Any pre-conceived thoughts that a visit to basement side Clipstone would yield an easy three points for The Ambers were well and truly off the mark, as the home side, whose performances have been steadily improving in recent weeks, gave an excellent account of themselves and pushed the league leaders all the way.
From the first whistle, the home side were on the offensive and got their first shot away after less than a minute, albeit it was way off target. But the way the visitors defence opened up was a sign of things to come, as a strangely out of sorts midfield performance saw the back four exposed time and again.
Going forward was a different matter however, and after a difficult early half chance was spurned by Aaron Moxam, The Ambers should have really taken the lead when Pat Lindley sprung the offside trap but failed to beat young Clipstone keeper Owen, who showed why he had won the previous four consecutive Man of The Match awards.
It was end to end fare, if a little stuttering at times, and it was the home side who had the next opportunity when Hubbard raced through but was denied by Gary Stevens in a one on one duel. In response Moxam was played in by Joe Thornton, and after creating room for himself in the box, his shot was again well saved by Owen at point blank range.
Just after the midway point, the home side took the lead when a long throw was not cleared properly, and the loose ball was thumped home by Gregory, and only a great intervention by Stevens denied Curtis from doubling the lead a minute later.
The Ambers were denied what seemed a certain penalty shortly afterwards when Thornton was brought down in the box, with contact heard around the ground. Unbelievably, the referee not only denied the spot kick, but added insult to injury by giving the wide man a yellow card for simulation. This sense of injustice merely fired up the visitors who deservedly levelled the scores when Moxam played in Jon Froggatt who fired across the keeper from just inside the box.
There was cause for concern as half time approached with Physio Dave Doherty in action sorting out Stevens who had been injured earlier and was clearly struggling, and looked as if he would have to leave the game. However, he was able to continue and managed to deny Curtis again after a good Clipstone move opened up The Ambers back line.
Handsworth started the second half in a much more positive fashion, and with Thornton dominating on the right, chances started to come along more regularly, Moxam unluckily seeing his shot get stuck under Owen’s body. The Cobras were always dangerous on the break however with the impressive Ashton leading the charge, and after an Ambers corner was cleared, the home side swept up the pitch and Curtis finally beat Stevens to re-gain the lead.
With time ticking on and no breakthrough imminent, the decision was made to bring on Alex Rippon and revert to a 442 formation to introduce some width, and within six minutes, a driving run from the substitute opened up the home defence to allow Moxam to get a shot off. Owen got down to push the ball away but Thornton was on hand to collect the loose ball and smash home the equaliser.
Adam Johnson was then brought on to add some more pace up top to stretch the home defence, and a short corner routine paid dividends for The Ambers when Rippon got across his marker to head home James Ashmore’s cross with seven minutes left. The remaining action generally took place in and around The Ambers penalty area as Clipstone threw everything at them, and The Ambers dug deep and defended valiantly to keep them out and claim the three points.