By Pete Martin
Salisbury’s winning run came to a halt in South Wales as they went down to a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Merthyr Town. Manager Brian Dutton made 3 changes to his starting team; Jamar Smith, Ryan Penny and Noah Coppin coming in to start, with Josh Sommerton, Wayne Robinson and Tom Bragg dropping out.
It was the Whites who made the brighter start, moving the ball around with pace in the opening 10 minutes and creating two good goal-scoring opportunities. Firstly on 5 minutes, Harry Williams could only head straight at home keeper Will Fuller when well placed 8 yards out before nobody could quite get a touch on a dangerous ball fired across by Josh Hedges. An early stoppage for an injury to a Merthyr defender seemed to stall Salisbury’s momentum and the home side grew into the game before taking the lead on 19 minutes with a spectacular strike. Keiran Evans came inside from the right-hand side and unleashed a left-footed curler from distance that gave keeper Josh Gould no chance. 4 minutes later though the Whites could have equalised; a long ball over the top saw Williams putting Fuller under pressure and with the custodian only able to scuff his clearance to Coppin 25 yards out, he was relieved to see the 1st time effort go narrowly wide.
The game started to get a bit end to end and either side of the half hour mark both keepers were called into action. First Gould got down well to deny Ricardo Rees before at the other end Fuller was well placed to ensure he could push away Charlie Gunson’s 1st time curler. The Whites started to up the tempo and created a couple of chances in quick succession on 35 minutes; firstly Coppin was inches away from connecting with Hedges low cross before Williams headed well wide of goal following Aaron Simpson’s cross from the right-hand side. On 39 minutes Salisbury grabbed an equaliser and it came from Williams. A quick free kick was worked wide to Simpson and he cut back inside and curled a left-footed cross perfectly onto the head of the striker who made no mistake from 8 yards out despite strong shouts of offside from the home team. Parity was only maintained for 3 minutes though as Merthyr went back ahead on 42 minutes. Thomas Handley was allowed to dance through the Whites defence unhindered and once he got into the box he showed good composure to slip the ball beyond Gould and into the net to restore their advantage. Right on half time a low shot from Hedges glanced the outside of the post as Salisbury went in at half time a goal down.
The 2nd half was a more quieter affair in terms of goal chances; early on Handley shooting straight at Gould when free at the back post, whilst at the other end Gunson headed wide on 56 minutes. On the hour mark, a Salisbury free kick into the box wouldn’t come down nicely to allow Williams to get a shot away, before on 65 minutes a double change was made as the Whites looked to get back into the game. Despite the changes, Salisbury were unable to create a clear chance, whilst at the other end Fraser Thomas could only shoot wide of the goal when given time on the ball outside the box on 69 minutes.
The Whites were working hard to restore parity, and they did have the ball in the net on 75 minutes only for the linesman’s flag to rule out substitute Dan Fitchett’s header after good work from Hedges to get the ball into the box. 90 seconds later another run from Hedges saw him come inside but a fine touch from a Merthyr defender stopped his ball from reaching Williams inside the area.
On 79 minutes Merthyr reminded of the danger they could cause, a quick break needing Gould to be alert to save from Thomas before at the other end a defensive slip saw Hedges advance into the box where the Merthyr defence crowded him out. As the game entered the final 10 minutes the home side were able to keep hold of the ball and frustrate the Whites, with it not being until 98 minutes were on the clock that Salisbury had another chance. With home fans screaming for the final whistle, Hedges got down the right and his deep cross was met at the back post by Fitchett but Fuller was somehow able to smother his header and prevent the ball from crossing the line as the league leaders fell to their first defeat in 8 games.
Salisbury are back on the road this midweek, making the short trip to Poole Town on Tuesday 5th December for a 7:45pm kick off.
Team: Gould, Simpson, Smith(Sommerton), Leggett, Jombati, Penny, McCreadie(Robinson), Gunson, Hedges, Coppin(Fitchett), Williams. Unused Subs: Osei, Harding