Howards and Johnson on target as Puritans dig in to beat Didcot

Banbury United's Leam Howards scored a cracking opening goal against Didcot Town
Banbury United's Leam Howards scored a cracking opening goal against Didcot Town

Banbury United produced a gutsy performance to beat Didcot Town 2-1 in Tuesday’s Evo-Stik Southern League clash.

The Puritans had to play most of the second half of the Division One South & West fixture with ten men after central defender Charlie Wise was dismissed. But, leading through goals in each half from Leam Howards and Ricky Johnson, they held on to take all three points despite Jack Longford reducing the arrears from a twice-taken penalty.

Didcot included former Puritans Leigh Bedwell and Adam Learoyd in their line-up fresh from their FA Cup success at the weekend.

But United were on the front foot from the start and took a 12th minute lead when Johnson flicked on Wise’s long pass and Howards raced between Luke Carnell and Learoyd before deftly chipping the ball over Bedwell from the edge of the box.

Boosted by the goal, United upped the tempo and Zac McEachran exchanged passes with George Nash but Bedwell was quickly out to smother the danger. Andy Ballard’s quickly taken free-kick from fully 35 yards had Jack Harding looking on anxiously but the ball sailed harmlessy over the bar.

But United still looked the more dangerous and Learoyd whipped the ball off Howards’ toes after Johnson again found his strike partner. Howards then set up Johnson on the edge of the box but he blazed well over.

Josh Dutton-Black tested Harding with a snap-shot from ten yards but the United keeper had a relatively comfortable first half. And Bedwell had to be alert to foil Howards after the striker quickly latched on to Nash’s shot when it was blocked by Carnell but the keeper saved at his feet.

United finished the half in control of the game having produced 45 minutes of excellent football which probably deserved more than a solitary goal advantage. Howards almost doubled that advantage on the stroke of halftime when he collected a pass out of defence, turned Learoyd and exchanged passes with McEachran before firing over.

But United took just five minutes after the restart to increase their lead. This time Howards turned provider, crossing for Johnson to plant his header past the diving Bedwell from six yards.

Substitute Darius Browne and Howards linked up moments later to put Johnson in again but this time Bedwell saved at the striker’s feet. Didcot responded with Ballard’s shot being deflected just past the far post.

But Didcot reduced the arrears in the 55th minute from a twice-taken penalty. Andy Gunn caught Learoyd as he tried to clear, Wise was booked for his protests and that would come back to haunt the young defender moments later.

Harding saved Carnell’s spot-kick but then upended the Didcot defender in trying to gather the ball. This time Longford made no mistake from the ensuing spot-kick.

Worse was to follow barely a minute later when Wise was sent off for picking up a second yellow card for a foul on Longford. Johnson slotted into the back four leaving Howards as the lone striker while Didcot threw on the imposing Jimmy Deabill.

Sensing a way back into the game, Didcot stepped up a gear and began to ask questions of United’s defence. Ballard’s deflected shot tested Harding at his near post but Didcot were unable to create too many opportunities in the box.

Their best effort came from substitute Lance Williams whose 30 yard rising drive beat Harding and flew just past his upright. But United remained a threat on the counter-attack with their pace and substitute Louis Joyce picked out Duran Martin but Bedwell was equal to his low drive.

Learoyd went close with a late header from Dutton-Black’s corner but United stood firm to claim all three points.