MANAGER Matt Clarke remained proud of his valiant ten-man Redditch United side despite being unable to hold on to a three-goal lead with 12 minutes to play against Rushall Olympic on Tuesday.
The Reds were left with only a point to their name despite an excellent counter-attacking performance and heroic defending that perhaps warranted more, although Rushall’s continuous approach of piling forward ultimately proved too much – with Alex Moore’s equaliser falling late in stoppage time.
But, while Clarke was unable to take much solace from United’s unbeaten start to the Southern League Premier Central season being maintained, he could not be more complimentary to the performance of his side under testing circumstances.
“I felt that the boys were outstanding, we defended like our lives depended on it,” he said.
“Naturally the sending-off changed the game. I felt we looked like scoring on the counter-attack every time, we were really dangerous with our pace.
“In the second half, we went out and carried on defending well and scored the third goal.
“I knew it was still going to be difficult but I thought we could see it out. I can’t ask for anything more from the boys – I thought they were outstanding.
“Naturally the lads were gutted, because we felt that’s two points lost, not a point gained.
“So it’s disappointing, but I’m proud of the boys.”
Redditch hit the front after just two minutes at the Trico Stadium – the opener being an instinctive back-heel from Jordan Clement inside the penalty area to beat Olympic keeper Jonathan Flatt while the forward’s back was to goal.
And with less than 15 minutes played, the hosts doubled their advantage to leave the majority of the 472-strong crowd delighted.
This time Alex Cameron was the provider, advancing towards goal before planting a sumptuous strike into the top-right corner of the net.
For all of Redditch’s good play going forwards, Rushall were a match for that without any end reward, threatening Kieran Boucher’s goal a number of times.
While the visitors’ first attempts from Reece Mitchell and Moore failed to trouble the Reds’ goal, former Wolves winger Michael Kightly’s free kick could not have come much closer after cracking the inside of the post and rebounding away from danger.
It was the last involvement for Kightly after being forced off with a knock midway through the first half, with the talking points plentiful heading into half-time after Ben Swallow saw a straight red for an off-the-ball incident.
But, while Rushall went forward in numbers after the interval in search of a reply, Redditch initially looked comfortable dealing with any threat.
There was United delight when a scintillating counter-attack resulted in a third Reds goal – Tiago Nassunculo bursting away from his nearest man to finish clinically.
However, the goal only stoked Rushall’s flame, as Sam Whittall’s strike from distance crept inside the post on 78 minutes to renew the visitors’ hope.
Nehemia Zazi then set up a nail-biting finish when heading home at the far post four minutes later.
Redditch looked set to hang on and claim a well-earned three points as the game inched towards the conclusion, so Moore’s lashed finish inside the penalty area to share the spoils came as a real hammer-blow to the home faithful.
Tenth-placed United will nonetheless take plenty of heart from the midweek performance heading into Saturday’s home clash with Biggleswade Town, as Reds chiefs hope for a gate around the 600 mark.