Northern Counties East Football League Division 1
Hallam FC (1) 2
Bradley Morton 24 Christopher Wood 75
Clipstone (1) 1
Francis Finneran 6
Preston, Wright ©, Firth (Sellars 71), Appiah, Hextall (McGowan 71), Roche, Wood, Cooke, Finneran, Moss, Hardwick
Unused substitutes: Severn, Murphy, Clarke
Cobras’ Man of the Match: Charlie Preston
Match summary by Jim McIntosh:
Clipstone pushed league leaders all the way with a spirited performance, that included an outstanding display from goalkeeper Charlie Preston. However, it was the home side who emerged victorious and were crowned League Champions after the game. The defeat was the 13th on the trot for the Cobras but they withstood tremendous pressure from a free scoring Hallam side for long periods.
The match was played in front of 1179 spectators, the highest attendance in the NCEL Division one league this season and a far cry from the 65 fans who saw the Cobras last visit to Sandygate Lane in November 2014 when they were narrowly beaten 3-2.
Clipstone had the advantage of the steep slope in the first half and made the ideal start when with just six minutes gone Francis Finneran received the ball in the area and turned smartly before firing a powerful low shot across Myles Wright in the home goal.
Charlie Preston then made his first real save to gather a free kick from ex-Cobra Liam Royles as Hallam probed for a quick equaliser. After a few near misses this did eventually arrive in the 24th minute after the Cobras conceded a cheap free kick near the touchline and Royles’ long free kick found Bradley Morton who rose highest to head home from close range.
A few minutes later Iren Wilson managed to get away from Brad Hextall and forced Preston into a smart save and divert the ball past the post. The resulting corner found Morton whose header was pushed away by Preston. Hallam’s Kieran Watson then saw a shot come back off the post before Preston saved a 20-yard drive from Jack Brownell with five minutes of the half remaining.
Preston was again the much busier ‘keeper in the second period as Hallam had the benefit of the slope. The visitors were restricted to occasional breaks but defended resolutely with centre back Darragh Roche winning most of the high balls that Hallam pumped forward and restricting the home side to just a few clear chances. Preston was in the 56th minute when a tipped an Iren Wilson header over the bar.
Eventually Hallam manager Craig Denton was forced to shuffle his pack with Christopher Wood and James Gregory replacing Watson and Wilson. It was the former who grabbed the second goal with fifteen minutes remaining, albeit with an element of controversy after he slid in with studs showing to challenge for the ball after Preston had been unable to hold a long-range effort. The referee Karl Parker didn’t penalise the challenge despite protests from the Cobras and Woods quickly got to his feet and put the loose ball into the unguarded net.
There was still time for Preston to make his best save of the afternoon when Royles’ delightful chip forced him to back peddle and then get a hand up to tip the ball over the bar.
The final minutes were played in a sleet shower, a reminder that Hallam’s ground in Sheffield is 800 feet above sea level.
Clipstone remain in 20th place with 22 points from 39 games. The Cobras final game of the season is at home to Armthorpe Welfare on Saturday 9 April, 3pm. They will be trying to secure all three points and move up to 19th place as this may be sufficient to keep them up.