COUNTY midfielder Jimmy Ball was the Hatters’ saviour in a 2-2 draw at strugglers Boston United on Saturday, heading home a 97th-minute leveller as Jim Gannon’s men fought back from 2-0 down at the Jakeman’s Stadium.
Big target man Gregg Smith had given the hosts a first-half lead in bitter conditions in Lincolnshire, before winger Ashley Hemmings doubled the lead midway through the second half – with both of the Pilgrims’ goals coming from the enormous throw of fullback Sam Muggleton, which continually caused havoc in the County penalty area.
But the in-form Matty Warburton curled home a wonderful free-kick with twenty minutes to play, before Ball dramatically powered home from a Scott Duxbury cross – with 97 minutes on the clock.
Hatters boss Gannon was forced into a solitary change from the side which had bested neighbours FC United in the National League North a week earlier, with winger Kallum Mantack coming in as a straight swap for the injured Ben McKenna, who had suffered a cut to his foot which required glueing together during midweek training.
Despite the like-for-like change, Gannon opted to continue with the same 4-2-3-1 formation which had yielded a 4-1 victory over the Red Rebels last Saturday – with Bohan Dixon gradually returning to form in his favoured number ten position.
Darren Stephenson, who’s endured a torrid time since his summer move to Edgeley Park, continued on his comeback trail with a place on an attacking bench.
Gannon had pinpointed the dangerous throw of Muggleton – son of former Hatters’ goalkeeper Carl – as a threat for the lowly Pilgrims, now under the stewardship of former Football League striker Karl Hawley as the former play-off contenders look to stave off a relegation battle in the sixth tier.
And, in truth, Muggleton’s thunderous throws into the Hatters penalty area were United’s main source of chances throughout the scrappy affair, with County twice succumbing to goals which came directly from Muggleton throw-ins.
But it was County who registered the first strike on target, with the Dixon bursting into the area and cutting back for the pacey Mantack to find space and fire straight at stopper George Willis.
Despite the pace and trickery of wingers Hemmings and Jay Rollins either side of the large frame of Smith, Boston had failed to test County ‘keeper Ben Hinchliffe up until the opening goal fifteen minutes before the interval.
The visitors, led superbly be captain Michael Clarke who repeatedly got his head to the majority of the home side’s pumped balls into the box, had begun playing a number of stray passes out of play under little pressure – gifting their hosts the opportunity for Muggleton to launch the ball towards goal from the sidelines; and The Hatters’ resistance soon crumbled.
After yet another gift for Hawley’s side, Muggleton hurled a throw into the six yard box, where Smith overcame three men in the white of County to power his close-range header high past a helpless Hinchliffe.
Boston, who had failed to win at home in two months even before the visit of County, clearly County knew the importance of three points and begun killing time immediately following the opening goal – with a tactic which would later come back to haunt the hosts.
The game continued in
●●Dan Cowan weaves his way through midfield
●●Jimmy Ball heads County’s last-gasp leveller at Boston United on Saturday and, inset, celebrates his goal