Saturday (March 4) saw New Hedges Saundersfoot (NHS) travel across the Cleddau Bridge to the pastures of Johnston AFC, a cold Glebelands playing fields.
This was a much-anticipated return leg fixture for Alan Brindley’s squad and a chance for Johnston to continue their fine form of late and a possible chance to push NHS to the wire in the battle for automatic promotion and a second place finish in Manderwood sponsored Division 5.
With last week's fixture against Lawrenny unfortunately postponed, NHS were keen to continue their momentum in a possible promotion push.
With Captain Justin Silver between the sticks, a late back four reshuffle of Rhys Bates, Sam Coleman, Ben Gray and youngster Taine Brace was put in place.
It was left to the experienced midfield generals Dan Bates and Richard Bambrick to bolster the midfield and with the ever-present Joe Simmons and the tireless Evan Owen on the flanks, and up front the now usual pairing of Adam Davidson and Nick Cope looked to continue their fine form as of recent weeks!
The opening fifteen minutes saw a heated tetchy affair with both sides looking to mark their stamp on the game with some very competitive challenges to say the least. This was to set the tone for the afternoon and to keep local Johnston stalwart Mick Algeri on his toes as referee and man in the middle.
With a shortage of referees available to the lower league, it meant they had to provide their own. It is surely only a matter time before the volunteer referees decide that there is only so much abuse they will accept, before they join the many others who have hung up their whistles for good. No referees mean No games!
With the opening exchanges apparent for both sides, it was NHS who took the lead in the eighteenth minute with left back Rhys Bates popping up with a cooly struck twenty-five yarder into the top left corner of the net and a first goal of the season for Bates.
NHS United continued to build pressure on the strong Johnston team and nearly made it two on the stroke of half time as a neat passage of play saw livewire Evan Owen burst down the flank to set up Adam Davidson with a strike that was heroically saved by the Johnston keeper.
The second half started at a frantic pace with NHS defending the slope and with Johnston continuously applying pressure that would see the equalising goal in the forty ninth minute to make it one a piece.
As the battle line of challenges continued and with referee Algeri needing eyes in the back of his head, it was Johnston who gained the upper hand with a neatly lobbed high ball over the top to put the home side ahead with a second and winning goal of the day.
A day of reflection for NHS who have two away fixtures to complete the season and a possible promotion still in the balance.