FT: Plymouth Parkway 3 (Hillson 10, Williams 34, Krac 50) Bitton 0
At a blustery Bolitho Park, despite the lure of Champions League on TV, a decent crowd of 166 turned out for the heavyweight clash between 2nd placed Parkway and 3rd placed Bitton separated only by goal difference. Parkway were looking to extend their run of 12 successive wins in all competitions (10 in the league) and close the gap on leaders Willand Rovers to a single point. Due to Armed Forces commitments, Parkway had two players unavailable and 3 changes were made from last Saturday’s victory at Cadbury Heath. Bitton got off to a fast start with the lively Dean Griffiths forcing Kyle Moore into an early save at the near post and then firing just over on 5 minutes. The game quickly became fast and furious with both sides playing at a high tempo and it was Parkway who struck the first blow on 10 minutes with their first real attack. An incisive build up down the right ended with Sam Hillson firing in a shot from the right flank which cannoned downwards off the underside of the bar with Teigan Rosenquest bundling the loose ball home at the far post to make sure. The referees assistant later confirmed that the ball had crossed the line from the initial shot and the goal was awarded to Hillson. No goal line technology or VAR at Bolitho yet!! The game continued at a fast pace with both sides looking well organised, physical and playing with intensity. The tricky Joe McClennan was a constant threat for Bitton down their left with Kane Ingram pulling the strings in midfield and Griffiths continuing to test the Parkway defence with his strong running. The Parkway midfield gradually started to take control and on 14 minutes a penetrating run from deep by the impressive Jamie Lowry ended with his powerful strike being saved at full length by Dan Worton. With both sides looking to utilise their flanks at every opportunity, defences continued to come under pressure but generally remained solid. Bitton almost equalised on 25 minutes after confusion between Moore and Nick Milton in the 18 yard box allowed Griffiths a shot on target which was blocked at the second attempt. With Shane Krac and the increasingly influential Lowry now gaining more possession and the customary doggedness of the unsungChristian Pople constantly breaking up play and playing simple and effective passes, Parkway gradually began to impose their authority on the game. On 29 minutes a neat exchange of passes between Lowry and Mikey Williamson the right almost breached the Bitton defence who managed to clear to safety. Bitton continued to threaten forcing Parkway to defend in numbers with both Milton and Michael Landricombe outstanding at the back winning numerous headers and tackles. Parkway continued to press with Lowry always prompting and probing for an opening and they doubled their lead on 34 minutes. Excellent hold up play wide on the right by Adam Carter saw him link neatly with Williams who took a return pass, drove into the 18 yard box and finished with aplomb for a quality goal. Bitton bounced straight back and after a free kick had been cleared, the follow up shot from around 10 yards forced an instinctive save with his feet from the alert Moore. Parkway then almost increased their lead with a powerful Carter header from a free kick being superbly saved by Worton. Play continued to fluctuate with both sides having their periods of dominance and creating some half chances but with defences holding firm, the half ended with Parkway good value for their lead. With Bitton now having to chase the game, they started the second half pushing forward forcing an early corner but it was Parkway who increased their lead on 50 minutes. A Krac free kick from the right was cleared out to Rosanquest on the left who showed good skill and awareness to set up Krac who drilled home a quality rising strike from around 18 yards. Bitton replaced Matt Groves with Josh Egan on 55 minutes as Parkway playing with high energy looked to force the pace with a strong run and cross from the left by Carter being well cut out by Worton on 58 minutes. On the hour mark Lowry, always looking comfortable and confident in possession, saw his 25 yard effort fly narrowly wide. Bitton continued to compete fiercely but the nearest they came to scoring was a wild free kick from Egan which flew well wide. Ingram sustained an injury and was replaced by Jordan Whittaker on 62 minutes. With Parkway continuing to threaten, Lowry headed just wide on 65 minutes after a smart passage of play between himself, Williams and Rosanquest. Bitton were reduced to 10 men on 68 minutes when keeper Worton was shown a straight red card for foul and abusive language to a referees assistant. Aysha Corrick took over between the sticks. Carter was then shown a yellow card apparently for retaliation after a midfield melee as tempers became frayed. The impressive Griffiths was replaced by Ben Bament on 72 minutes with Carter, who had caused the Bitton defence problems all game, being replaced up front by Jordan Annear. Bitton continued to press with Parkway dealing comfortably with their attacks and Moore rarely being called into action. Bitton’s Ibrahima Diallo was booked for persistent infringement on 75 minutes as play became disjointed and at times feisty. On 78 minutes Rosanquest reacted to confusion between the replacement keeper and a defender only to fire into the side netting from a narrow angle. On 83 minutes Jack Rhead replaced Krac, who had had another fine game, and almost capped a nice little cameo with a shot from 10 yards on 86 minutes which was blocked and cleared. With 10 men Bitton now running out of steam, Parkway eased their way to the end of the game for a crucial and deserved victory against their close rivals which, with just 9 games to go, surely puts them firmly in the frame as genuine title contenders. Parkway visit Bitton in the reverse fixture in a couple of weeks time and must also visit 4th placed Westbury United. Another hard fought, gritty performance against strong opponents with moments of quality football, clinical finishing and solid defending proving to be the difference between the two sides. There is no let up in the action as Bridport visit Bolitho Park on Saturday with Parkway looking to maintain their momentum and keep the pressure on the league leaders as the season draws towards it’s exciting climax.