Malvern Town 2 Lye Town 0
The unbeaten run had to end somewhere, as manager Martin Thomas had predicted, but few would have guessed it would be at the hands of a Malvern team who have done little of note since falling back to earth from their Southern League adventures.
In the first half, Lye were denied a strong penalty shout, hit the bar twice, missed two golden opportunities, had a Ricky Anslow goal chalked off for offside and gave Malvern keeper Ian Hill a stern examination in 45 minutes in which the footballing gods – and the officials – smiled on the hosts.
But if Lye could justifiably nurse a sense of grievance at the break, they did not have enough to break down a Malvern side who played a textbook second half, setting up three banks of defenders and throwing bodies on the line when required and ultimately, the league leaders were undone by their inability to field a goalkeeper, an unforgivable sin at any level of the game.
With Jake James ruled out by the badly gashed knee suffered in the win over Shawbury a week earlier, Lye had expected to call on regular back-up Danny Watson, only for the dual registered shot-stopper to be called on by his Midland Alliance masters Chasetown.
Midfielder Ben Jevons – who had come off the bench for the injured James against Shawbury and stopped a penalty – was unable to repeat his Roy of the Rovers heroics and gifted Malvern their 16th minute lead, his attempt to square the ball to right back Stuart Ward picked off by Malvern forward James Lush who gleefully rounded the makeshift keeper before firing home.
By that stage, Lye could already have been ahead after Malvern’s Lewis Platt had rashly lunged into Anslow in the area in the second minute and the forward crumpled for what looked like a cast-iron penalty, waved away by the official. When Hill got down to scramble away an Anslow shot from the resulting corner, it set the tone for a frustrating afternoon for the visitors.
Three minutes later Lye’s Simon Williams got the better of the hapless Jamie Smith on the edge of the box and squared to the unmarked Anslow who uncharacteristically blazed over from a position from where he has plundered 80-odd goals in the last season-and-a-half.
Undaunted by Jevons’ blunder Lye stayed camped in the Malvern half after the opening goal with Hill saving well from Scott Gennard before Damian Whitcombe somehow turned a Matt Johnson corner goalwards from an impossible angle to see it bounce behind off the top of the bar.
Anslow was back to his deadly best in the 36th minute, racing onto what looked like a perfect slide-rule Steve Weaver ball and firing home only for the celebrations to be halted by a late, contentious linesman’s flag.
Ben Wilkins bent a delightful free-kick onto the Malvern bar from 25 yards with Hill beaten all ends up and Anslow headed a Weaver cross over from close range before the half ended amid controversy after another Jevons error in the Lye goal, the stand-in coming for, and fumbling, a rare Malvern corner on the line before recovering and racing clear, ball in hand, as the home players protested furiously he had dropped it behind the line.
Home defender Joe Endacott left the pitch fuming about “decisions for the league leaders” and that sense of injustice fired him to a titanic second-half display when he gobbled up Whitcombe’s attempts to pull the strings again and again.
Anslow fired horribly over when well placed in the 69th minute from one of the raking Whitcombe passes that found a way through and Lye were denied by a breathtaking last-ditch clearance two minutes later after a Johnson cross beat Hill to reach Anslow two yards out.
Lye started to throw on the subs and Hill was at his best to deny Kevin Nickle who headed a perfect Whitcombe cross too near the Malvern keeper in the 76th minute.
Four minutes on and it was game over as Dave Reynolds claimed the killer second on a rare foray into Lye’s half as the visitors started to leave gaps. Jevons looked to have got a touch on the forward’s initial effort, brilliantly diverting it onto the bar but the grounded keeper’s desperate attempt to push away the rebound could only glove the ball to Reynolds who got the decisive touch as two Lye defenders desperately lunged in. The mass Malvern celebrations told their own story.
There was still time for Stephen Lodge and Nickle to be thwarted by goalline clearances and Lye’s day was summed up in the 90th minute when Hill blocked Nickle’s powerful effort and Anslow hung in a cross that saw Ben Wilkins glance a header past the Malvern keeper only to come back off the bar.
The invincibles tag redundant, Lye remain top but, with James expected to be out for another two weeks, joint managers Thomas and Darren Goodall will have to raid their contacts book for the visit of Wellington Amateurs.