Ardley maintain slender lead at the top

Ardley's Ben Thomas. Picture: Steven Prouse
Ardley's Ben Thomas. Picture: Steven Prouse

Ardley United maintained their one point lead at the top of the Hellenic Premier Division with a 2-0 win away at Reading Town on Tuesday.

A goal in each half from Steve Howkins and Ben Thomas kept Ardley at the head of the table heading into the final four matches, although second-placed Wantage Town have game in hand.

A closely-fought first half-hour lacked clear-cut chances, but as half-time approached Ardley took control with Howkins smashing a free-kick onto the angle of bar and post before Thomas headed just over the bar from a corner.

The visitors eventually went ahead when, on 37 minutes, the league’s top goalscorer Ryan Brooks broke into the box and appeared to be tripped by his marker, but as the players turned to the referee to see if he’d give a penalty, the ball ran free to Howkins, who hammered into the roof of the net to give the visitors a 1-0 half-time lead.

With the second half just three minutes old, Ardley doubled their advantage when a Jon Gardner corner was cleared by the home defence but only as far as Ardley skipper Ollie Stanbridge. He passed the ball back out to corner-taker Gardner and his cross was met by the diving Thomas, who headed home from six yards.

Ardley rarely looked in danger after the second and should have increased their tally but Chris Jackson was denied twice when looking certain to score as United comfortably saw out victory.

That result made it a double this week for Kevin Brock’s side after their League Challenge Cup triumph on Saturday when they beat Tytherington Rocks 1-0 to progress into the semi-finals.

Both sides struggled to carve out many scoring chances in a goalless and evenly-contested first half, but Ardley struck the telling blow midway through the second half when the prolific Ryan Brooks saw his shot take a wicked deflection and wrong-foot Rocks goalkeeper Kevin Freeman to nestle into the back of the net and put Ardley through to the semi-finals, where they will face Highworth Town at home on Saturday, April 26.

Ardley are back in action next Tuesday when they visit third-placed Ascot United for a crucial league encounter.