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Slimbridge 3 Westfields 2: last-gasp Neill pinches it for Swans

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It was a night of drama at Thornhill Park worthy of any Friday night football game, writes Tim Blake.

Three goals in the first half – Marley Thomas for the Swans, and then Kyle Cassell and Harry Summers for the visitors look to have given Westfields, who started the game in third spot in the league, the points as the game hit the 90- minute mark.

But then Slimbridge recorded one of the great comebacks in their recent history. As the clock ticked towards 91 minutes, Charlie Hitching’s headed home Marley Thomas’s corner to level things up. 

A mere 23 seconds after Westfield had kicked off again, George Neill, returning after his injury absence, rounded Westfields Keeper Jack Oxenham and converted the winner to spark celebrations on and off the pitch that Joint Manager Tom Deakin could only describe after the game as ‘scenes’. 

Deakin said: “I think it’s a very big win for us in terms of the season – that’s probably the best team we’ve played. They were very good on the ball, and they were the best all round team we’ve played all season. That’s a good statement for us to put out, that we’re going to keep pushing and working, but of course there’s a long long way to go.” 

The early third of the game was a closely fought encounter, with chances for both sides – with just two minutes on the clock, Dan Stoneman was inches off target for Westfields, while at the other end, Marley Thomas, who was a threat throughout for the home side, brought a save from Oxenham with a deflected effort. 

On ten minutes, Theo Clayson was played in down the flank in a carbon copy of the move that resulted with his goal at Mangotsfield on Tuesday night, but his effort this time was just inches too high. 

At the other end, Ellis Parker was getting plenty of work, making two good saves from Cassell. 

The deadlock was broken on 32 minutes, when Thomas broke down the Slimbridge left, drew the keeper and coolly slotted the ball home to put the hosts ahead. 

The lead only lasted eight minutes though, as Cassell finally managed to beat Parker after being played in by Stoneman to level things up. 

Westfields took the lead in the third minute of stoppage time, after Cassell headed a cross into the path of Harry Summers, and he drilled the ball into the net to give Westfields the advantage at the break. 

Westfields came out determined to finish the game off, but Slimbridge held firm despite the visitors having the majority of possession in the early stages of the second half

The game developed into a stalemate, albeit an entertaining one to watch, but the last fifteen minutes of the game saw Slimbridge pressing hard for the equalising goal, with the visitors on the back foot. 

With ten minutes remaining, Ben Hands was just off target, and George Neill, who had replaced Rudi McKinnon in the 78th minute, was close with a header as the game drew towards its conclusion.

Then came the two minutes of action that will be long remembered by all who were in the 210-strong crowd, and that sparked wild celebrations at the final whistle. 

Speaking after the game, Tom Deakin was full of praise for his team, as you might have expected: “It’s hard to sum up really – a great result, a brilliant result. I thought we kept pushing second half and that we might get something from it, but to turn it from a defeat into a win in, I think it was about 45 seconds, just shows how good these boys are at sticking together. 

“Both games this week, it’s been late goals, and we’ve flipped it really from where we were last season. 

“We’d spoken to a couple of people about previous games they’d had (against Westfields), and they said that if you stay in the game against them, they will start to get a little rattled, and to be fair, it was true. 

“The longer the game went on, the tighter it was at 2-1, there was always a chance in it. I don’t really think they tested us in the second half in terms of creating opportunities, they had a lot of the ball, but didn’t go anywhere with it. 

“It was brilliant to see Char (Hitchings) score, he’s been close to two or three this year that have been blocked, and it’s great to have George back on the pitch firstly. As much as Hawesy (Will Hawes) has been brilliant for us, we have missed George in a different aspect. His strength, his power, you’ve just got to get the ball across the face of goal and anything can happen.”’ “

Slimbridge return to Thornhill Park a week Tuesday (September 19th, 7.45pm) when table- topping Corsham Town will be the visitors. 

The Under 18 have their first League game next Tuesday at Thornhill, when they entertain Ledbury Town (September 12th, 7.30pm) 

Slimbridge: Parker, Mara (Mbunga 85), Prictor, Hands, Dennis, Hitchings, McKinnon (Neill 78), Dashfield (Jaggers 72),  Clayson, Smith (Blackie 61), Thomas

Goals: Thomas 32, Hitchings 90, Neill 90+1 

Supporters’ Man Of The Match: Marley Thomas

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