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Boston 1 Telford 0 - Report and pictures

On the day of a big heavyweight contest, the boxing metaphors weren’t misplaced on what was likely to be the Bucks last-ever visit to Boston’s York Street home. Gavin Cowan’s team had to battle the strong winds buffeting the flat Lincolnshire landscape, as well as the third-placed hosts, but were comfortably matching them and ahead on the scorecards of most impartial observers. However, they were winded by a low blow in the form of a disputed penalty call that was to settle the contest and led to the dismissal after the final whistle of defender Arlen Birch.

The game’s biggest talking point arrived just before the half-hour mark; referee Callum Walchester’s handling of the game left plenty to be desired, but his decision to assess a foul against Arlen Birch in the 27th minute was one of his wilder ones, and the Bucks couldn’t disguise their fury. Boston manager Craig Elliott conceded after the game that the call in his side’s favour was “a soft penalty”, and he wasn’t alone in those thoughts.

Largely ineffective until that point, a ball over the Bucks defence and into the penalty area looked dangerous; Birch stretched to put the ball out for a corner, only for Frank Mulhern to tumble over the defender’s leg well after Birch’s intervention. The Lowestoft-based official indicated a spot-kick, to the astonishment of the away side, and possibly many of the home contingent too. The Pilgrims had barely laid a finger on the Bucks, but handed the opportunity to land a decisive punch they did so, Dominic Knowles despatching the kick from 12 yards.

The Bucks got themselves back up off the canvas to push the Pilgrims all the way, as the hosts robust approach drew blood on occasion; Ryan Barnett was left on the deck early on with a swollen lower lip and spitting out claret when defender Scott Garner resorted to a raised arm to prevent the winger racing past him. Pilgrims team-mate Frank Mulhern spent most of the afternoon arriving second to most challenges but escaped any form of censure from the officials.

Garner looked the weak link in a heavyweight Boston defensive trio, and was perhaps mindful of the threat Barnett offered. He had already served notice when sent haring down the right flank in the 11th minute; his low cross was met by Marcus Dinanga a few yards out, but his contact was poor, and although home keeper Peter Crook was grounded, Dinanga’s deflected shot lack direction and pace, so much so that he was almost to catch it to get a second bit of the cherry before running out of room.

That was the one notable moment of an opening half-hour where neither side could establish any real control, hampered by the winds which seemed to be disrupting the hosts’ game plan more than Telford’s. It was an ill wind that blew the Bucks off course, in the shape of Knowles’ spot-kick, and given the unexpected impetus of a goal they had barely warranted, the Pilgrims enjoyed the better of the first half’s remaining stages.

Neither side had been able to show much quality, although the Bucks had slightly the better of any efforts to master the conditions. With the wind at their backs in the second half, Cowan’s side started the half brightly and won some early corners, free-kicks and long throws from which they sought to test the home side, without creating any clear chances.

Just before the hour mark, Boston’s Knowles almost drew a howler from Zak Lilly, but the defender thankfully made only a slight contact on a low cross that could have ended up in the net but flew across goal and wide. Simon Ainge headed narrowly over from a corner as Boston looked set for a big round, but which failed to materialise.

Barnett fired the ball over the crossbar from 30 yards and Brendon Daniels drilled a free-kick into Crook’s midriff as the Bucks tried to use the conditions in their favour, to no avail. Crook and his defence survived more dangerous set-piece deliveries as the away side began to land more jabs, but not the big punch they were looking for. Crook palmed away a Barnett cross off the head of the incoming Theo Streete, and with Aaron Williams and Matty Stenson both introduced off the bench it was clear the Bucks felt a point was there to be claimed. Boston weren’t rocked back on their heels, but had to be watchful, so slender was their advantage.

Home substitute Jordan Thewlis possessed enough trickery to try and make the game safe and did have the ball in the net as the five minutes of time added by the officials began, but an offside flag raised long before disappointed both he and the home fans, desperate for a second goal to calm their nerves.

Ultimately one goal proved to be enough; the game ended with the Bucks still searching but left frustrated, and it was likely frustration that led to a red card for defender Birch after the final whistle. Already substituted as the Bucks gambled on going forwards, Birch allowed his emotions to get the better of him as the teams left the field, and his decision to express them in Mr Walchester’s direction, along with an alleged push, were ill-advised if understandable, and will probably bring a lengthy suspension.

AFC Telford United: Luyambula, Birch (Cowans 88), White, Deeney (c), Lilly, Streete, Barnett, Walker, Dinanga (Stenson 73), McQuilkin (Williams 63), Daniels.

Unused substitutes: Royle, Knights.

Cautions: Lilly.

Dismissals: Birch.

Boston United: Crook, Rollins, Whittle, Garner, Ainge, Shiels (c), Platt, Abbott, Knowles (Thewlis 75), Mulhern (Wright 86), Thanoj (Heslop 81).

Unused substitutes: Warren, Jackson.

Scorer(s): Knowles (27 penalty).

Cautions: Platt.

Referee: Callum Walchester.

Assistants: Tim Walker; Mark Chalkeley.

Attendance: 1269.

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