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Analysis: First-half goal rush pushes AFC Telford United closer to the drop

Bucks manager Kevin Wilkin often talks about how games are defined by moments; the ability to see them developing, and either seize them or take evasive action.

Adam Livingstone (25) (AFC Telford United Defender) brings the ball down the wing past Curzons Hayden Campbell
Adam Livingstone (25) (AFC Telford United Defender) brings the ball down the wing past Curzons Hayden Campbell

This defeat contained moments of madness, most notably a second red card of the season for defender Harry Flowers, and a frenetic and chaotic five minutes which was to put this game beyond the Bucks’ reach by half-time.

To their credit, Wilkin’s side produced a spirited second-half showing that could have and may have warranted a point; however, a straight red card for Flowers in the 85th minute hobbled his teammates in their efforts to snatch a draw.

The Bucks boss had the relative luxury of naming an unchanged starting eleven from last weekend’s goalless stalemate at Hereford, although in truth it was more a case of limited resources choosing for him.

The opening first half of the first half, until just beyond the 20 minutes mark, was an even contest, if a little lacking in composure from either side. The visitors from Tameside are a side who have been punching above their weight in the Vanarama National League North for eight seasons now and are never a team to be taken lightly.

The Bucks showed plenty of energy and both defences were able the best that their opponents could muster, as both battled for control. Curzon’s former Bucks striker Tom Peers worked enough room to get a low shot on target, but it lacked power and home keeper Joe Young wasn’t troubled unduly. A couple of good free-kick positions brought inviting deliveries from wing-back Will Hayhurst, but the defence in front of Young dealt with those also.

In the 24th minute, the Bucks took the lead, and it was created by a player who was probably their man of the match, Kai Williams. The forward missed almost an entire year as a result of an injury sustained last season, but his blistering speed hasn’t been lost. His management of the ball needs work, but pace always scares defences, and when a lapse gave Williams a chance to run at the Curzon defence, he took it.

Devon Matthews, one of three 6ft plus defenders between wing-backs Hayhurst and Craig Mahon, backed off and Williams swiftly covered the 10 yards between them and breezed past Matthews before crossing low from the goal line. The cross took keeper Chris Renshaw out of the equation and reached Montel Gibson at the far post, who got just in front of a covering defender to nudge the ball in from a yard out.

Wilkin has often lamented that the Bucks don’t get their noses in front, denying themselves the opportunity to manage the game. They had achieved the first part, but Adam Lakeland’s side had no intention of letting the Bucks enact that plan.

As dark clouds massed overhead, a rainbow appeared behind the goal the visitors were attacking, and there was a pot of goals at the end of it.

Within four minutes the Nash, as the visitors are nicknamed, were level. Forward Jimmy Spencer, who recently followed manager Lakeland to Tameside from their former club Farsley Celtic, is a proven operator at this level, and when a ball played inside defender Nathan Cameron released Spencer his finish was emphatic, driving an angled, rising shot past Young and into the roof of the net from 12 yards, possibly off the underside of the bar. The Bucks might have prevented the through ball, but the quality of Spencer’s finish was undeniable; however, what followed was astonishing, and hard to excuse.

By the 30th minute, the Nash held the lead. Hayhurst at last found his range from a free-kick, and his delivery from wide on the left wing found the head of defender George Waring. A former Shrewsbury Town loanee, Waring has spent most of his career as a striker, and his thumping header was evidence of such, as he rose above a static home defence to power the ball well beyond the reach of Young.

The home crowd were stunned, but worse was to follow. In the 33rd minute, the lead stretched to 3-1 as the Bucks’ defence ran around trying to put out fires just as another started somewhere else. Spencer showed poise and awareness to square the ball to Peers, and although defender Luke Burke pulled off a point-blank block on the line, Peers collected his own rebound and smashed the ball in at the second attempt, high over Burke.

Could it get worse? It almost did. With the Bucks panicking, Hayden Campbell flighted a delightful effort from the left of the box with his right foot, the ball just dropping over the angle of post and bar to Young’s left. The keeper then denied Peers a second when he really should have scored; the forward went for power over precision, and Young got in the way.

