A local derby that was promised a couple of weeks ago finally got played on a perfectly clear January night whilst the temperature off the pitch was cold, the tempers on the pitch where fiery for this match.
The game kicked off with both sides hitting long hopeful balls being cut out by either defences, some of the tackles showing the desire of the players on both team to come out on top.
The first chance of note came on the 7th minute, after a late challenge on Kai Hewitson left Callum Boakes a free kick from just outside the box to the right of the goal. Boakes struck it sweetly with his left foot, forcing Brandon keeper Steven Skinner to smuggle the ball up and over the bar for the corner.
9′ Goal – Esh Winning 1 (Hewitson Pen) – 0 Brandon United
With Esh in the ascendency the ball fell to Max Stoker on the edge of the centre circle, spotting Callum Boakes getting the jump on his defender, he sends a perfectly weighted outside of the foot pass splitting the full back and his centre half. Boakes running on to the ball looks to drive into the left hand side of the box before being bundled over by Reece Marshall when bearing down on goal, clear penalty and a yellow card for Marshall. Kai Hewitson steps up and cooly slots the ball home giving Skinner no chance.
The goal seemed to rattle the Brandon side, demonstrated when Reece Brown darted down the right wing, getting to the edge of the area, shielded the ball just as Connor Lowes went right through the back of him resulting in a yellow card that could easily have been a red on another occasion. Boakes again with the free kick, however this time leaves Skinner untroubled and balloons the ball over the bar.
With Brandon gaining a foothold in the match their first chance fell to Craig Hindmarch on the 18th minute who narrowly missed a viscous free kick taken by Craig Ruddy, when any touch would more than likely resulted in a goal.
The game became scrappy for the rest of the first half. A swinging arm by Lee Blades catching Paul Oxley in the face, and not dealt with by referee Adam Nichol, led to a five minute outbreak of bad tackles and grumblings from both teams. Gav Brown receiving a caution for breaking up the play before Blades again kicked out at Oxley whilst attempting to get on to a through ball. Mr Nichol saw this one and produced a Yellow card for the offence.
The final chance of a dour last 20 minutes of the first half fell to Esh and Hewitson who ran on to a loose ball 40 yards out, unleashing a rocket of a shot that left Skinner rooted to the spot, however the ball narrowly went over the bar.
HT: Esh Winning 1 – 0 Brandon United
The second half started with a flurry of fouls and dangerous free kicks in Brandons favour, Reece Brown, Summerson and Paul Oxley all receiving yellow cards trying to stem the tide. Fortunately for the stags the resulting free kicks caused no panic. The closest from Ruddy flashed a yard wide of Mark Fish in the Esh goal.
Following the dangerous few minutes, Esh began to find a rhythm and whilst not creating any clear cut chances managed to control the game.
Goal 60′ Esh Winning 2 (Hewitson) – Brandon United 0
With Boakes, Hewitson and Halpin beginning to look more and more dangerous it seemed only a matter of time before a clear cut chance was created. Boakes receiving the ball just inside the Brandon half, looked up and saw Kai Hewitson darting forward. Boakes threads a perfectly weighted ball and with the defence stepping forward and claiming an offside which the linesman disagreed with it fell to Hewitson one on one with Skinner. Choosing power Hewitson strikes the ball hard and at head height, Skinner gets a hand to the ball but it is not quite strong enough to stop the ball crossing the line and into the goal for his second of the evening. As always I will give my honest opinion, I was inline with the play and Hewitson did appear to be half a yard offside, with Luke Thompson being the deepest of the defenders stepping forward at the last second.
With Esh still in the ascendency Hewitson missed a golden chance for his hatrick, after good work from Connor Halpin on the left he sends the ball into the area, with no one around him on the penalty spot it looked for all the world to be Esh’s third goal. Hewitson striking the ball low to the keepers left, Skinner remarkably pulls out a save to deny Esh the safety net of a third goal.
Brandon came out fighting following that save, Jordon Lee sending a daisy cutter of a cross across the box crying out to be tapped in, however it split the three Brandon players in the box and went out for a throw in.
Goal 82′ Esh Winning 2 – 1 (Fingleton) Brandon United
With Esh conceding a soft corner it was always likely to cause issues, the ball whipped in was not dealt with effectively leaving the towering Niall Fingleton an uncontested header from six yard out. Fish in the Esh goal not standing a chance. Brandon scoring with only their second shot on target in the game.
Goal 84′ Esh Winning 2 – 2 (Fingleton) Brandon United
Unbelievably in the space of two minutes the game turned on its head. After a long ball down the right wing saw a shot from the edge of the 6 yard was blocked by Fish down by his left hand post, the ball sprang back into play, a scramble ensued and what looked to be a foul on an Esh defender was turned down by Mr Nichol, the ball fell to Niall Fingleton again in the right space at the right time and hit the ball goalwards. Max Stoker got a foot to the ball and cleared it, believing it to be not over the goal line he gets up to continue the game, only for the referee to award the goal. I cannot give an opinion on whether it did or did not cross as I did not have the right angle on it, what I will say however is that it did look a clear foul in the build up to the goal.
With the equaliser scored Brandon reverted to a defensive game, Captain Craig Ruddy telling his players on the return to the centre circle that a point is something they should settle for.
The final chance of the game fell to Esh in the 93rd minute of the game, after a snap shot by Hewitson was parried by Skinner, Connor Halpin gambled on the rebound, getting to the ball he tries to tap it around Skinner before finishing. With Skinner on the ground he raises his left arm and appears to take down Halpin, the ball rolling to safety. With every one of Esh’s players and management expecting a penalty Mr Nichol waves the claims away before blowing for full time shortly afterwards. From the angle I was at, inline with the 18 yard box on the opposite side of the field, with no obstruction I fail to see how no penalty was given, however that is football.
A smash and grab from Brandon resulted in them scrapping to an arguably undeserved point, but their desire to come back and not lay down should of course be admired. It is another point towards the total as we aim to look up the table rather than down with the half way point well passed in the season.
Esh XI: Fish, Summerson (y), Swift, Stoker (c), G. Brown (y), Soulsby, R. Brown (y) (Mann 63′), Oxley (y) (Wilkinson 71′), Halpin (y), Hewitson (2), Boakes (Arnott 80′ (y))
Unused Subs: Robinson, Kent
Brandon XI: Skinner, Marshall, Wren, Fingleton (2), Hindmarch, Thompson, Lowes, Ruddy (c), Blades, Stephenson, Lee
Subs: Alderson, Jones, Byrne, Quine
Referee: A. Nicholl
Assistants: M. Guffick, J. Gordon
Match Reporter: Adam Wilding
All views and opinions expressed in this report are my own and do not represent those of the club or any person.