A HEAVILY deflected strike by Jamie Mansell helped ten man Whitchurch United to a crucial 3-2 victory over local rivals Andover Town on Wednesday night.
The forward’s second half effort, which took a wicked deflection off a Town defender to wrong foot goalkeeper Jarid Hixon, proved the difference in a high energy encounter at Longmeadow.
But just moments after the Jam Boys had taken the lead, substitute Luke Scholar was sent off for an ill-advised tackle, which came minutes after he had picked up his first booking.
Despite being down to ten men, United held off Town’s relentless attacks for the final twenty minutes to secure a vital three points in their fight to avoid relegation.
Visitors Town had the first chance of the match when Shane Lock, playing at left back, latched onto a through ball and produced two shots, the second of which went wide.
However it was United who took the lead four minutes in with their first shot of the game.
A beautifully weighted ball, cut across the right from central midfield, was met perfectly by Will Grange.
The forward expertly placed the ball back across goal with a first time shot, which rolled exquisitely into the bottom left corner.
Town hit back when striker Zach Glasspool forced a good save from Ellis Grant after beating the offside trap, jinxing past two defenders and unleashing a curling effort towards goal.
Andover continued to dominate possession, but Whitchurch worked tirelessly to close down their opponents and limit Town’s opportunities early on.
United’s hard work paid off on 20 minutes when Sam McCarthy doubled their lead.
A free-kick from 30 yards out was pumped into the box and, after taking a deflection off the head of Ross Gregory, fell kindly to the full-back, who tapped home from two yards out.
A visibly shocked Andover continued to have the lion’s share of possession, but were hassled at every turn by an energetic Whitchurch side.
Town boss Glenn Burnett was then forced into a double substitution as the first half drew to a close, with an injured Glasspool being replaced by Sam Pekun.
Liam Gilbert was substituted on to sure up Town’s midfield.
However, the changes had little impact before half time, as Whitchurch went into the break as deserved leaders.
The complexion of the game completely changed after the break, with Andover dominating from the off.
Town pulled a goal back on 50 minutes when a cross from the right was met by Alex Dockree, who volleyed in from close range.
Andover looked in complete control for large parts of the second half, but United looked a threat on the break.
Whitchurch manager Carl Bennett threw on Scholar and Jack Ormiston on the hour mark, but Town continued to hold the momentum.
Reece Rusher had a good chance to level when he was slipped through by a lovely cross-field pass, but his shot from a tight angle was easily saved by Ellis.
This was followed by an intense five minute spell, which included two goals and a red card.
Scholar’s poor tackle, which earned him his first yellow, resulted in a dangerous free-kick on the edge of the Whitchurch penalty area.
Gilbert struck the shot low and hard past Ellis, with the ball taking a slight deflection off a United defender on its way in.
Just moments later, United retook the lead with what would turn out to be a bizarre winner.
Hixon looked set to easily scoop up Mansell’s ambitious 25 yard drive, only for the ball to take a wicked deflection off the leg of a Town defender and trickle into back of the net.
Just a minute after retaking the lead, Whitchurch were reduced to ten men.
Scholar, who had been yellow carded just five minutes earlier, was drawn into a needless foul and was swiftly given his marching orders.
United were forced to dig deep for the final 20 minutes as Town threw men forward in search of an equaliser.
They came closest 10 minutes from time when Adam Grange smartly lifted the ball over Ellis, only from Scott Hassell to race back and hook the ball off the line.
Whitchurch on the other hand came agonislingly close to scoring a fourth through a swift counter attack in the dying minutes.
A ball passed in the direction of an offside player was cleverly left for the onside Luke Walker to latch onto.
However the striker’s effort was deflected round the post by the foot of an advancing Hixon.
Despite their relentless pressure in the final minutes, Andover only had one real chance of note.
A clever turn from Adam Grange opened up room for a shot, which crashed narrowly wide of Ellis’ right hand post.
With Andover unable to find the target in the final minutes, United claimed a vital three points in their quest for Wessex League Premier survival.
They are now 11 points clear of bottom side Verwood and seven from second from bottom Fawley.
Andover meanwhile remain in 11th place, on 48 points.
Andover Town travel to AFC Portchester on Saturday, while Whitchurch host Brockenhurst.