More Than A Bostin’ Feeling For Top Hatters!
The vernacular may be West Midlands – as opposed to East Lincolnshire – but the ‘Bostin’ in Boston’ description could not be more apt for a fantastic second-half performance by the Hatters that saw them win at York Street to leapfrog Chorley and lead the National League North by two points.
Second-half goals by Darren Stephenson, on the eve of his birthday, and by substitute Elliot Osborne put County two-up. And a third from Frank Mulhern, nine minutes from time, deservedly restored the advantage after Boston had converted a penalty.
Manager Jim Gannon, who, having completed his three-match touchline ban, returned to direct operations from the dugout. And, with seven matches still to play during four weeks of March, he once again reshuffled his playing pack by making six changes to the starting line-up from that at Edgeley Park against Spennymoor three days previously.
Dan Cowan, Scott Duxbury, Adam Thomas and captain Paul Turnbull were recalled, together with Mulhern and Stephenson, to play within a 4-2-3-1 formation. Osborne, Jake Kirby, Sam Minihan and Sam Walker dropped to the bench, while Lewis Baines and Neal Bell were also rested.
The opening stages saw the hosts enjoy the greater share of possession, while County’s progress against the ‘Pilgrims’ was frustrated in part by having to kick against the wind. But the Hatters did create the best early scoring opportunity, when, after four minutes, Stephenson teed up Matty Warburton – who drilled narrowly beyond the right post from the edge of the area.
Chances remained at a premium for much of the first half – with County’s efforts falling to Thomas, who blasted over following a first corner at the home end, and Stephenson, whose toe-poke, from a Duxbury cross on the left, was palmed away by Boston goalkeeper and skipper George Willis.
But the hosts began to exert a menacing presence around County’s final third as half-time approached, and could easily have gone in ahead at the break. Gavin Allott headed over Max Wright’s pin-point cross, before Ryan Qualter’s header from a corner on the left was tipped around the far upright by Ben Hinchliffe, and, following another corner from the opposite side, Ash Palmer cleared Ben Middleton’s headed effort off the line.
HALF-TIME: Boston 0, County 0.
Palmer’s crucial block before the interval was, alas, to be his last contribution of note. With only eight second-half minutes played, he went to ground with a knee injury and had to be replaced.
But within another two minutes, the Hatters’ fortunes changed markedly, and sensationally, for the better. Cowan’s cross from the right was met by Stephenson, who, with both feet off the ground, rose high to execute an astonishing right-footed effort past Willis. A spinning reverse volley? Or a kung fu kick? Whatever it was technically, it was athletically and aesthetically a thing of wonder.
More to the point, the strike had put County ahead. And 11 minutes later, the advantage was doubled, when Osborne, immediately following his introduction for Warburton, latched on to a Duxbury pass with his first touch of the game before shooting towards goal. Willis could only parry the effort, and Osborne followed up on the rebound to fire home.
Referee Amy Fearn turned down a Boston appeal for handball after 69 minutes – but within another seven awarded the hosts a spot-kick on those grounds, after a delivery from Andi Thanoj struck Turnbull. Ben Davies stepped up to send Hinchliffe the wrong way and halve the arrears.
A nerve-testing final quarter of an hour was in store, but County’s two-goal cushion was restored with just under half of that time played. Jordan Keane’s through-ball from the halfway line found Duxbury, whose deft flick to Mulhern was brought down by the striker, ahead of a stepover and then a cleverly-dinked shot for his 16th goal of the campaign in all competitions.
It was not only a case of ‘Sweet Sixteen’ for Mulhern, but also for the Hatters, as they saw out the remainder of the game without undue fuss to go that number of league matches unbeaten – equalling their long-standing record within a single season from 1936/37.
FULL-TIME: Boston 1 (Davies (penalty), 76), County 3 (Stephenson, 55; Osborne, 66; Mulhern, 81).
Team: Hinchliffe, Cowan, Duxbury, Keane, Palmer (Walker, 53), Stott, Thomas, Turnbull (Capt.), Mulhern, Warburton (Osborne, 65), Stephenson (Kirby, 85).
Unused Subs: Minihan, Ormson.
Attendance: 1,073 (263 representing The Twelfth Man).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.