Puritans see off rivals to record fifth straight success

Banbury United's Mark Bell and North Leigh's Sam Eilkins compete for the ball at Spencer Stadium
Banbury United's Mark Bell and North Leigh's Sam Eilkins compete for the ball at Spencer Stadium

Banbury United made it five Evo-Stik Southern League wins on the spin with a pulsating 3-1 victory over play-off rivals North Leigh at Spencer Stadium.

Two goals out of the top drawer put the Puritans on the way to three more Division One South & West points and their first victory over a top ten side. Mark Bell and Zac McEachran provided first half moments of brilliance to illuminate any gloomy winter afternoon.

Bell blotted his copy when seeing red and was soon joined by Zak Westlake as the second half briefly threatened to boil over. But Ricky Johnson’s 22nd goal of the campaign made the points safe after Sam Elkins had put the visitors back in the contest.

United were quickly out of the blocks, Johnson headed just wide before North Leigh gradually worked their way into the contest and Elkins shot into the side-netting from Michael Hopkins’ low cross before Jamie Cook fired over with a speculative long range effort.

Bell’s run into the box from a short corner ended with the winger firing over before Johnson missed United best chance. After setting Howards away down the right, the top scorer blazed over when his strike partner picked him out in the box.

Hopkins tested Harding from 25 yards but United broke the deadlock in spectacular fashion in the 32nd minute. Bell picked up a throw-in from Welch-Hayes, advanced and hit a dipping volley from 30 yards over James Foster and into the roof of the net.

United doubled their advantage in the 39th minute with another goal of the highest quality. McEachran took on the visitors’ defence with a typical mazy run before firing low past Foster from 15 yards.

Howards forced Foster into a low save with a shot on the turn before he turned Johnson’s 25 yard drive around the upright as United looked to finish the job by halftime.

But North Leigh reduced the arrears six minutes after the restart when Callum McNish picked out Elkins with a deep cross and his looping header went over Harding and nestled in the far corner of the net.

Boosted by the goal, Mark Gee’s side sensed another and Cook tested Harding with a low drive as the game developed into an end-to-end affair.

Substitute Felipe Barcelos almost scored just after entering the fray when burst through but was denied by Foster and McEachran’s follow up was superbly saved by the North Leigh keeper.

Bell got a straight red card in the 71st minute when he caught Stuart Hole late but parity was restored four minutes later when Westlake was sent off for a challenge on White after he cut inside.

In between, Foster kept his side in the game when he managed to deflect Callum White’s angled drive wide of the far post. McNeish tested Harding late on but with two minutes left, Johnson ended any doubts when found space in a crowded six-yard box to head home an inswinging corner from substitute Darius Browne.