Puritans win play-off final to reclaim their premier division status

Mark Bell attacks the Town End during Banbury United's play-off final with Taunton Town
Mark Bell attacks the Town End during Banbury United's play-off final with Taunton Town

Banbury United are back in the premier division of the Evo-Stik Southern League.

The Puritans beat Taunton Town 2-0 in Monday’s Division One South & West play-off final at Spencer Stadium where goals in each half from Zac McEachran and skipper Andy Gunn took the Puritans back up at the first attempt.

Well over 1,000 fans saw Mike Ford’s side maintain their outstanding end of season run to go back up on a memorable day at Spencer Stadium. And few could argue that United didn’t deserve it as they had the edge throughout the contest.

Ricky Johnson fired over early on before the Puritans had a let-off when Michael Hopkins played a loose pass into the path of Jordan Rogers but Jack Harding was equal to his low drive.

Gunn made a last-gasp interception to deny Lewis Powell as Taunton sensed an early breakthrough. Taunton pressed high and made it difficult for United to play out from the back.

But goals change games and United took a 24th minute lead. Mark Bell released Felipe Barcelos who cut the ball back to McEachran who cut inside before firing a low drive past Lloyd Irish at his near post.

Moments later McEachran put Bell clear but his intended pass to Barcelos was cut out by Matt Villis. McEachran exchanged passes with Bell before cutting into the box only to be thwarted by Owen Irish’s challenge as he was about to pull the trigger.

Rogers headed over the bar from Jamie Price’s deep free-kick as Taunton looked to get back on level terms. But United had chances to double their advantage.

Hopkins wasted a cross from an excellent position after more neat build-up play from McEachran. Ben Carter popped up with a timely header to deny Johnson from Ollie Stanbridge’s teasing cross while Bell cut inside but fired wide.

In between, Jamie Short’s wayward header failed to trouble Harding as the United defence dealt comfortably with the visitors’ threat in the final third during the first half.

After the restart Bell lifted a free-kick over the wall but also the bar. Moments later Bell returned the ball into the box from a corner, Irish failed to hold on to it at the first attempt but reclaimed it just as Johnson closed in.

The second half developed into a scrappy affair as conditions deteriorated underfoot following the persistent rain. Taunton stepped up a gear and began to ask questions of the home defence as the game opened up.

Jack Westbrook twice made crucial clearances in quick succession as United were forced to defend in depth for the first time and Rogers fired a dipping shot over from 20 yards.

Ford freshened things up by sending Darius Browne and Duran Martin into the fray. United seemed to happy to soak up any Taunton pressure and look to catch them on the counter-attack.

But it was from a set-piece that United doubled their advantage in the 79th minute. Browne’s quick free-kick went into a crowded six-yard box where Gunn got the final touch.

Needing a quick response, Taunton upped the tempo and substitute Craig Veal headed wide from Price’s cross. Price also headed over from Short’s cross but United comfortably held on to go back up.