They then repeated the dose against Corpus Christi whose ‘keeper excelled to keep kept the score respectable.
The real drama of the evening came over in Garretts Green as Blakenhale – looking to extend their lead at the top – entertained Lea Forest and Erdington Hall. With Forest’s pitch under water, the fixtures were switched to Blakenhale’s astro surface. The evening’s opener there, saw a strong Lea Forest outfit twice take the lead and, in a pulsating, intensive encounter, ‘hale twice levelled – their second coming in the final minute. With literally seconds remaining, ‘hale were awarded a penalty and with it the chance to snatch all three points but lo and behold it was missed, the full-time whistle then blew, and the sides took a point each. Forest then backed up that performance with a 3-1 win over Erdington Hall who themselves then ended the evening with a determined effort in a 2-2 draw with Blakenhale. Hale though were left to rue missed chances as the woodwork was hit no less than six times and they also came up against an Erdington Hall ‘keeper in inspired form making five outstanding saves. Hale’s Head Coach, Mitch, said after the games, "It just wasn’t our night”.
League football also returned to the Mapledene Arena after the winter break, with Thornton making the journey to Sheldon for this stand-alone fixture. On a saturated pitch, both teams served up far better fayre than the goal-less score-line might suggest. Mapledene enjoyed the fair share of possession, especially down the left flank but remained prone to Thornton's counter-attacking and the visitor's accurate passing. At least twice the home defence was split by delightful through-balls, but a slightly rusty Thorn's attack failed to punish the hosts. At the other end, the away 'keeper proved an immovable barrier between the sticks and saved two goal-bound, top corner efforts and bravely took a stinging effort to the face and helped to earn a point for his side; 0-0 a fair result in the end though.
At the end of another great evening’s football in the mighty ESPSFA, Rosary find themselves top of the table, a position they haven’t been in for over two years. The Rosarians lie a point ahead of Blakenhale, who have a game in hand. Harper Bell though have four games in hand on the league-leaders and are just two points adrift. Brownmead and Lea Forest are both right in the mix and are three and five points, respectively, behind Bell, and like the Digbeth side, both teams have four games in hand on Rosary. Mapledene, sitting in mid-table on 7 points but with five games in hand on Rosary, will feel they are still in the hunt for a play-off place.