Despite top scorer Nathan Parke’s absence through sunning himself on a beach somewhere, Parkwood went into the game with Halstead in high spirits. The main issues today being the 25-degree heat and the 3 ginger players in the Parkwood squad, as well as the copious amounts of alcohol that had already passed through the team’s bodies so far this Easter bank holiday weekend.
Not long after the referee’s whistle had signalled the start of the match, and Halstead were already attacking down their right flank. After a few 50/50 challenges the ball ended up right by the corner flag, before trickling out to the Halstead central midfielder, 25-30 yards from goal. I doubt the guy has ever struck a cleaner shot before, as he unleashed a right footed drive that flew straight across the goal and into the top left corner, kissing the underside of the bar as it made its way toward the net. Now I’ve seen a lot of goals in my time, but this was up there with the best and with the long weekend drawing an almost record-breaking Parkwood crowd, all were left equally stunned, as their beloved team trailed after just 3 minutes.
Parkwood immediately tried to hit back. Constantly looking to threaten in behind with every attack. Then in the sixth minute, a ball was played into Ben Malyon with his back to goal on the edge of the Halstead box. He pushed the ball to the left, around the defender, in one swift movement, bringing back memories of Dennis Bergkamp’s magnificent turn against Newcastle all those years ago. With the defender still trying to catch up to Ben (Parkwood’s own divine miracle on this Easter weekend), he managed to bravely flick the ball over the onrushing Halstead keeper, before getting clattered by both the keeper and the backtracking defender. The ball dropped just under the crossbar, and Parkwood had drawn level almost immediately.
Parkwood were well on top for the next 15-20 minutes, constantly getting in behind the Halstead defence, and if it wasn’t for a Halstead toe somehow clearing the ball from a pass across goal, Tom Malyon would have had a tap in from 4 yards out to make it 2-1 to Parkwood. Halfway through the first period, and the searing heat brought a drink break. No one was more thankful for this stoppage than the 3 flame haired Parkwood players, but, if anything, it ruined all their momentum. Halstead grabbed a foothold in the game again, and after a long ball forward looked to be dealt with by the Parkwood defence, a bit of Halstead pressure from their front man caused an uncharacteristically under hit back pass from Nathan Cross. The striker rounded Jacob in goal, and the backtracking defenders could not stop him making it 2-1 to Halstead.
Thankfully the half time team talk took place under the minimal shade, but Parkwood were sent out knowing they had to turn this game around. The half started sloppily from both sides, no one really becoming dominant in possession. Perhaps the nerves at the business end of the season were getting to Parkwood? Or perhaps not it seemed, as it looked like they had drawn level on more than one occasion, after a few decent efforts went just off target, again with Halstead not really threatening. That was until their forward ran through, and Jacob looked to clear it from just inside the penalty area. A superb connection as Jacob seemed to clear his lines, but somehow the ball was still rolling goalward. The striker was however, collapsed in a heap, after Jacob decided to completely miss the ball, and boot the poor lad’s shins. A Halstead penalty and a chance to go 3-1 up, and possibly end Parkwood’s chances of going top of the table.
The referee blew his whistle, the player started his run up, but decided to copy Paul Pogba’s stuttering walk towards the penalty. The crowd jeered. 1 minute and 37 seconds later, the Halstead player had finally reached the point of contact with the ball. All I can think of he was so tired from the delayed run up (run is used extremely loosely here), and he lost all mobility in his legs, as the ball slowly made its way goalward, where Jacob atoned for his error by palming the ball away to safety. The score was still 2-1 and Parkwood had gained the ascendancy.
Parkwood threw players forward, desperate to gain something out of this game, players positions changed, formations changed, but one thing remained a constant. After his impeccable deliveries v Danson, Tom Malyon whipped in a free kick from just inside the Halstead half, again from the right-hand side. The ball bounced trickily for the defenders to deal with, and it seemed to be evading everyone, until Ben Malyon again popped up from out of nowhere. Just inside the box, he saw the Halstead player’s desperate lunge to get the ball, miss, and he steady himself with a good first touch, before looking up and waiting for the onrushing keeper. As he dived for the ball, Ben delicately lifted it over him into the bottom corner. Or so he though. An onrushing Nathan Cross, determined to make up for his error earlier, made sure the ball went in, with both claiming the goal, it will go down to the Dubious Goal’s Panel, and we are still awaiting a response as they assess all camera angles. But then the dreaded offside flag went up. Had Parkwood’s equaliser been chalked off with just 7 minutes to go? Despite Nathan being about 4 yards behind Ben when the ball was played, the linesman wanted to chat to the referee. Then, after consultation with his assistant, he was satisfied that the goal was to stand, and quite rightly so. Parkwood celebrations cut short as they grabbed the ball to restart the game as quickly as possible. Knowing they realistically needed 3 points to have a chance of winning the league, they pressed for the winner, but it wasn’t to be. The last home game of a superb season has seen Parkwood draw 2-2 and go top of the table until Tuesday at least. Parkwood are now guaranteed a top 4 place, and another win v Farnborough in the final game of the season will see them clinch top 3, all before a Cup final on May 7th.