Flint went toe to toe with runaway leaders and champions elect, The New Saints, and narrowly came off second best in a pulsating encounter at the Essity Stadium.
The Silkmen went at the Saints from the off, determined to take the game to their opponents, and forced several set pieces in the opening quarter of an hour. Jake Phillips, pushed up into a more advanced position for this match, curled a lovely shot on goal from 25 yards out after just 4 minutes. Paul Harrison was forced into a flying save to palm the ball out for a corner.
Following a free kick on 8 minutes, Ben Nash found himself in a great position with a free header, but could only direct his effort wide of the target. Flint continued to pile on the pressure, and a swift move on 25 minutes saw Mark Cadwallader cut infield and hit a 20 yard effort that was deflected just wide of the goal.
Unfortunately, for all their dominance up to this point, the home side had failed to pierce the Saints’ rearguard, with the imposing figure of Ryan Astles at the back dominant in repelling crosses into the box. Perhaps, the only criticism that could be levelled at the Silkmen was that they were slightly guilty of not varying things up a bit more in terms of deliveries into the box. But Phillips and the ever excellent Callum Bratley were causing real problems for the visitors with their forward thrusts.
Having successfully weathered the storm for the opening quarter of the game, the Saints started to play themselves back into the match, and their quick passing and movement meant that the Flint rearguard had to be on their toes to prevent any incursions through their backline. By and large, they managed this quite successfully, restricting their opponents to long range efforts that were either off target or reasonably comfortable shots for Jon Rushton to deal with in the home goal.
Just after the half hour mark, Flint created the chance of the half. Some good work initially by skipper Alex Jones in the corner on the right, led to him feeding Bratley who somehow managed to wiggle his way through on the byeline and deliver a cross that took a deflection but which nevertheless sat up perfectly for Cadwallader to meet with his head. Somehow or other, Harrison managed to claw the effort onto the bar, and as the ball bounced down, the Flint players appealed that it had crossed the line, although this may have been more in hope than expectation, as it was cleared from the danger zone.
Having played so well in the first half, but with nothing tangible to show for their efforts in terms of goals, it was always a nagging doubt during the interval as to whether they would pay the price in the second period.
The game was barely 30 seconds into the restart when the Silkmen were hit with a bolt from the blue. A deflected shot came out to the feet of Jordan Williams wide on the right, he managed to get just inside the 18 yard box before unleashing a fine curling shot straight into the top corner, much to the annoyance of Rushton and his defence.
Following that setback, back came Flint, and their perseverance paid dividends on 52 minutes when Bratley struck the equaliser. A Phillips long throw was flicked on by Michael Wilde and Bratley met it on the half volley from about 10 yards out to bury his shot past Harrison.
It was then the Saints’ turn to respond, and they subsequently enjoyed their best period of the game as they put the Flint goal under some considerable pressure. A combination of last ditch defending and decent goalkeeping by Rushton, especially a fine stop to deny Louis Robles’ close range header, however looked to have kept them at bay, and Flint had appeared to have weathered the storm. But an innocuous looking lofted ball was played in to the far stick by Saints skipper Chris Marriott in the 60th minute, and Rushton misjudged what should have been a relatively easy take, allowing Danny Davies to ghost in behind him and nod home from an acute angle.
Flint tried to rally once more, and they did manage to carve out several more chances, none of which they were able to take.
Wilde placed a header off target following a Phillips corner, before Phillips himself found in behind Astles in the 80th minute, but a last ditch tackle blocked his effort.
Rushton made some amends for his earlier error, by flicking a free kick over the bar, to keep his side in contention. Then with 5 minutes remaining, Wilde glanced the ball into the path of Nash, but as he stretched he was just unable to connect with the ball and divert it into the net, as Harrison raced out and gratefully pounced on it.
Report by Nigel Sheen
Line Ups :
Flint Town United – J. Rushton, D. Roberts (J. Higgins 89), S. Hart, R. Weaver (S. Duffy 77), B. Nash, K. Edwards, J. Phillips, A. Jones (c), M. Wilde, M. Cadwallader, C. Bratley. Unused Subs – R. Woods, O. Nugent, L. Ellis, J. Williams, B. Hughes
The New Saints – P. Harrison, B. Clark (L. Smith 51), C. Marriott (c), A. Denny, R. Astles, J. Williams, D. Davies, R. Brobbel (K. Davies 90) D. McManus, L. Robles, A. Cieslewicz Unused Subs – C. Roberts (GK), A. Baker, J. Canavan, O. Davies
Flint MOM – Jake Phillips (great all round performance)