Longlevens have moved up to 3rd in the Hellenic Premier table thanks to a hard fought 2-1 win away at Malvern Town, in a very entertaining match between two of the better sides in the division.
After Malvern striker Matthew Turner cancelled out Ethan Dunbar’s deflected opener, Longlevens Captain Shaun O’Connor’s strike ten minutes before half time was enough for the visitors to hold onto as they continued their strong start to 2022.
The game started at a fast pace, which was to expected on a cold night playing on the 3g surface, however there wasn’t much in the way of goalmouth action in the opening ten minutes.
Then Will Emery found himself in on the right side of the box, but his driven shot flew across the goal and wide. Rudi McKinnon had a shot blocked moments later.
Longlevens took the lead on 22 minutes when the ball broke to Ethan Dunbar on the edge of the Malvern box and the forward’s effort deflected past the diving Keiron Blackburn to give the former Frampton United man his 17th goal of the season.
Malvern should have been level just before the half hour mark when Harry Clark’s ball in from the left saw Turner peel off his man, but the forward could only divert the ball wide from about 12 yards out.
The hosts didn’t have to wait too long before they were level though, as they counter attacked after Longlevens lost the ball in the midfield, with Joe Bates sent clear down the right and the former Bishops Cleeve man rolled the ball across the box for Turner to tap home the leveller.
Malvern were level for just three minutes though, with the ball laid infield to Shaun O’Connor and the Captain, who scored the winner in Levens’ Christmas win at Tuffley Rovers from a similar position, took aim from nearly 30 yards and the shot was too hot to handle for Blackburn and it squirmed through him into the bottom corner.
The goal sparked scenes of jubilation on the visiting bench, with O’Connor pointing to injured midfielder James Sunley in the stands to celebrate.
From there the game didn’t really stop until half time and the tackles began to fly in. Dave Merrick sent a spectacular volley just wide from about 20 yards out, before Malvern were lucky to not be reduced to 10-men after Turner, who was already on a yellow card, caught Ollie Long with a late tackle.
The referee seemingly gave Turner a “one more and you’re off” final chance, which on another day would have just been a second yellow.
Brad Martin should have added a third in first half stoppage time when Blackburn came out of his area to clear, but scuffed the ball to the forward – who could only sweep agonisingly wide from 30 yards out.
The second half started in pretty much the same fashion as the first, with the game not stopping but limited goalmouth action.
Malvern turned to Ben Hayes, Kyonn Evans and Dave Reynolds from the bench, with Turner, Harry Clark and James Febery all departing before the hour mark.
But with half an hour to go and the game finely poised, only a half chance for Brad Martin and a couple of speculative efforts wide from Malvern were noteworthy of the start of the second half – with Longlevens beginning to try and squeeze the life out of the game.
A one two on the edge of the Malvern box between Martin and McKinnon saw the former have an effort easily saved by Blackburn, with Joe Bates then dragging a shot wide from the edge of the Longlevens box – as both sides began to exchange shot for shot with the game entering the final ten minutes.
Longlevens substitutes Luke Troke and Cam Williams went close, with the former sending in a cross that ricocheted off the crossbar and the latter firing over from the edge of the box.
In typical fashion of Tuesday night’s game both sides had a final chance each in injury time, with Rudi McKinnon crashing a half volley straight at Blackburn. And then from the keeper’s long ball forward a beautiful cross from the left was headed just over by a Malvern head – with about 6 players throwing themselves at it!
But in the end Longlevens held on to make it eight wins in a row heading into two mouth-watering fixtures against 2nd placed Bradford Town on Saturday, followed by the visit of league leaders Bishops Cleeve the following Saturday (29th January).
Centre back Joe Talbot and Shaun O’Connor were the two players who received most of the plaudits from the Longlevens travelling support, with the former particularly impressive throughout the 90 minutes.
Longlevens find themselves in the dizzying heights of 3rd placed and despite having played one or two games more than the teams around them, they still have to play six of the top 10, including the return game against Malvern at Saw Mills in February.
Their next two games will all but decide whether they could potentially finish in the top two and push for promotion, with even three points out of six seeing Craig Martin & Michael Palmer’s men well in the mix for a big end to the season.
Longlevens host Bradford Town at Saw Mills on Saturday afternoon, whilst Malvern head to Royal Wootton Bassett Town.
Malvern Town: Blackburn, Harris, Platt, Timmins, J Sauntson, Febery, Loader, Bullock, Turner, Clark, Bates
Subs: Evans, Hayes, Reynolds, A Sauntson
Longlevens: Parker, Emery, Talbot, Long, Barnett, Westrip, Merrick, O’Connor, Dunbar, Martin, McKinnon
Subs: Winman, Troke, Williams, Priday, Johnstone
M&S Roofing Man of the Match – Joe Talbot (Longlevens)