Biggleswade United finished with nine men and lost a two goal lead - but clung on to their first away point with a 2-2 draw at St Margaretsbury on Saturday.
On a tumultuous Saturday at The Recreation Ground, two sides languishing in the lower reaches of the SSML Premier contested a highly-fought encounter that was just as feisty off the pitch as on it.
In a game that saw United squander a two-goal halftime lead and be reduced to nine men both the players and fans alike would have been relieved ultimately to claim their first away point of the new campaign.
A recurring theme of United’s matches this season has been starting slowly and they were almost punished in the early stages once more when Kinzen Smith found space about eight yards out, but Joachin Martos got angles correct to make the block to deny him. United responded with their first shot of the game minutes later as Kane Farrell, occupying his more orthodox left back position, drilled a vicious free kick wide of the right hand post. Farrell continued to pose a threat from that deeper position and his whipped cross was dealt with unconvincingly by Luke Peiree in the St Margaretsbury goal.
Akwofei Ajeakwa has emerged as a crucial player for United in recent games, especially with the absence of Tom Cookman, and his first contribution came when he got in behind the full back before delivering a tame shot into the side netting. Shortly after he showed far greater conviction as he volleyed the ball into the top corner from range following some poor defending that had gifted him the opportunity. United were now in control and looking to press home their advantage.
The St Margaretsbury defence had begun to recognise the threat of Ajeakwa and Dan Mcater was booked for a robust challenge on the diminutive forward. He continued to be a thorn in their side though and almost replicated his earlier strike after Farrell played a great ball into Adam Sartini who found Ajeakwa, but his volleyed effort veered just wide on this occasion.
United then gradually began to relinquish their grip on the game as the first half transpired with St Margaretsbury looking dangerous without creating any meaningful chances. Then a header from a Les Roberts free kick diverted the ball into the path of Smith who lifted his shot narrowly over the bar. Another chance quickly followed as Mcater’s delivery from the left hand side was met by Jon Stevenson from close range, but the header lacked power and fell into the grateful hands of Martos. United were unable to gain any control at this point but they were relatively solid at the back restricting the home side to minimal opportunities, which would have pleased Head Coach Cristian Colas who’d outlined the need for improvement in their defensive play.
St Margaretsbury maintained their control over proceedings and came closest to equalising when Frazer John struck the bar with a wonderful curling effort. With Nick Elliot struggling to have the influence he had last week United often lost the battle in midfield and Courtney Clay breeched them again before striking from the outside the area straight into Martos’ grasp.
Despite having to endure long periods without any sustained possession of the ball United managed to double their lead with halftime approaching as Matt Cooper on one wing found Scott Batchelor on the other to head in at the back post. It was a vital goal coming for United against the run of the play setting them up nicely ahead of the second half. But just before the conclusion of the first Frazer John suffered the ignominy of being booked for simulation after going down in the United area.
The second period began in a similar fashion to how the first ended as St Margaretsbury were pressing while United remained resilient and resolute defensively, with Nyasha Sagwete relishing his role at centre back.
Although they were clinical in their finishing in the first half United struggled to exert their passing game on the opposition. So when a neat passing sequence got Cooper in a crossing position there was a renewed sense of optimism.
They couldn’t build on that however as St Margaretsbury resumed their dominance and eventually capitalised on a very naive 15 minutes from United. The warning signs were there as Roberts cut in off the right flank before unleashing a driven shot that was saved smartly by Martos at his near post. Moments later a corner was sent in and headed back down into the six yard box for John to nudge the ball past a helpless Martos.
Biggleswade’s initial response was positive as Elliot struck the bar with a header before Ajeakwa frantically swiped the rebound back across goal into Elliot’s path once more but his header drifted just wide to the frustration of United supporters.
Sagwete was then booked for a foul which presented Roberts with a free kick in an ominous, central position. The shot deflected off the wall before Farrell completed the clearance. The resulting corner was dealt with uncharacteristically well by Martos, as commanding his area has been a weakness of his, however United conceded another free kick on the left hand side. Defending set pieces has been a problem in recent weeks and it proved to be United’s downfall yet again as substitute Roel Harpse was left completely unmarked to head home from the free kick.
St Margaretsbury were now firmly in the ascendancy while the hostility amongst the crowd was growing with every one of the referee’s decisions. A decisive moment then came as Ajeakwa was reprimanded for what seemed an innocuous challenge before the referee brandished a yellow card. There was an element of disbelief among the travelling United supporters as they realised it was his second card of the day and their star man had been dismissed. A decision that perhaps didn’t alter the course of the match, as United had already capitulated prior to that, but it left their chances of regaining the lead extremely thin.
In a less contentious incident Ollie Peters was shown a straight red for kicking out his opponent as United’s task was looking increasingly difficult with over twenty minutes remaining for the beleaguered nine men to hang on.
The winner seemed inevitable for St Margaretsbury as they peppered the United goal on numerous occasions. First Harpse used his pace to power past makeshift centre half James Cooper before attempting an unorthodox scissor kick that looped just over the bar. Harpse’s growing influence since he came on was apparent again as his header was clawed off the line by Martos. Another chance followed this time for Charlie Smith who received the ball off John before blazing his shot over the bar.
United continued to defend with remarkable resilience despite their numerical disadvantage as they battled vigorously for the point. They tried to launch attacks on the odd occasion but their lack of adventure was certainly justified under the circumstances.
The final whistle blew and, although the wrongful dismissal of Ajeakwa along with a few other dubious decisions by the heavily scrutinised referee contributed to the result, it was ultimately some naive defending at the start of the second half that led to United throwing away their two goal lead at halftime.
In spite of that there are plenty of positives to take from that first half and with the way the game transpired a point could be deemed satisfactory. The wait for a win continues but it’s two games unbeaten there’s definitely cause for optimism.