VERDICT – Steelmen deliver the perfect Christmas gift with a crucial success

Former Corby Town man Steve Diggin runs at the Steelmen defence during the Boxing Day clash at Brackley Town. Picture by Steve Prouse
Former Corby Town man Steve Diggin runs at the Steelmen defence during the Boxing Day clash at Brackley Town. Picture by Steve Prouse

It may have come 24 hours later but the supporters of Corby Town were delivered the best Christmas present of all after their team snatched a dramatic 2-1 Boxing Day derby success at Brackley Town.

And what a vital win it was and could prove to be.

It’s fair to say the first half of the Vanarama National League North campaign had not gone according to plan for Tommy Wright and his Steelmen.

But, as the second half of the season got under way, Wright’s side hauled themselves out of the relegation zone and brought the Saints right back into the thick of the battle at the bottom.

There will be many, particularly of a Brackley persuasion, who will argue that the win was undeserved.

Corby were given 52 minutes at 10 men after home captain Joe Clarke had been sent-off for an awful challenge on Sam Downey.

They had opened the scoring just minutes earlier but conspired to concede an equaliser before half-time and then squandered opportunities after the break before finally finding a way through in controversial fashion at the death.

And between all that, they had to maintain concentration to deliver a gritty defensive display with the returning Edi Appleton turning in an excellent performance alongside Duane Courtney and Clayton McDonald.

But it was at the other end of the pitch where the headlines were made and, not for the first time, it was Greg Mills who stole the show.

However, there was added bite to Steelmen in attack and that was helped by the display of Massiah McDonald, who made his debut having joined on loan from Bradford Park Avenue.

He gave plenty of glimpses of his undoubted talent and proved to be the perfect foil for the diminutive Mills, who continued his uncanny knack of coming up with crucial goals at crucial times.

Brackley started the better and Clayton McDonald was forced to clear a Sam Smith header off the line after goalkeeper Sam Donkin, making his first appearance at the level, slipped when attempting to reach it.

It turned into a bit of battle after that with neither side giving too much away but, after Clayton McDonald had made a last-ditch challenge to deny former Steelman Glenn Walker as he shaped to shoot, the game sparked into life.

Massiah McDonald was desperately unlucky to see his terrific shot across goal smack off the far post after he held off the challenge of Ryan Austin having broken clear.

But the deadlock was broken on 38 minutes when Mills sprung the offside trap and then cut inside Austin before firing towards goal with home stopper Sam Hornby only able to get a hand on it when he probably should have done better.

It looked like it was going to be the Steelmen’s day when Clarke was dismissed for a poor and high challenge on Sam Downey - a tackle that sparked an ugly brawl.

But Brackley weren’t about to throw the towel in. The equaliser arrived a minute before the break when another former Corby man Steve Diggin’s attempted lob held up in the wind.

However, Donkin hesitated when he should have collected the ball and Smith needed no second invitation to beat him with a low shot into the corner.

Donkin’s inexperience was something Brackley clearly latched onto.

And, despite the numerical disadvantage, they continued to be a threat after the break as they knocked the ball down well and swung set-pieced in towards Donkin at every opportunity.

But, despite a few fraught moments, the Steelmen proved to be dangerous on the counter-attack and it was only the sharpness of Hornby that stopped them from going in front.

He saved well from Mills from a narrow angle and got down well to stop a firm strike from the frontman.

Mills had two shouts for penalties waved away by referee Anthony Serrano and, when he attempted to lift the ball over Hornby only to see the goalkeeper save it with 14 minutes to go, a draw seemed inevitable.

There were few other opportunities until the crucial moment arrived as the game moved into the final minute of normal time.

Once again Mills raced away on the counter-attack and was hauled down by Walker as he made his way into the box.

Mr Serrano was in no doubt this time as he pointed to the spot, although it has to be said it did look a soft one.

But Mills picked himself up and confidently beat Hornby from 12 yards for the most precious of winning goals.

As other results filtered the through the importance of the victory was only emphasised.

Brackley will get their chance for revenge when the two sides collide again at Steel Park next Saturday.

But, before that, Corby take on another of the strugglers Lowestoft Town at home tomorrow (3pm).

And if they show the same grittiness and desire as they did in this county derby then perhaps another vital three points could be in the offing...

Brackley: Hornby; Hawtin, Austin, P Mills, Morley (sub Moyo, 90 mins); Clarke, Odhiambo (sub Batchelor, 75 mins), Winters, Walker; Smith (sub Akintunde, 73 mins), Diggin. Subs not used: Ashby, Graham.

Steelmen: Donkin; Taylor, Courtney, C McDonald, Appleton, Thomas; Milnes (sub Draper, 70 mins), Brown, Downey (sub Wright, 84 mins); G Mills, M McDonald. Subs not used: Aridegbe, Bell, Dutton.

Referee: Anthony Serrano.

Goals: Mills (38 mins, 0-1), Smith (44 mins, 1-1), Mills pen (89 mins, 1-2).

Bookings: M McDonald, G Mills (both unsporting behaviour), Downey, P Mills (both dissent).

Sending-off: Clarke (serious foul play).

Attendance: 475.