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Match Report  Sunday, April 22, 2001  21:37 GMT

Captain keeps cool for vital penalty

League fixture - Sunday 22nd April 2001
Halfway House 4-4 Orton Rangers (HT:3-2)

The race for the Premier League title took an amazing double twist on a remarkable Sunday morning’s football. Orton Rangers thought they had blown their chances when finding themselves three goals down after twenty minutes to relegation threatened Halfway House. They eventually fought back to earn a point but came off the pitch disappointed only to learn that title rivals St Marys had also slipped up and could only manage a draw at home to bottom side PH Cardinals. It means that nothing has changed at the top of the table and leaves Orton still in with a great chance of glory.

Rangers were staring disaster firmly in the face as they endured a nightmare start to a game that was delayed by 20 minutes due to the state of the pitch. Halfway were having a field day as they cut through the side with the best defensive record in the division at will. It could easily have been five or six before Rangers fought back through two Brian Treanor goals. They came back strongly and equalised through Dean Billingsley. Halfway edged in front again but Orton’s spirit earned them a penalty which captain Gregg Marrett coolly converted.

Orton were playing their third game in a week and made two changes to the side that toiled to a 2-0 win over Forget-Me-Not on Thursday. Steve Baird returned to the right side of midfield with Craig Smyth named as substitute with Dean Billingsley and Stuart Taylor. Michael Bolton also came back at centre-half in place of Ryan Farrell.

This was to be the first of two meetings in a week between teams with the same aim of maximum points, although for differing purposes. It was the side facing the dreaded drop who settled first and stunned Rangers at the start of the match in what can only be described as a fluke spell. Halfway’s forwards ran amok and caused unbelievable panic in the Orton box. It was hard to take in that a defence that has looked so solid and provided the backbone throughout the season could make so many schoolboy errors. Halfway had people flying forward at will. Midfielder runners were not being tracked and Rangers were lucky not to concede more goals. However Rangers have staged many a comeback in the past and you sensed that they would not take the setback lying down. The visitor’s management made the switch in formation to 4-4-2 with Neil Noakes moving to right-back.

Creative midfielders Gregg Marrett and Simon Jennings began to see more of the more ball with the wing play of Jennings especially troubling Halfway and you got the feeling that he was going to make things happen. Forwards Brian Treanor and James Marrett were getting in behind the home side’s defence and Orton looked threatening. After forcing a number of corners they clawed a goal back. A throw in on the right from Noakes to Peter Cheshire gave the young wing-back time to swing over a left-footed cross that was met by an textbook downward header by Brian Treanor into the bottom corner. Orton continued to press forward and James Marrett went close from a corner when a rebound dropped down to him. His first time volley went narrowly over.

The visitor’s determination to get something from the game was summed by the attitude of midfielders Steve Baird and Chris Giles who both won important challenges in the middle. Baird especially looked fired up and he threw himself into one tackle that led to the second goal. Gregg Marrett’s pass set Jennings away down the right and he skipped round a defender before pulling the ball behind everyone at the near post (including the keeper) and into the path of a grateful Treanor who finished comfortably.

Orton had got themselves together and now looked the stronger side. Their play was busy and purposeful and they were playing with a sense of urgency. They could have gone into the break level after James Marrett was on the end of two chances for the travelling side. Firstly Jennings and Treanor combined on the left-hand side of the area before Marrett came onto the ball and shot low towards the near post. The keeper made a good save turning the ball round for a corner. Moments before the break Jennings again started a move and played the ball down the middle for Marrett to chase. The defender tried to toe it back to his goalkeeper but got too much on it and the ball raced past the home keeper. Marrett latched onto the loose ball and tried to squeeze home from a narrow angle but he was left disappointed as he could only manage to screw a shot over the bar.

After the interval Rangers came out looking to get further goals and establish their foothold on the match. After a fairly quiet opening the action began to warm up again and Treanor could have been celebrating a hat-trick when a pass from Gregg Marrett put him through. He took his shot early though and pulled it wide of the goal. Chris Giles then came forward when his side had a corner and picked up a loose ball but sent his effort high over the goal. Rangers were coping a lot easier with the threat of the dangerous Halfway forwards and had their opponents pegged back for large periods. Simon Jennings tried to cause the sort of problems to the home defence as he did in the first half but couldn’t quite help find the breakthrough as Orton searched for an equaliser. Rangers then made their first substitution as the tiring James Marrett was replaced by Dean Billingsley.

The ‘Gers, wearing their traditional yellow and green kit, continued to probe away at their hosts and were rewarded with around fifteen minutes to go. Gregg Marrett was involved again as the playmaker’s pass was perfect for Billingsley to run onto and the youngster finished well with the outside of his foot. Rangers had got themselves on level footing and no one would argue that they didn’t deserve to. But before they had time to think about getting a winner they sloppily allowed Halfway time in the box to get a fourth goal. Orton had it all to do again.

They started the second fightback by withdrawing Paul Thatcher, who was also feeling the effects of too much football. Craig Smyth came on at right back with Neil Noakes reverting to centre-half with Michael Bolton. Smyth’s impact was instant as he skipped round a couple of challenges on the wing and won his side a corner. The set-piece again found it’s way to Giles but once more he shot over. Orton kept plugging away and with just over five minutes left they made the breakthrough. Baird was upended just inside the box and the referee pointed to the spot. With regular taker Thatcher off the pitch Gregg Marrett took the responsibility and sent the keeper the wrong way to leave the scoreline reading 4-4.

Halfway to their credit came back once more and Lynham had to be alert to clear danger with a save before Bolton made two characteristic last-ditch challenges. With less than a minute remaining Rangers could have had a second spot-kick and the chance for a winner. Gregg Marrett looked he was brought down inside the box and argued his case but his protests were dismissed by the referee. An action-packed dramatic game was brought to a close soon after.

Rangers looked drained as they made their way off the pitch. They were soon cheered up by the news from St Marys. It could well turn out to be a valuable point gained for the ‘Gers as the season looks set for more twists and turns than in an Agatha Christie novel. The Orton players looked weary from the sheer amount of football played in the last few weeks. They face the small matter of a cup final on Tuesday and a league game at Kypros on Thursday before the rematch with Halfway. A further indication as to whether they can last the pace will be decided in the next week or so. One thing is certain after this famous comeback is that in terms of desire and will-to-win, no one can match them.

Starting Team (3-5-2): Lynham; Baird, Cheshire, Bolton, Thatcher(Smyth), Noakes; G.Marrett (c), Giles, Jennings; Treanor, J.Marrett (Billingsley)

Sub not used: Taylor

Referee:- N.Beechey

Management M.O.M:- Gregg Marrett
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