Earls edged out in seven-goal thriller

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Matt Pemberton started the scoring on the night for Earlswood. Photo: Simon Bissett

FOOTBALL

Midland League, Division Two
Solihull United 4 (Okafor 42, Hudlin 66 72 87)
Earlswood Town 3 (Pemberton 35, Street 45+2 74)

IN what could turn out to be their last league fixture of the season, Earlswood Town were edged out by league leaders Solihull United in a thrilling encounter on Monday night.

With the ongoing developing situation with coronavirus, the Midland League committee had a meeting and announced minutes before kick-off that all further action was to be suspended from midnight.

Earlswood were one of only a handful of sides to beat Solihull this season, winning the home fixture at The Pavilions 2-0, so the league leaders knew they would be in for a tough game and the opening stages showed how resolute this Earls side was becoming.

With Solihull doing most of the pressing, Earlswood were solid and compact and dealt with any early attacks, restricting the home side to just two chances in the opening half-hour.

Left-back Harry Eden hit the crossbar from the edge of the box after ten minutes and then on the half-hour mark the woodwork was rattled again.

The dangerous Kyle Hudlin slipped in Miracle Okafor, whose shot was brilliantly tipped onto the bar by Earls keeper Dan Farr.

But after 35 minutes, and against the run of play, Earlswood took the lead.

Striker Matt Pemberton took a hold of the ball 25 yards out, nutmegging a defender before hitting a wicked shot which took a deflection and looped in over Lewis Lounders.

Earlswood’s game plan had worked to perfection and they seemed to be heading in 1-0 up until a controversial moment two minutes before half-time.

Okafor was again slipped in and appeared to be offside, but the flag never went up and this time he cooly slotted past Farr low into the corner.

Earlswood protested and with a feeling of injustice came out fighting from the resulting kick-off.

In first-half stoppage time a Gary Walker free-kick for Earls was headed against the post by Leadun Dunlevy.

The ball bounced back to Harry Street, who headed goalwards and as a defender attempted to clear, the linesman awarded a goal and this time Solihull were left appealing to the officials.

The second half got off to a slow start and Earlswood seemed to have more of a foothold in the game.

On the hour mark a cross from wide was poked home inside the six-yard box by Street and the Earls thought they had another, but the offside flag went up.

This provoked Solihull into action and within ten minutes the game had been turned on its head by giant striker Hudlin.

On 66 minutes, a blocked shot fell to Hudlin in the edge of the area and he smashed the ball home to equalise.

Five minutes later a free-kick into the box found its way to Hudlin who touched it on into the net to complete the turnaround.

Showing character after being behind for the first time in the game, Earlswood immediately responded and two minutes later were level again.

Another Walker free-kick was not dealt with and as the ball bounced around, it was Street again whose acrobatic effort found the net.

The final 15 minutes saw both sides going for a winner and half-chances at either end.

With only minutes remaining Earlswood committed men forward and were hit on the counter-attack and that man Hudlin was left one-on-one.

As he drove into the box he unleashed an effort which crashed off the post and across the goal line, nestling in the other side of the net to complete his hat-trick.

As Solihull made substitutions in stoppage time to slow the game down, Earlswood wondered how they had not equalised.

Firstly, Jordan McKenzie’s effort looked destined for the top corner but for a crucial block before a long ball was headed goalwards and was saved by Lounders, who flicked the ball away at the second attempt.