Hatters defeated by title chasers
Kidderminster Harriers 2
Gowling 13, Malbon 35
The Hatters were narrowly beaten by promotion chasers Kidderminster at Kenilworth Road after first half goals from Joshua Gowling and Anthony Malbon sealed the three points for Harriers.
Despite going in 2-0 at the break the introduction of Andre Gray saw an energetic influence surge through the Tpwm and after his 15th of the season with ten minutes remaining ensured a nervy finish for Steve Burr's men.
Town boss John Still entrusted Matt Robinson with his first start in the Blue Square in the heart of the Hatters midfield alongside Solomon Taiwo as Jonathan Smith drops to the bench. Jon Shaw and Scott Rendell were handed starts at the forefront of the Hatters attacking threat with Alex Wall and Gray watching on from the bench to enhance options. Scott Griffiths was also named in the match day squad as he took his place in the bench awaiting his Hatters bow.
The Town kicked off and immediately tested Danny Lewis in the Harriers goal through Taiwo's speculative effort. Martin jinked away from the challenge of Lee Vaughan before driving an early cross in. Headed away by Joshua Gowling but only as far as Taiwo who slammed a shot against a Harriers body which sent the ball flailing into the sky. Looping towards goal Lewis maintained his concentration and clutched onto the ball as it dropped from the air.
Harriers then returned the favour after ten minutes as Vaughan's long searching pass split the defence and found Anthony Malbon through on goal. The ball bounced in front of the Harriers front man as he volleyed goal wards but slammed it against Tyler's right hand and out for a corner.
The resulting corner brought about the opener from the visitors through Gowling's low drive. The initial corner was headed away but only as far as Vaughan who whipped a deep, teasing cross into the box which saw a cluster of bodies challenge before the ball dropped kindly to Gowling who slammed the ball into the bottom corner to give the league leaders a 13th minute lead.
The Hatters issued an immediate response when Shaw tested the gloves of Lewis from range. Picking up the ball deep and with very little options ahead Shaw strode inside before firing at goal. Lewis bounded down to his right to palm the ball safe but only as far as Rendell who reversed the pass to Martin to reload the attack. His deep cross dropped off the head of Howells to Robinson who could not find a route to goal with his volley which was rebuffed by Dunkley.
Continued pressure from the hosts as Rendell rattles the crossbar on 24 minutes. A quick free-kick by Simon Ainge caught the Kidderminster back-line napping as Howells swung in an early cross which Rendell flicked goal-wards. His effort seemed to have the keeper beaten and the Hatters on level terms were it not for the crash of the crossbar and Dunkley then swept clear to maintain the visitors one goal deficit.
Rendell continued to threaten the Harriers goal minutes later after he latched onto Shaw's perfectly weighted through ball. With the goal opening up for Rendell and only Lewis to beat his scuffed effort bobbled wide of the upright to the agony of the Kenilworth Road faithful.
The lead was still maintained, however, and on 28 minutes were it not for McNulty's last ditch heroics the lead would have been doubled. Michael Gash found himself in the corner of the box with Goodman for company before wriggling his way past the central defender with a quick shifting of weight and a neat step-over. Tyler surged out to narrow the angle so Gash slipped the ball back to Malbon who scampered on to stroke the ball towards goal but McNulty rebuffed the effort to safety.
The second goal did arrive for the visitors as Malbon harried the ball away from McNulty before rounding Tyler and coolly slotting the ball home for an easy tap in. Malbon hassled the ball away from McNulty before striding into the area and keeping his composure.
It proved to be the last piece of action for McNulty as Scott Griffiths entered the fray to make his début with Taiwo taking over the armband.
It was very nearly three before the break as Malbon again wreaked havoc amongst the Hatters defenders. Peeling off of Rowe-Turner he instantly flicked the ball inside to Pilkington who lofted a pass into the box inches over the head of Gash who travelled underneath the cross as it bounced out of play.
The half drew to a close but the final sighting at goal could have changed the course of the game however as Rendell's header nearly caught Lewis out. Martin's stabbed cross found Rendell who glanced the ball on but Lewis grasped onto the ball to prevent the margin being narrowed.
Harriers began the second half brightest with both Keith Briggs and Pilkington slamming over firing over early on.
The Hatters made their second change of the afternoon ten minutes after the re-start with Jonathan Smith replacing Martin in an attempt to combat the midfield battle.
The second half began cagey but as the hour mark passed the game opened up with more chances becoming evident for both sides. Taiwo surged his side forward but his attempted pass wide to Griffiths cannoned off the referee to the feet of Dunkley who took advantage and sprayed the ball forward to Malbon. More fleet footedness from the front-man worked an angle inside and he slipped the ball into Pilkington who hit it first time forcing Tyler to scurry down to his left to prevent a third.
Still then retracted Rendell from the battlefield and replaced him with Andre Gray. His first touch nearly put the Hatters back in the game as a goalmouth scramble followed Taiwo's cross. Goodman rose highest and his header bobbled down to the feet of the centre half who saw Dunkley nab in front and hammer the ball off his own crossbar right underneath the nose of Goodman and Gray who scrapped with multiple Harriers bodies to try and turn the ball home. Neither could get the all-important touch however and the ball was lashed clear hastily by Lewis.
Gray's introduction gave the Hatters a further threat on the counter and his pace nearly brought about a tap in for Howells. Racing clear down the right hand side Gray picked his head up and slid the ball across the face for Howells who failed to connect fully after Vaughan's dogged tracking run and tackle and the ball bounced wide of the far post.
It was Gray who then gave the Hatters a late lifeline with ten minutes remaining. Good interchange in the middle of the park between Smith, Taiwo and Robinson before the latter split the defence with a wonderfully weighted pass to Gray who thundered a shot into the bottom corner, beating Lewis as his near post to reduce the deficit to just a solitary goal and rejuvenate the Hatters belief.
They nearly found a second when Robinson, again the architect, dug out a cross on the right hand side which just evaded the desperate jump of Howells.
Seconds later and with the Hatters throwing everything at Harriers in an attempt to gain something from the match Shaw was grounded after a coming together with Lewis. Unaware of his forward on the floor in the area Robinson smashed an effort towards the bottom corner which clipped the post on its way out.
As the board was held aloft by the fourth official Howells won a corner to be taken by Taiwo. The Hatters skipper whipped an inviting cross in which was met by Smith's ferocious header which was cleared off the line when it seemed destined to have rescued a point but Harriers clung on by the skin of their teeth to gain a vital three points.