Super Puritans hit right notes to go top of the charts

Banbury United's  Leam Howards is denied by Winchester City's Jamie Thoroughgood and keeper Brendan Norris at Spencer Stadium
Banbury United's Leam Howards is denied by Winchester City's Jamie Thoroughgood and keeper Brendan Norris at Spencer Stadium

Banbury United went top of the Evo-Stik Southern League after they held on to beat previous leaders Winchester City 2-1 at Spencer Stadium.

First half goals from Felipe Barcelos and top scorer Ricky Johnson, with his 23rd of the Division One South & West campaign, saw the Puritans home in front of nearly 600 fans despite Warren Bentley’s late reply. But United should have had the points in the bag long before then had they had taken any of their numerous second half chances.

On this day in 1986 the UK number one was ‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going’ and the Puritans did just that to go top of the charts 30 years on.

It was a cagey opening to the top-of-the-table clash. City were quick to close United down all over the pitch and got especially tight on Zac McEachran.

Chances were few and far between. Andy Gunn headed wide from a Darius Browne free-kick before Bentley turned well in the box but failed to trouble Jack Harding and Zac Glasspool missed a decent chance at the far post.

The division’s top two scorers both found it difficult to create good openings before United broke the deadlock in the 25th minute. McEachran finally found space in the box, releasing Barcelos with a perfectly-weighted pass and he beat Brendan Norris from a tight angle despite the keeper getting a touch to the ball.

Boosted by the breakthrough, United stepped up a gear and finally began to find openings in the City defence. Norris had to be quick off the line moments later to thwart Barcelos on the edge of his box after he raced clear.

Micky Hubbard flashed a shot wide after United failed to deal fully with a corner but the visitors struggled to create openings as the Puritans cut off the supply to the prolific Bentley.

United went close when the ball smacked Norris in the face and while his defenders froze Johnson quickly turned and forced the startled keeper to palm his snap-shot away from a corner. From Browne’s ensuing flag-kick Gunn fired into the side-netting.

But United doubled their advantage three minutes before the break when Browne picked out Johnson with a superb curling pass and the top scorer nipped between Leigh Mills and Jamie Thoroughgood to beat Norris from six yards.

City were quickly out of the blocks after the restart but United had two good chances to increase their lead. Browne released Barcelos who raced into the box but Norris was quickly out to smother his effort and moments later the keeper kept out a low drive from the over-lapping Callum White after he was picked out by McEachran’s inch perfect pass.

City went close to reducing the arrears when Bentley’s flick was cleared off the line by Gunn. But United should have made it safe when they missed three good chances in as many minutes.

Barcelos again beat the offside trap but allowed Norris to save at his feet and the ball fell to Duran Martin who poked it just wide. Browne then failed to head home McEachran’s cross from just a yard out when he should have scored.

But Browne could not have done much more to get on the score sheet moments later when he raced down the right, cut inside Danny King and hit a pile driver which Norris somehow kept out with a superb save. The overworked Norris pulled off a double save to deny Martin and substitute Leam Howards was thwarted from the rebound.

The second half developed into an end-to-end affair and King’s drive was blocked by Westbrook as City tried to get back into a contest which should have already been beyond them.

And they got back into it in the 80th minute when Jamie Barron’s free-kick found Bentley and his looping header beat Harding and nestled in the far corner of the net. Hubbard went close moments later when he could only hook the ball over the bar after Harding had parried a low drive from Glassboys.

George Nash should have capped another impressive display when he blazed over in stoppage-time from Johnson’s low cross following a quick counter-attack. Barron fired wide through a crowded box but that was City’s final chance as United took all three precious points.