Another action-packed evening in the Premier Division on Thursday saw Mapledene maintain their lead at the top, Lea Forest keeping tabs, SSPP moving menacingly into the top three and Thornton, St Wilf’s and Timberley all still harbouring play-off ambitions.
Excitement filled the air at Mapledene’s Arena with both the home side and visitors, Heathlands, eager to compete after a week of SATs tests. The first half was an open affair but with few chances created by either side. The home side seemed determined to score 'worldies' as Heathlands restricting them to shots from distance; anything that did get through was ably gobbled up by the visiting’ keeper, who, indeed, was excellent throughout. Half time team talks were being prepared when a sprint down the right saw a low cross spilled. A 'dene toe plonked goal-wards and though it looked like it had been saved the ball rolled over the line and into the net. Mapledene were fortunate to go in one to the good but in the second half, ‘dene started to show the kind of form that has helped them to the league summit. A superbly worked team goal was lashed in off a post whilst a penalty (for a handball) was unstoppable. More impressive teamwork down the right lead to a cheeky cutback and a close-range finish before the home side’s centre-forward bagged his fourth of the night with a powerful header which put the gloss on a 5-0 win. Huge credit to the away side who never gave up and whose heads never dropped in the face of a large crowd and a vehement second half display from then league-leaders.
Meanwhile in Kitts Green, second-placed Lea Forest stayed six points behind Mapledene after they beat Harper Bell 2-0. Bell, still searching for form that might lead them to a first victory of the season, fought hard and made it difficult for the Foresters but ultimately it wasn’t enough to thwart the title-chasers. Bell had to then go again against Thornton, and the Alum Rock side enhanced their credentials as play-off challengers with a resounding 6-0 win which left Bell boss Mansell perplexed with his side’s performance.
Over at Castle Vale Stadium, SS Peter and Paul took giant strides towards the play-offs as they defeated Alum Rock duo, Rosary and Parkfield. SSPP kicked off the afternoon against a Rosary side finally at full strength for the first time since October and though the Rosarians made a decent start, they fell behind when they failed to defend a corner leaving a black and white attacker to side-foot volley home from close range. Rosary were suddenly under pressure and a gaping hole in their defence led to a second P&P goal. A tactical half-time switch made Rosary more competitive in the second half, but they rarely threatened the P&P goal and conceded a third when a speculative strike from out wide caught the Rosarians’ ‘keeper out and that was the game done. P&P then took on a much-changed Parkfield outfit, but the Alum Rockers were unable to cope with SSPP’s pace and swift, sharp passing and Mr Porter’s boys eased to a 7-0 win to take a maximum six points back to Erdington. In the afternoon’s final fixture at CVS, Rosary, smarting from their earlier defeat, made amends by sauntering to a 9-1 derby victory over their Alum Rock neighbours. Five-one up at half-time, Rosary chopped and changed in the second half but still added four more goals to give their goal difference a positive look.
And finally, over in Shard End, Timberley welcomed two improving sides in St Wilfrid’s and Corpus Christi. Corpus fielded a side made up mainly of Year 5s and though they scored the goal of the game against their hosts, it was Timberley who snaffled the points with a 2-1 win. Corpus then went down to a second defeat to St Wilfrid’s, this time 2-0. Credit goes out to the Corpus youngsters who played with exemplary discipline throughout. There was also a terrific encounter between play-off chasers Timberley and St Wilfrid’s to enjoy with both sides going hammer and tongs and sharing four first half goals. In the second half however, St Wilf’s began to stamp their authority on proceedings and netted twice without reply to leave Shard End with six points in the bag.
So, after an exhaustive evening, the title race is in full flight and though Mapledene stay out front, six points clear of Lea Forest, the Kitts Green side has two games in hand. SSPP are closing ominously in and have still to play seven games and will need to play most of them to give themselves a shot at the play-offs at least. Thornton, St Wilf’s and Timberley are the only other schools in contention for a play-off berth and the picture will become clearer after a plethora of games next Thursday.