A SCINTILLATING attacking performance left Redditch United boss Liam McDonald purring after his side made mathematically certain of their Southern League Premier Division play-off place with a 6-2 thumping of Chippenham Town at the Valley Stadium on Wednesday.
Fresh from Monday’s crucial 2-1 home win over Kettering Town at the Valley thanks to a brace of Ash Sammons penalties, a reshuffled United side put the Bluebirds to the sword as they recovered from conceding a seventh-minute opener to record a handsome win and return to second place in the table.
A win in Saturday’s final match of the regular campaign at Frome Town will guarantee the Reds second place and a home play-off semi-final and also home advantage in the final should they qualify.
A draw in Somerset would secure at least third place and a home semi-final but, in such a scenario, victory for Hungerford Town at Leamington would deny McDonald’s men second spot and therefore any guarantee of a home final.
“We didn’t start well on Wednesday and conceded a sloppy goal which is unlike us, but after that we fought back really well and were clinical in our finishing.
“I made some changes which gave opportunities to others and, after we let the early goal in, the challenge was there for all of the players out there to see how they would respond and push for selection in the play-offs.
“I was impressed with the way we hit back and some of our attacking play was a delight to watch. Sam Merson’s second goal typified the performance, in respect of how we worked the ball across the pitch and moved Chippenham around, and then he’s driven it home emphatically from the edge of the box.”
Redditch were soon on level terms thanks to a brilliant 20-yard strike from Sammons who bent a delightful effort beyond the despairing dive of Kent Kauppinen after some magical footwork on the edge of the box and goals from set pieces from centre backs Jim Mutton and Will Richards gave the hosts a 3-1 lead by the break.
Chippenham threatened a response straight after half time but their hopes were extinguished when Merson finished with aplomb after being set up by the marauding Simeon Maye and in what seemed the blink of an eye it was 6-1 as Robbie Thompson-Brown drove home from the edge of the box after being set up by substitute Jason Cowley before Merson put the finishing touches to the move of the match soon afterwards.
The visitors pulled a goal back late on when Ben Whitehead beat the offside trap to bag his second goal of the game, but McDonald was not too concerned by the goal.
“When their lad has gone through it appeared Jose (Veiga, Redditch keeper) might have been able to make a better attempt at denying him but, to be fair to Jose, he’s come off the pitch and told me he didn’t think it was worth the risk bringing him down and getting sent off and suspended and that was very wise of him to be honest,” said McDonald.
“I’ve got to give praise to young Jason Cowley who got another chance off the bench. He was quick and lively and did what we asked of him, getting an assist too. He’s been banging in the goals for the reserves and has deserved his chance.
“What I like about him is that you know he will do exactly what you ask of him. He will be in the squad on Saturday.”
For various reasons the Reds were without right back Jordan Cullinane-Liburd, midfielders George Carline and Max Loveridge and forward Luke Shearer on Wednesday, but all are in contention for imminent returns to the side, whilst forwards Jazz Luckie and Danico Johnson are also back in the fray.
“We’ve got a clean bill of health ahead of the play-offs and have got good momentum,” said McDonald.
“The aim now is to win at Frome and then obviously win two more games because, if we do, it will mean we’ve won the play-offs.
“We have had runs of six or seven wins on the spin more than once before which proves we are capable, but of course we realise there is plenty of hard work ahead.
“Over the three seasons I have been in charge we have exceeded expectations, whilst this season we’ve achieved my target of reaching the play-offs. It’s new territory we are in now, but the lads are now embracing playing in front of these bigger crowds we are getting and we want it to continue that way in the play-offs on home soil.”
Should the Reds secure home advantage for their play-off semi, the match has been confirmed as being on Wednesday, April 27 (7.45pm) kick-off. The final takes place on Bank Holiday Monday, May 2 (3pm), with home advantage to the highest placed team who have progressed from the semis.
REDDITCH Borough boosted their Midland League Division Three promotion hopes with a thrilling 4-3 home win over Alcester Town on Tuesday.
Cowley bagged a hat-trick for the Reds and Jak Albutt was also on target for the hosts, whilst Matt Layton netted a hat-trick for Town.
The Reds reserves are now four points behind leaders Leamington Hibernian with a game in hand and have four games left to play.
Redditch host Inkberrow on Saturday before visiting Smithswood Firs on Monday in a key game. Smithswood are currently nine points behind the Reds but have three games in hand. The top two will be promoted.