FT: Shepton Mallet 0 Plymouth Parkway 2 (Krac 19, Carter 67)
Parkway made the lengthy Easter Monday journey to the delightful ground and set up at Shepton Mallet looking to extend their 22 match unbeaten run and maintain their position as league leaders. Parkway made 4 changes from Good Friday’s victory over Buckland Athletic with the midfield quartet of Shane Krac, Jamie Lowry, Les Afful and Mikey Williams returning in place of the unavailable Nick Milton, Jordan Trott, Teigan Rosenquest and Mike Smith. The attendance of 146 included a sizeable contingent of the Parkway massive. On a grassy surface but with an unpredictable bounce, the game got off to a fast start with Parkway forcing an early corner. They almost took the lead on 5 minutes when a good left wing break involving Krac and Williams saw Williams’ dangerous cross into the 6 yard area find Carter who mishit his close range effort after an awkward bobble of the ball at the crucial moment. Parkway continued to threaten and more good play by Carter saw him set up Afful who shot harmlessly over from around 25 yards. With The Mallet struggling to get into the game and Parkway applying early pressure, Bentley had a header from another corner cleared off the line. Mallet gradually managed to gain some decent possession with Harry Barter seeing his dangerous cross well defended on 14 minutes. With Parkway continuing to threaten, they took the lead on 19 minutes. Good work from the influential Lowry saw him link well with Carter in the 18 yard area with Carter setting up the supporting Krac running from midfield whose low bouncing shot from around 10 yards beat the diving Tom Easterbrook. Parkway continued on the offensive and almost increased their lead on 23 minutes. Good play down the right saw Sam Hillson make a strong overlapping run and deliver a quality cross with Carter only being denied by a fine block tackle by Ross Padfield. Mallet well organised and compact, were competing well in midfield and looking dangerous from set pieces as the game became more even. With Lowry neat and tidy in midfield and rarely wasting a ball, Parkway continued in the ascendancy with Mallet looking to use the channels and play on the break. From one such break on 36 minutes, Kyle Moore was forced into serious action for the first time making a fine save from a powerful Mallet strike. The next chance fell to Parkway on 39 minutes with Ryan Lane and Williams linking well on the left with Lane cutting into the 6 yard area and firing into the side netting from a narrow angle. More good play on 42 minutes from Lowry, showing guile and good close control, set up Afful who drove forward shooting just over from around 20 yards. After a good start by Parkway who created the clearer chances, Mallet gradually forced their way into the game which developed into a midfield battle with both sides looking to hit their front men early and the game still in the balance. Mallet started the second half the sharper with their top scorer and player of the season Tyson Pollard looking lively and creative. They forced a couple of early corners putting Parkway under pressure and having to defend desperately at times. Play became a bit scrappy with neither side able to retain the ball for long or string too many passes together and both content to hit long balls into the channels. From one such ball on 59 minutes Mallet almost drew level. Hesitation and confusion in the Parkway back line allowed Joe Morgan to go clear only to hook the bouncing ball over the bar from around 8 yards. A good opportunity wasted. Parkway regained their composure and with Christian Pople putting in his customary hard working,selfless shift in midfield, they increased their lead on 67 minutes. Lowry delivered a quality inswinging corner from the left and Carter showing good movement and anticipation headed home from close range. Afful was immediately replaced by Jordan Annear who joined Carter up front. Mallet then had another chance on 69 minutes only for the Parkway wall to block a 25 yard free kick. Play became scrappy again with neither side able to get the upper hand and too many passes going astray and defenders generally remaining in control. Mallet did however almost pull a goal back on 75 minutes when Rob Farkins, under pressure from Morgan, misjudged a high bouncing ball allowing Morgan to go clear only to be denied by a brave, fine smothering low down save by Moore on the edge of the 6 yard area. Farkins appeared to have taken a knock during the incident, was unable to continue and was replaced by Jack Rhead on 78 minutes. Williams dropped into the back 4 with Rhead going wide left and Annear dropping to right side of midfield as Parkway changed their shape. Mallet replaced Ryan Fry with Dan Reynolds at the same time. With Parkway looking to manage the game out and put players behind the ball and play on the break, Rhead got himself into the game with some positive runs forward and playing simple passes. Mallet continued to throw long balls into the 18 yard box with Bentley commanding in the air, winning numerous headers and Moore not being tested. In a well contested game and considering what was at stake, played in a good spirit with no bookings, Parkway took the few chances they created to earn another hard fought, gritty victory. Whilst probably not allowed to be at their best by a hard working, well organised Mallet outfit who had their moments, the spirit and determination shown by Parkway not to be beaten shone through as they completed their 23rd game without defeat. It is worthy of note that Parkway have been unable to field the same starting eleven in successive games for some considerable time emphasising the strength and versatility of the squad. With Willand Rovers and Bitton also both winning today, the top 3 remain the same and irrespective of the result of Willand’s game in hand at home to Bridgwater on Wednesday, the destination of the title will not be decided until the very last games of the season next Saturday. Don’t know who wrote the script but Bitton entertain Willand and the irony of Parkway visiting Chipping Sodbury, the last team to beat them on January 5th, is uncanny. The race for the Tool Station Western League Premier Division title seems far more entertaining and exciting than the race for that other Premier League! No doubt there will be a lot of Parkway supporters as interested spectators at Willand on Wednesday with probably some from Bitton too before the final chapter is written on Saturday.