The sun shone again on the ESPSFA league on Thursday afternoon which saw Harper Bell extend their lead at the top of the Premier division table. Though they are not guaranteed a play-off berth just yet, they took a mighty leap towards one at St Matthew's in Nechells and were joined by Thornton and Colebourne.
Bell opened proceedings against Thornton and in a one-sided first half, cruised to a 3-0 half-time lead. However, after the break, a revamped Thornton hit back and made for a much more even second period. The Thorns pulled two goals back, but Bell did enough to secure the points and eventually ran out 4-2 winners.
Colebourne then suffered horrendous back-to-back defeats: Harper Bell proved too strong in a 12-0 win, and though the Coles scored against Thornton, the Thorns piled in 11 at the other end.
Over in Kitts Green, Lea Forest were hosting second-placed Rosary, and The Oval who sat in seventh place. The long grass (Forest having been let down on the day by the council grass-cutters) made it difficult at times but both games were entertaining with chances aplenty.
In the afternoon’s first fixture, Rosary were out of the blocks quickly and raced into a two-goal lead. The Saltley-siders never really looked like surrendering their lead despite several positive Forest raids. Rosary were dangerous on the counter-attack, but the score-board remained unaltered. Forest then took on The Oval and as chances were squandered at both ends, the half ended goal-less. Midway through the second stanza The Oval took the lead with a thumping header from a driven in corner. Forest’s search for an equaliser ended in vain as they clearly tired and with the last kick of the game, Oval secured the points with a second goal.
Across at the Mapledene Arena, the ‘dene were hosting a Brookfields outfit made up of Year5s plus one from Year 4, who made their way to Sheldon from the Jewellery Quarter. Mapledene started very tentatively and though they had most of possession, it was Brookfields that scored first. Capitalising on some uncertainty in the Mapledene’s midfield and back-line, Brookfields made the home side pay. Dene lacked intensity – a SATs hangover maybe? – and needed a tactical reshuffle from their coaches, adding an extra body up front. Instantly, Mapledene began to exert pressure on the visitors, hammering shots at the goal that were either blocked or flew over. Ultimately the pressure told, and the visitor's stubborn resistance was finally broken when ‘dene slammed home a loose ball after a bout of pinball in the box. Dene’s continued pressure, allied with a renewed confidence, told when the they tucked in from close range, and a third, three minutes from time, wrapped up the points.
Harper Bell now have a seven-point lead over Rosary and twelve over third-placed Brownmead; ‘mead have three games in hand on Bell though. Mapledene now have 25 points and lie fifth now; like Brownmead, ‘dene have five games in hand on Rosary as the race for one of two valuable paly-off spots continues unabated. Add Blakenhale to the mix – sitting fourth on 28 points, still not out of it – and we really do have an exciting end to the season in a compelling Premier division.