• Peter Scherer

Sports win well as referee takes centre stage

Table-toppers Mickleover FC returned to league action with a 4-1 win at home to Radcliffe on Saturday.

Their first NPL game in six weeks saw the referee take centre stage but the three points maintained the encouraging start to the campaign.

Radcliffe had the first attack of the game with Jean-Louis Akpa-Akpo getting an early shot on goal, following up with another attempt just wide after three minutes as Mickleover had some difficulty clearing their lines.

George Milner had an early shot just over the bar, before Ben Gowing found his header blocked after seven minutes, earning a corner.

Once the home side got a break they began to look increasingly dangerous and in the 16th minute a Milner run gave Paddy Webb a chance to break, resulting in a free kick after being elbowed aside by Radcliffe’s Olly Thornley.

Stuart Beavon then latched onto a clearance from a failed Radcliffe attack too, outstripped the defenders and shot just wide.

Action from Mickleover's win over Radcliffe. Photo: Mickleover FC.

The attacks were coming thick and fast and a long overlap from Jake Bennett took him into the Radcliffe area, before his attempt to shoot was finally blocked.

Mickleover went in front on 27 minutes when Beavon was hauled back just outside the box by Thornley, though the referee opted not to book the Radcliffe man. Kenny Agustien's free-kick was blocked by Phil Watt was on hand to head home the rebound.

Radcliffe's Luca Navarro nearly levelled the scores before team-mate Simon Lenighan escaped a red card despite a two-footed tackle from behind on Agustien, Webb firing just over the top as half-time approached.

The second half started with some early pressure from the Sports attack but on 50 minutes the referee was probably the only person in the ground who thought that striker Andy Owens hitting the deck unchallenged after running into Alex Morris was worthy of a penalty kick.

Owens put the spot kick past Callum Hawkins.

By the time an hour had passed, eight yellow cards had been issued and soon Lenighan got the first red for a second bookable offence having fould Milner.

In the 75th minute Mickleover finally broke the deadlock, when sub Dec Bacon collected the ball midway into the visitors' half, picked his spot and fired a cracking shot into the bottom left hand corner.

Having tired of yellow cards the ref then added to his red collection when Milner joined Lenighan in the dressing room, despite having clearly pulled out of the offending challenge.

But with three minutes left, a good run from Bennett took him into the area. He was tripped in the box and Wright safely tucked away the following penalty for 3-1.

It was into time added on that Bacon then found himself with the ball in the box unmarked. Radcliffe keeper Cameron Belford tried to tackle him, but the resulting push and trip not only earned another penalty but sent Belford back to the dressing room too.

Owens donned the keeper’s shirt to face Bacon’s penalty, but it was 4-1 to Mickleover as the final whistle soon followed.

Although it was a good home win, nine yellow cards and two reds for the visitors and one red and a handful of yellows for Sports bore more of a reflection on the official’s incompetence than any real malice from either side.