BRAKES 3 ST NEOTS 0
Brakes put down an emphatic promotion marker after producing a devastating first-half display to see off St Neots at the New Windmill, writes Ben Burrows.
Three goals in 20 first-half minutes from Liam Daly, Stephan Morley and Lee Chilton saw Brakes run out comfortable 3-0 winners against their third-placed opponents.
Brakes’ fast start sees them keep pace with table-topping Hemel Hempstead Town with Paul Holleran’s men holding four games in hand over their Hertfordshire adversaries.
The home side started brightly with lively winger Matty Dodd seeing a scrambled effort cleared off the line as early as the second minute.
But there was nothing St Neots could do a minute later as Liam Daly picked the ball up 25 yards out from a Ricky Johnson lay-off and fired a rasping drive skidding into the right-hand corner of Michael Duggan’s net.
Brakes continued to press home their advantage, refusing to allow their high-flying opponents a foothold in proceedings. And shortly after the quarter-hour mark they had their reward when skipper Morley was on hand to blast home from a tight angle on the left of the penalty area after a neat move involving Chilton and James Husband.
With the Saints still recovering from their sluggish opening the home lead was increased six minutes later when Chilton capitalised on more lax defending to chest down a Dodd through ball and sidefoot home, sending the majority of the 707 crowd into raptures.
Chilton, full of confidence after slotting home the winning goal against Kettering four days earlier, nearly added his second shortly after but clipped just wide after being put through by the impressive Johnson.
John Paul Duncliffe saw a long-range free-kick evade everyone in the penalty area and bounce just wide of Niall Cooper’s right-hand post but that was the closest the visitors came in a surprisingly lacklustre first-half performance.
The only negative from a dominant first period for Holleran’s men was losing goalscorer Chilton to a thigh injury but replacement Tom Berwick continued in the same vein, seeing a powerful effort flash wide after more hesitant defending from the visitors.
St Neots were unable to get their prolific forward pairing of former Brake Ben Mackey and ex-Aston Villa striker Stefan Moore into the game, with wide man Lewis Hilliard the first to test Cooper in the home goal although his long-range effort lacked any real power.
Moore, who has netted more than 80 goals since arriving from Halesowen Town in 2010, finally showed some of his pedigree just before the break but his left-foot shot from range flew past the angle of post and bar.
The visitors were still unable to settle into the game after the break, while the hosts were happy to hang on to that they had.
When a glimmer of an opening did arise, Richard Batchelor failed to capitalise, with his snapshot miscued and easily cleared.
Despite the slower opening to the second period, substitute Berwick was still a constant menace on the break, and a brilliant solo run and stabbed shot forced a sharp save from Duggan at the Harbury Lane End.
St Neots continued to struggle to create clear-cut opportunities with centre-half Gavin Hoyte spurning their best chance - Cooper reacting to smartly deny him with his legs after the centre-half had found space in the penalty area.
With the hosts content to see out the win, St Neots improved, with Ollie Thorne lifting a shot over the bar before substitute Tom Spark saw an effort flash wide.
The introduction of Alex Taylor from the bench added fresh legs and impetus to the Brakes midfield and he twice went close to capping the victory after more positive build-up play from the lively Berwick.
Goalscorer Daly headed over from a late Martyn Naylor corner as Brakes finished the stronger, with both Berwick and Dodd denied by Duggan in a late flurry.
Brakes: Niall Cooper, James Mace, Stephan Morley, Martyn Naylor, Jamie Hood, Liam Daly, Matt Dodd, James Husband (Alex Taylor, 72), Ricky Johnson (Lee Moore, 77), Lee Chilton (Tom Berwick, 33), Richard Batchelor. Subs not used: Sam Adkins, Dan Ward.
St Neots: Michael Duggan, John Paul Duncliffe, Ed Adjei, Ollie Thorne, Arthur Lee, Gavin Hoyte, Lewis Hilliard, Jay Davies, Stefan Moore, Ben Mackey, Ade Yusuff (Tom Spark, 67).