Dave Barker’s 89th-minute goal sent Saltash United to within two points of Western League leaders Barnstaple Town as they defeated Helston Athletic 2-1 at Kellaway Park, writes Matt Friday.
Neither side could take the initiative in a drab opening 45 minutes in west Cornwall, but the hosts got their noses in front early in the second half when Rubin Wilson nodded past Ashes goalkeeper Jordan Duffey.
That goal appeared to wake Saltash up and the Ashes deservedly levelled through Alex Cairo just after the hour, with skipper Barker on hand to pinch all three points for the visitors with a close-range finish in the final minute of the 90.
Saltash are now within two points of Western League table toppers Bridgwater United after the Robins suffered their first defeat of the season, while a second loss on the bounce – and third in all competitions – sees Helston drop to 13th in the table.
The all-Cornish affair was viewed as one of the games – if not the game – of the weekend in the county between two sides with aspirations of finishing towards the top of the Western League table, and the significance of a good result for either side was perhaps evident in what was a cagey opening 45 minutes.
Helston had the better of a limited number of chances in the first half. Reece Shanley, making his second debut for the Blues after returning on loan from Plymouth Parkway, dragging a shot wide at the end of a fine run before set-piece specialist Tom Payne curled a free-kick into the side netting.
Danny Lewis and Shane Krac’s side grew into the half as it wore on but were largely restricted to potshots around the edge of the Helston box, with Harrison Davis and Callum Merrin both missing the target from 20 yards before Lewis flashed a cross across the face of Cory Harvey’s goal.
Saltash had the ball in the net just after the half-hour mark when Harvey spilled Merrin’s cross at the feet of Sam Hughes who tucked the ball home, only for it to be disallowed after the Ashes forward was deemed to have fouled the Blues custodian in doing so.
It perhaps should have been Helston who took a lead into the break, however, with Shanley almost grabbing an assist on his first game back in blue. The right-back put Rubin Wilson through with a fine lofted pass but the forward couldn’t add to his impressive goal tally this season and drilled the ball into the side netting.
But Helston and Wilson were not to be denied for too long and Matt Cusack’s side broke the deadlock less than two minutes after the turnaround. Jude Tripconey worked the ball out wide to Payne, whose right-wing cross was headed home by Wilson for his 12th of the campaign.
That woke the Ashes up and they began to take the game to their hosts, with Merrin’s edge-of-the-box strike taking a deflection before Lewis’ strike from the resulting corner was saved by Harvey from point-blank range, with the home gloveman also having to deny Callum Bleasdale from close range a few minutes later.
An equaliser felt like it was coming and it duly arrived just after the hour. Cairo beat the offside trap to meet a pass on the left flank and raced into the box before coolly slotting the ball between Harvey and his near post.
Both sides were now sniffing a late winner with Harvey having to be at full stretch to deny Charlie Elkington – who also volleyed wide shortly after – before Payne failed to capitalise on two free-kicks at the other end. The best chance fell to Saltash, though, who saw three chances go by in the space of ten seconds. Hughes had a shot blocked before Davis struck the post from 20 yards, with Harvey then saving from Merrin.
But just as it seemed the teams would have to settle for a point apiece, the visitors finally found the winning goal. Harvey pulled off another save from Hughes inside the box but couldn’t prevent the rebound from falling to Barker, with the Saltash skipper timing his arrival at the back post to perfection to smash the ball home and seal the points.
Helston’s slim hopes of finding a late leveller were not helped by the dismissal of skipper Harrison Jewell and Jordan Bentley, who were both sent to the sin bin after the pair vented their frustrations towards the assistant referee in the aftermath of the goal.
Helston: C Harvey, R Shanley (J Simmonds 70), I Burdon, A Bentley, H Jewell, J Bentley, T Payne, T Elliott, R Wilson (S Carter 70), J Tripconey (R Shepherd 66), T Rosenquest. Subs (unused): R Hill, F Walter.
Saltash: J Duffey, D Barker, C Elkington, S Leary, H Wilson, H Davis, C Bleasdale, S Hughes, A Cairo, D Lewis (C O’Brien 75), C Merrin. Subs (unused): I McCue, M Holwill, S Krac.
[Featured images: Colin Bradbury / Cornwall Sports Media]