McEachran and Barcelos keep Puritans' promotion push going
Goals in each half from Zac McEachran and Felipe Barcelos put the Puritans in charge of the Division One South & West clash at Spencer Stadium before Jake Lee pulled a goal back late on.
Mike Ford’s side were not at their fluent best but did enough to pick up two more points to cement their place in the play-offs.
United went close early on when Mark Bell’s corner to the far post found Ricky Johnson but his header was cleared off the line by Liam Meredith. The Shortwood midfielder was injured in doing so and his game ended prematurely.
Shortwood barely had to time to reorganise before they fell behind in the tenth minute. Bell broke on the left and found Barcelos who turned his marker in one instant before pulling the ball back for McEachran to beat Tom King from ten yards.
Shortwood rarely threatened in the first half and United twice went close to doubling their advantage with a couple of inswinging corners from Bell causing havoc for King and his defenders.
More excellent build-up play from McEachran saw him cut inside but King palmed away his low drive and Johnson fired the rebound high over the bar. And Johnson missed a glorious chance just before the break when he was picked out by Andy Gunn’s searching pass but, with just King to beat, United’s top scorer shot straight at the Shortwood keeper from ten yards.
United could, and possibly should, have had the points in the bag by halftime but Shortwood were still in it although Jack Harding didn’t have a single shot to save.
But Harding had to be alert shortly after the restart when Gunn gave the ball away and Nick Hancock tested the United keeper with a low drive.
The second half developed into a scrappy affair. United needed the second goal to settle the nerves while Shortwood hardly did enough to look like getting back on level terms.
McEachran pounced on an error from Andy Lewis and fed Barcelos but he fired well over from a tight angle. But Barcelos doubled United’s lead in the 68th minute when he raced on to Charlie Wise’s long pass, cut inside Tom Moxham and beat King with a low drive from a narrow angle.
Johnson should have increased United’s lead shortly afterwards after being set up by McEachran’s neat play but he took a touch and the chance was gone. Wise then got on the end of Bell’s high ball into the box but King held on to his glancing header.
But Shortwood reduced the arrears in the 77th minute when Will Morford’s cross found Lee and his looping header left Harding stranded.
With an unlikely point up for grabs, Shortwood pushed for the equaliser but United, with Gunn in commanding form at the back, held firm in the closing stages. Substitute Leam Howards almost grabbed a third goal in stoppage-time when he headed a cross from another late replacement Darius Browne against the bar.