FOOTBALL: Brackley Town strengthened their grip on the Southern League Premier Division title with comfortable wins over Hemel Hempstead Town and Banbury United over the Easter holiday.
Goals from Elliot Sandy, Gary Mulligan and Marvin Robinson saw the tabletoppers cruise to a 3-0 home win over Hemel on Saturday, followed by a 2-0 success at local rivals Banbury on Monday, Sandy and Brett Solkhon netting for the visitors.
The wins put Brackley eight points clear at the top of the table with three games left to play this campaign.
A win this Saturday at home against Swindon Supermarine would mean only third-placed Oxford City, who Brackley play on Saturday April 21, could catch them.
Against Banbury in front of a crowd of 483, an excellent save from each keeper and an opening goal for Brackley were the highlights of a tight first half before Saints scored a second and decisive goal after 53 minutes.
On 25 minutes Billy Turley denied Banbury’s Ricky Johnson diving bravely at the on-rushing striker’s feet collecting an injury that required lengthy treatment. With 36 minutes played it was Puritans’ keeper Andy Kemp’s turn to save the day as he foiled Gary Mulligan’s dribble on goal after fine work by Marvin Robinson on the right. Within minutes Saints had the lead as Elliot Sandy pounced in the penalty area to steer his shot right into the corner.
Always the more threatening Brackley ended the half on top as Owen Story fired just over set up neatly by the excellent Glenn Walker.
The second half opened with Howard Forinton’s shot well saved by Turley but that was the extent of the Puritans’ goal threat. Brett Solkhon headed Brackley’s second from Story’s accurate corner to put the result beyond doubt.
Further chances saw Brackley close to extending the lead. On 62 minutes Walker cut in from the left to deliver a pinpoint cross that Mulligan headed goalwards bringing an acrobatic save from Kemp who excelled all afternoon.
With 10 minutes remaining Story’s run down the left and cross was met by former Banbury striker and substitute Will Green but his first time effort was just wide.
Both managers made use of substitutions on an energy-sapping pitch in wet conditions.
Brackley Town: Turley, Clifton, McDonald, Palmer, J Green, Robinson, Story, Solkhon, Mulligan (W Green 70), Sandy (Magunda 90+3), G Walker. Banbury United: Kemp, Williams, Kinch, Thackeray, Chilton (Blake 45), Coleman, Howell (Angus 68), Cole, Johnson, Forinton (Edmond 79), Polk.
Against Hemel, a disputed 16th minute penalty despatched by Elliot Sandy set Saints on their way to three points.
Gary Mulligan finished a good move just before the interval, the header perfectly judged to beat keeper Mike McEntegart doubling the lead. Hemel enjoyed good possession but rarely threatened Turley’s goal.
The second half began more brightly for the Tudors with Marquin Smith twice getting forward but heading wide. Following a fine cross by debutant Curtis McDonald, Brackley grabbed a third on the hour mark through the prolific Marvin Robinson, his fourth in six games, poking home from close range.
Saints went on to exert control creating a string of chances to increase the lead further with Sandy and Carl Palmer dominant in midfield and wide-man Glenn Walker in top form on both flanks.
Josh Green headed wide when well placed on 73 minutes and Owen Story saw his 25 yard effort touched away for a corner a minute later. Mulligan’s fine turn after 79 minutes won another corner from which Robinson connected only for McEntegart to save well on the line.
In added time Mulligan rose to meet Walker’s whipped free-kick but the header flashed just wide.
Brackley Town: Turley, Clifton (Myles 85), McDonald, Palmer (Magunda 88), J Green, Robinson (W Green 80), Story, Solkhon, Mulligan, Sandy, G Walker. Hemel Hempstead: Mike McEntegart, May, Brighton, Locke, Matt McEntegart, Deeney, Shariff, Smith (Gorman 75), Harrison (Lafayette 72), Toomey (Blake 66), Pearce.