Back-to-back defeats for Puritans as the Linnets go top

Darren Pond put Banbury United back in it against Kings Lynn Town
Darren Pond put Banbury United back in it against Kings Lynn Town

It’s back-to-back defeats for Banbury United after Kings Lynn Town’s victory took them to the top of the Evo-Stik Southern League.

The Linnets beat the Puritans 2-1 in Tuesday’s premier division clash at the Banbury Community Stadium. First half goals from Michael Clunan, with a penalty, and the impressive Cameron Norman put the Linnets in control before Darren Pond’s second half reply.

Home form has been United’s downfall so far, in contrast to the best results on the road in the division, and manager Mike Ford knew that had to improve soon. But that was always going to be a tough ask against a Kings Lynn outfit keen to make amends for Saturday’s setback against Chesham United.

Ford made one enforced change to the starting line-up from Saturday’s defeat against Tiverton Town, Pond replacing the suspended Ravi Shamsi. That meant United had another recognised midfielder to bolster the middle of the park as opposed to Shamsi’s more attacking role in the team.

New signing Elliot Sandy started on the bench alongside returning club captain Ricky Johnson.

It was the Linnets who settled first, enjoying good periods of possession in the final third. Craig Parker should have given them the lead from Norman’s pin-point cross but he headed straight at Jack Harding from six yards.

The lively Ryan Hawkins advanced before firing over from 25 yards as the visitors made all the early running.

Norman’s overlapping runs caused United problems and one such foray resulted in the Linnets taking a 25th minute lead. Matt Peake-Pijnen tripped Norman as he burst past him in the box and Clunan despatched the ensuing spot-kick into the bottom corner of the net.

United were under the cosh and Ryan Fryatt was next to have a pop from long range after being allowed to advance but his shot went well wide.

Conor McDonagh had a decent chance after beating the offside trap. But Alex Street was quickly out to make a tight angle even tighter and the keeper parried his shot.

But a second goal for the Linnets always looked more likely and so it proved in the 34th minute. Goal scorer turned provider this time when Clunan picked out Norman as he burst into the box and the full-back’s low drive beat Harding’s dive and went in via the far post.

It should have been all over as halftime approach when Fryatt somehow lifted Simon Lappin’s inswinging corner over the bar from barely two yards.

Ford had seen enough and made his move before the break with the experienced Tom Winters replacing Peake-Pijnen, hoping that would contain Norman’s marauding runs and finally ask questions of the Kings Lynn full-back’s defensive qualities. But United found it difficult to create anything in the final third against the visitors’ high line.

Ford knew something had to change so Johnson came on for the restart, replacing Jack Westbrook as United reverted to four at the back. But it was in midfield where United were second best.

Kings Lynn went close again when Norman’s cross was only partially cleared and Tom Ward scraped the bar from ten yards.

United almost reduced the arrears when a cross from Winters caused problems and Jefferson Louis was denied by a combination of Street and Ward. That signalled United’s best spell of the game and McDonagh beat Norman before seeing his low drive from a tight angle deflected into the side-netting.

But Pond popped up to reduce the arrears in the 65th minute, glancing a header inside the far post from McDonagh’s cross after a spell of good pressure from United.

Doubts finally began to surface in the visitors’ defence as United went in search of an unlikely equaliser. Sandy was thrown on in a late bid to salvage a point but Kings Lynn should have wrapped it up late on when Norman set up Parker only for Harding to save his low drive.