In drizzly conditions, Ilkley Town AFC recorded a compelling victory over fellow Yorkshire outfit Steeton AFC to finish 2022 on a high note. The sides were inseparable at the break, but goals from Josh Parker and Tom Smith – combined with a clean sheet - secured a festive three points for the Baht’atters, writes Matthew Lambe.
The attendance for this festive fixture was a season-high, with 200 at the MPM Stadium.
Alfie Dean almost gave his side the lead in spectacular fashion, but his arrowing effort ricocheted off the crossbar and back into open play.
Following this, the game became a cagey encounter with both sides’ midfielders cancelling each other out, causing the ball to remain in the middle third for a prolonged period. Nevertheless, Ilkley were unlucky not to have broken the deadlock when Matt Swift’s powerful header was cleared off the line by a Steeton defender.
The Chevrons were reduced to 10 men for 10 minutes, after centre half Nathan Tayo was sin binned for dissent aimed towards the referee. However, the Baht ’atters couldn’t capitalise on the man advantage, allowing Tayo to return to the field with the score still goalless.
The visitors will have goalkeeper Stuart Cross to thank for not being behind at the interval, as the Steeton shot-stopper parried away a dangerous deflected shot.
At the other end of the MPM Stadium, Steeton looked threatening each time they attacked but Sam Blackiston was always equal to their efforts.
At half time, Shaban Mehmeti was brought on for Matt Whitehead, and looked to make an instant impact as he embarked on a mazy run which resulted in a corner.
From the subsequent corner, centre-back Josh Parker opened the scoring with a crisp volley which beat Cross at the near post, giving his side a deserved lead.
Mehmeti nearly scored in quick succession from long distance, but Cross palmed away his swerving strike.
The Chevrons looked nailed on to bag an equaliser around the hour mark when Andy Briggs – the league’s top goalscorer - found space in the box, but Blackiston produced a fabulous reflex save to deny the Steeton talisman of a 20th goal this season.
Entering the final 20 minutes, Sam Dexter’s side were subject to a spell of pressure from the visitors, but the partnership of Matt Swift and the goalscorer Parker, along with Blackiston, kept them at bay.
Not resting on their laurels, the Baht’atters pushed forward in search of another. Dean had advanced into a promising area before being brought down by Tayo, who received a yellow card for his cynical foul.
With the final whistle looming, Tom Smith bagged his 12th goal of the campaign to secure the three points. After winning possession on the edge of the box, he evaded a defender before slotting past Cross into the bottom corner to round off a comprehensive second half performance.
In the New Year, Town have consecutive away fixtures – travelling to high-flying Chadderton on 7th January before visiting Euxton Villa on 14th January.
(Photo Credit: Ian Meakin)