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Leigh RMI 2 Hinckley United 3

By Matt Lawton
February 20 2007

Despite dominating the majority of the match and mounting a spirited second half comeback, a disjointed defensive performance in the first half proved to be RMI’s undoing against play-off chasing Hinckley United. After Friday night’s defeat at Hyde, coupled with Scarborough’s draw with Hinckley on Saturday, left RMI in the Conference North relegation zone for the first time in several months, the pressure was well and truly on Stuart Humphreys’ young side at Hilton Park this evening, especially when you bear in mind that this evening’s encounter was one of Leigh’s games in hand on their relegation rivals.

With Lee Unsworth missing from the side because of a hamstring injury he collected in the defeat at Hyde, Gavin Lee-Ellison returned to the side at right back, while young centre back Liam Coyne made his second full ‘debut’ for RMI, starting a game for the first time since rejoining the club from FC United of Manchester earlier in the month. Coyne was called in to action almost immediately when he misjudged a through ball that seemingly gave a clear run on John Lamb’s goal, only for Coyne to recover magnificently and win the ball with a superbly timed sliding challenge in the penalty area, just as it appeared that the Hinckley man was about to strike the ball in to the net.

It wasn’t long after though that the visitors did manage to put themselves in front when RMI goalkeeper Lamb strongly blocked a shot, only for him to parry it straight in to the path of Leon Jackson, who was left with the simple task of stroking the ball in to the unguarded Chadwick Street End net.

Slowly but surely, RMI played themselves back in to the game, with Ellison having a left foot shot at the near post palmed away for a corner before Andy Roscoe had a free kick deflected over the crossbar when placed in a promising position on the edge of the penalty area.

The home side had a massive chance to equalise when Hinckley goalkeeper Sean Bowles blocked a Steve Settle shot from the edge of the box then twice denying Kevin Rapley from successive rebounds before finally pouncing on the loose ball and ending the danger.

RMI then used their “get out of jail free” card at the other end when Lamb came up with a smart save after Owen Roberts, who otherwise had an impressive game on the left hand side, had sliced the ball across the face of goal.

It was then Hinckley’s turn to made a hash of things at the back, and it seemed as though RMI were going to get themselves back on level pegging when Bowles failed to properly clear his lines and left Chris Simm in the clear, only for the Leigh striker to shoot at a comfortable height that allowed Bowles to keep the ball out and breathe a huge sigh of relief.

Just as the disappointment was setting in after such a vital miss at one end, RMI’s defence then proceeded to make a mess of things at the other when four defenders around the ball still couldn’t prevent Leon Kelly smashing the ball in to Lamb’s top right hand corner and double the visitors’ lead.

The eventful first half continued when RMI were given a golden opportunity to get back in to the game that they certainly didn’t pass upon this time with Kevin Rapley scoring a goal on his home debut with a free kick from the edge of the penalty area that will mean nightmares over the next few weeks for the Hinckley goalkeeper, with the ball slipping beneath his body and in to the net to half the deficit.

Just as it seemed as though RMI were going to go in at half-time in confident mood after making the game a contest again, their hopes were cruelly dashed virtually on the half-time whistle when a controversial indirect free kick on the edge of the RMI penalty area was rolled back to Neil Cartwright, who made no mistake in hammering the ball high in to the net from virtually twenty five yards out.

After such a set back on the stroke of half-time, RMI responded in perfect fashion at the start of the second half when mass confusion in the Hinckley ranks saw the ball bobble past the goalkeeper and leave Chris Simm to put the ball in to the net and score the game’s fifth goal with barely fifty minutes on the clock.

With forty minutes of the game remaining, RMI had renewed hope of getting at least a point from the game, but as they pushed further forward, they left themselves vulnerable at the back and were grateful to Lamb for sending the ball over the crossbar with a top class reaction save, before Steve Brockley was lucky to get the benefit of the doubt when he seemingly brought down a Hinckley man on the edge of the penalty area when the visitors mounted a counter attack.

With captain Andy Roscoe reverting to the left back slot, Owen Roberts pushed further forward on to the left hand side of midfield during the second half, and the ex-Clitheroe man came agonisingly close to scoring his first goal for the club and levelling the scores out of the blue when he hit a terrific left foot strike from outside the Hinckley penalty area, only for the ball to smash against the underside of the crossbar and bounce away from the goal.

Although Humphreys threw caution to the wind with three attacking substitutions that saw Mark Jackson, Dan Owen and Adam Girdlestone all brought in to the fray, there was a soul-destroying feeling on the terraces that RMI’s big chance for a point had gone when Roberts’ strike bounced away from the line instead of over it, and so it proved to be when, after four desperate minutes of injury time, the referee’s final whistle provided music to the ears of the Hinckley supporters and sent all three points to Leicestershire.

Although the quality of performance matters less and less with each passing week, RMI can take heart from the fact that they put so much pressure on to Hinckley’s goal, and they showed that they can not only create chances, but score them as well, and they will come as great comfort as the side prepare for the visit of Worcester City to Hilton Park this coming Saturday afternoon.

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