North Leigh were straight back to action on Tuesday evening and looking to back up Saturdays impressive victory on the road with another 3 points. Halesowen Town were the visitors to Eynsham Park. The away side had started the season well and are expected to be in the mix at the top of the league come the end of the season.
Two enforced changes were made to the Millers line up. Striker George Seacole missed out through injury and was replaced by Tyriq Hunte; Muhammed Otuyo was in for the suspended Edward Cavanagh between the sticks.
Once again, a good crowd was in attendance for the game. A large contingent making their way down from west Birmingham and contributing to a lively atmosphere before, during and after the match.
After a disappointing result for the away side at the weekend, it was no surprise to see them impose themselves on proceedings early and seeing the majority of the ball. The Millers rearguard stood up to the pressure well, though, and restricted the opposition to half chances at best. The home side looked dangerous on the break and did have an opportunity through Callum McNish; the midfielder, at the heart of some fine one-touch interplay down the left, saw his effort blocked away.
With 15 minutes on the clock Captain Ben Brown went down and appeared to be holding his hamstring, unable to continue. This will be a concern for the Millers as both he and Adam Learoyd were forming a good partnership in the centre of defence. This change perhaps unsettled the back line as just over 5 minutes later Halesowen took the lead. Ashley Sammon found time and space on the edge of the Millers’ box, and was able to arrow a strike into the bottom left corner giving the goalkeeper no chance to get down.
The Millers reacted impressively to the goal though, and began to look for a way back into the game. In fact, they thought they had found an immediate reply. Callum McNish once again at the centre of the attack, demonstrated smart control on a slaloming run into the box, and was able to lay the ball off for Hunte who calmly found the bottom corner of the net. However, after much deliberation between the officials, the goal was eventually ruled out for offside despite Lance Williams having no involvement on Tyriq's shot.
The remainder of the first half was played out in a hot-tempered atmosphere, the Millers frustrated by the ruled out goal and Halesowen riled with some firm tackling from the home side. Seconds before the whistle signalling half time, things boiled over as a heavy tackle from Reece Hewitt on Harry Grant left the North Leigh midfielder in a heap as a fracas ensued around him involving players from either side. Once again the referee consulted his officials, issuing a straight red to Hewitt. Halesowen would have to play the entire second half with only ten men.
The start of the second half was end to end, Halesowen committed to getting forward when possible while North Leigh pressed hard for the leveller. Home keeper Muhammed Otuyo was forced to make smart saves as firstly, a cross-glanced off the head of Learoyd towards the goal and then from Luke Yates who battled past the defensive line to fire in on goal. North Leigh, just unable to create a clear chance, saw their best effort saved coming from a signature Harry Grant shot from the edge of the area.
Half chances for the Millers kept coming but the home crowd were left wondering whether this just wasn’t to be their night. However, the equaliser finally arrived with a little over 10 minutes remaining. Lance Williams, having another impressive game, was unable to convert from the initial chance, but the ball was returned to the box moments later and this time he was able to smash home past the keeper for his first goal of the season. A much-deserved equaliser for the home side.
The game was on a knife-edge and could easily go either way at this point. Halesowen were a constant threat on the break during the second half. Winning possession in their half they were quick to send a long ball over the home defence to play in substitute Montel Gibson who, with fresh legs, was able to outpace the defence and get in on goal. The striker fired a fierce shot that squirmed through the hands of home keeper Otuyo and the away side were back in the lead with little time left on the clock.
The Millers re-doubled their efforts and looked for a second equaliser of the match as full time approached. The clearest opportunity falling to left back Kynan Isaac, who first saw a shot well saved and then blazed a half volley up and over. That was that for North Leigh though, as delighted celebrations greeted the final whistle from Halesowen players, officials and fans alike.
Defeat will be hard to take for all associated with North Leigh FC. They will be left to rue a disallowed goal and defeat to 10 men on home soil. Consolation must be taken though having acquitted themselves excellently against one of the league favourites.
Attention now turns to a long trip down the M5 on Saturday to face Willand Rovers FC in the 1st Qualifying round of the FA Cup.