St. Helens Town gained their first win since early December with a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Abbey Hey at Brocstedes Park on Saturday, the winning goal coming against the run of play and proving to be the turning-point in a see-saw encounter.
Chances were few and far between in the opening quarter on a tricky pitch, still heavy in places from the recent rains and the stiff breeze also affected the run of the ball.
Town opened the scoring after 25 minutes when Michael Sykes-Wright put in a low drive from as many yards out, which seemed to catch visiting keeper John McIlwaine unsighted and the well-placed shot found its way in at the left-hand post.
The home side might have increased their lead almost immediately when Andy Olsen’s goal-bound flick was cleared off the line by Josh Morrell with McIlwaine beaten and another opportunity saw Andy Gillespie, once again turning in a man-of-the-match performance, find Nathan Parish in a good position, but his header was saved by the goalie.
St. Helens should have been well ahead at the break, but had to settle for a single-goal lead.
The second half opened with Abbey Hey gaining control of the midfield, the ball was not running for the Town side and the equaliser on 57 minutes had a feeling of inevitability.
Goalkeeper Ciaran Gibson hoofed a goal-kick out of play on the half-way line and, from the resulting throw, the ball found its way quickly to Sam Jones who scored easily from the edge of the box.
Abbey Hey had the better of nearly all the exchanges as the half wore on and, without a win in seven games, Town appeared to be losing their way. The Manchester side nearly took the lead on the hour when Tom Murray hit the bar with Gibson beaten.
However, Gillespie turned on his magic and, gaining possession near the corner flag, he dribbled past a number of defenders, right along the goal-line and, drawing McIlwaine on his near post, placed the ball in the back of the net from the narrowest of angles, on 70 minutes.
From that point on, the game turned on its head. Abbey Hey produced only one effort on goal, Wes Harney’s shot rebounding off Gibson’s right-hand post straight into his arms as Jones ran in.
Substitutes Jamil Saleh and Adam Storey replaced Olsen and Tom Lightbody, both of whom looked drained by the heavy pitch and it was Town who finished comfortably and they could have secured a more comfortable win had Parish’s 20-yard drive not cleared the bar by a matter of inches.
Bootle are the visitors on Saturday (15th) and next Monday (17th) Town make the short trip to the Pavilions to take on Runcorn Town.