The Bucks did find a response in the dying minutes of the half. Brad Bood arrived at the far post to volley the ball into the turf and towards the goal; the shot was blocked in the six-yard box and ran to Williams, but he couldn’t get the ball under control.

Adam Barton, part of a midfield axis with Fleetwood Town loanee Dylan Boyle, had helped to assert control and he had a shot saved from close range, as well as seeing a hard cross-shot pass through the six-yard box with nobody touching it home, Hayhurst being the closest.

Half Time: AFC Telford United 1-3 Curzon Ashton

Two goals adrift, the Bucks had little choice but to dig a little deeper. A little over five minutes had passed before Wilkin removed both of his wing-backs, Bood and Daniels, and replaced them with Adam Livingstone and Jamie Allen, and the pair contributed to a better second-half showing.

The Nash had little need to look for more goals, but didn’t look as good a team when they tried to conserve a lead as they had when tearing the Bucks apart in the final 20 minutes of the first half.

That may have been down to the Bucks also, who began to test Renshaw with more regularity. The keeper stopped a low Williams shot in the 54th minute, and Gibson lacked control when he made room for a shot but then blazed over from the edge of the box.

Renshaw then denied Williams again, as the striker’s trickery got him past a defender with ease, level with the goal line, and his attempt to beat the keeper at the near post was blocked for a corner.

A rare Curzon attack ended with Spencer shooting too high from a position similar to the one from which he’d scored. The chance came when referee Williams Davis played the advantage after a Williams foul on Boyle, returning afterwards to book the Bucks’ player.

It wasn’t a one-man crusade, but Williams was spearheading the Bucks’ response, and his shot with the outside of his foot appeared to be bending and drifting into the top corner before Renshaw plucked it to safety.

Livingstone fired an ambitious shot over the bar, the crowd appreciating his enterprise, but the Nash were soon to be breached. Williams created the opportunity, darting into space on the left to cross to the near post, and Prince Ekpolo stooped in to glance a header across Renshaw and into the far corner. It was his first goal for the club.

The visitors began to look edgy and their game management began to frustrate. Burke was booked when the away side’s bench claimed he had leant into Hayhurst, leading with his head. Referee Davis was rather lenient all afternoon, in truth, but would sporadically deal out a card here and there for offences he’d previously let pass.

In the 78th minute, a Livingstone free-kick to the far post found Gibson, but Renshaw blocked his attempted redirection of the ball inside the near post. From the resulting corner, he produced his best save yet, to deny one of his own players, whose headlong dive only succeeded in almost putting through his own net.

Another Bucks free-kick saw Burke try to beat Renshaw at his near post past a two-man wall, the keeper leaving a gap but Burke hitting the side netting with a cheeky attempt.

With momentum behind them, an equaliser looked a distinct possibility, but in the 83rd minute, Flowers dealt his side a self-inflicted blow. As Peers made ground inside the Bucks’ half close to the right touchline, Flowers decided that neither ball nor man should escape and flattened Peers with a thunderous challenge. It was crude, and the reaction of those around him made a strong case for censure. Mr Davis didn’t hesitate, and Flowers was shown a red card.

The Bucks were unable to create any more clear opportunities, although they tried. Defender Cameron was thrown up front to try and unsettle the Nash defence, but they resisted and ran the clock down by taking the ball into the corners, nullifying the additional five minutes added on.

The Bucks had seen their run of three clean sheets blown away, and if results in midweek go against them, could be relegated by defeat away to Banbury United next weekend.

Referee: William Davis.

Assistants: Matthew Jackson, Daniel McDonald.

Attendance: 1,014.

Telford: (5-1-2-2) Young, Bood (Livingstone 52), Flowers, Cameron, Daniels (Allen 52), Moore, Evans, Ekpolo, Gibson, Williams.

Subs not used: Piggott, Rowe, Salmon.

Cautioned: Williams, Burke, Cameron.

Dismissed: Flowers.

Scorers: Gibson (24), Ekpolo (70).

Curzon Ashton: (5-3-2) Renshaw, Mahon, Poscha, Matthews, Waring, Hayhurst, Campbell (Armstrong 76), Barton, Boyle, Peers, Spencer.

Subs not used: Hall, Hancock, Richards.

Cautioned: Spencer.

Scorers: Spencer (28), Waring (30), Peers (33).

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