Saturday, March 5, 2005

TEENAGER Johnny Mullins proved an unlikely goal hero for Kidderminster Harriers yet again as their relegation plight began to see a bit of light on Saturday.

Mullins came up trumps to sink local rivals Cheltenham Town less than two months after swooping to bury a header in a 3-1 win at fellow strugglers Cambridge United.

The 19-year-old centre-half, a loan signing from Reading, certainly has a spring in his step, as did everyone connected with Kidderminster following late goals that sentenced Rushden and Diamonds and Cambridge to defeat.

Suddenly, the Coca-Cola League Two table is not such painful reading with Harriers off the bottom and within five points, considering the goal difference, of Rushden whom they host in two weeks.

But, as Harriers boss Stuart Watkiss was the first to admit, they must concentrate on extending the three-game unbeaten run which amazingly equals their best spell of the season.

Mullins' header gave the Aggborough men a first home victory over their Gloucestershire rivals since promotion to the Football League in 2000 and was their first triumph in six matches following two draws.

And Watkiss was understandably full of praise for a Harriers display in awkward windy conditions which, for once, was troubled by very few weak links.

He said: "We did have the better of the conditions but I don't think anyone can argue about whether we deserved the win or not. I thought we were much the better team. We should have had the game dead and buried.

"That's two games now where we've put 90-minute performances together. It's a step in the right direction. If the league was to start now, we would be fine. We'd be halfway up it and competitive but we're not in that situation.

"We're fighting against time with 10 games to go. I think people can see the team improving and becoming more competitive but there's still an awful lot of work to be done on the training ground.

"The minute we rest on our laurels because of one good win, we know we're going to be in a lot of trouble. There's a good spirit about the players and we've got a bit of momentum which we must try to keep going."

In a first-half wrecked by the eccentric elements, which included a heavy hail storm, Harriers enjoyed the better possession against their play-off chasing visitors.

But good chances were few and far between as the hosts struggled to perfect their final through-ball which was often carried away by the strong wind.

Harriers could not have started the second-half any better though as Mullins rose to head home Dean Keates' right-wing corner within three minutes of the restart.

Their players were all up for the battle with Tom Bennett picking off plenty of second balls in midfield and Chris Beardsley harrying the Cheltenham defenders.

But Harriers 'keeper John Danby did have to be at his best to block from Steve Gillespie on 55 minutes and then tip over a Gavin Caines header.

Blair Sturrock missed several good chances at the other end though as Harriers could have added to the tally and, after a few shaky moments, this time they refused to give up their lead and deservedly secured three vital points.

Harriers: Danby 7; Jenkins 6 (Weaver 46, 7), *Mullins 8, Jackson 7, Hatswell 7; Cozic 7, Bennett 7, Keates 6, McGrath 6; Beardsley 7, Sturrock 6. Subs not used: Lewis, Jones, Russell, Rawle. Attendance: 2,879.