Saturday, January 29, 2005

NOT even the most positive Kidderminster Harriers fan would have expected anything from the Abbey Stadium at 3.25pm on Saturday.

That was when Harriers, already a goal down to Shane Tudor's opener, were reduced to ten men when Tom Bennett was sent off for two quick yellow cards.

But with the relegation scrap taking a massive swing in bottom-of-the-table Cambridge United's favour, suddenly Stuart Watkiss' men pulled a mighty performance out of nowhere.

Chris Beardsley dragged them level before the break and valiant Harriers defending was rewarded with further goals from Johnny Mullins and Gary Birch.

Now they are four points ahead of Cambridge and three below Shrewsbury Town but with a miserable goal difference in comparison.

Watkiss can only hope the weekend's dramatic fightback will finally spark a crucial positive run of results to haul Harriers out of relegation danger.

He admitted: "You think the gods are against you but I got the response I wanted out of the players.

"We are going to need the commitment and team-work week in week out to get out of the situation we're in. If the Cambridge game wasn't a lesson to them and a pointer, then nothing can be.

"There were players throwing themselves in front of the ball, tackles being won and we had a bit of lady luck which you need in any scenario.

"It's been a good day but we've been here before. We have spoken about good performances. This is one game and we have got to start putting a sequence of results together.

"The lads have had a big pat on the back but this week it's going to be back to basics, hard work and hours on the training ground.

"We have to continuously try to improve. The minute we rest on our laurels or think we've arrived and done it, we are going to get a big slap in the face."

There is indeed plenty of work still to be done but Saturday's result was a major blow to Cambridge's hopes of escaping the drop and they struggled to break down the ten men.

The hosts started well with debutant Martin Carruthers forcing a diving save from John Danby and being denied a certain goal by Simon Weaver's block.

But Cambridge's pressure paid off on 15 minutes when Justin Walker's deep cross was headed back by Carruthers for Tudor to slam into the roof of the net from eight yards.

It continued to go wrong for Harriers. The experienced Bennett should have known better as he walked for two fouls on Adam Tann inside ten minutes.

However, Harriers responded with a gutsy display and crucially took their chances, starting with Beardsley's equaliser on 30 minutes when the spirited lone forward cut in from the right to drill home a low shot.

Skipper Wayne Hatswell shaved the bar with a close-range drive two minutes later, while Danby did well to push away Tudor's 22-yard free-kick before half-time in an end-to-end clash.

Harriers required fortune when Luke Guttridge hit the post but they then stunned the home crowd in the 61st minute with Mullins' unmarked header from Billy Jones' right-wing cross.

It was the teenager's first goal for the club and Birch completed a similar feat four minutes from time, thanks to a tremendous move.

After soaking up a string of attacks, Harriers hit back on the left flank with Blair Sturrock's tremendous run and his cross was laid back by fellow sub Ian Foster for Birch to slide into the net.

Harriers: Danby 7; Mullins 8, Weaver 7, Hatswell 7, Jones 7; McGrath 6, Bennett 5, Keates 7; Russell 6 (Foster 65, 7); *Beardsley 8 (Sturrock 76), Birch 7. Subs not used: Lewis, Gleeson, Burton. Attendance: 3,948.