VERDICT: Sandy strikes again to keep Corby out in front
Corby Town ensured themselves of top spot in the BetVictor Southern League Division One Central on Christmas Day with a hard-fought 1-0 success over Welwyn Garden City at Steel Park.
And, not for the first time, Elliot Sandy proved to be the difference-maker as he added yet another crucial goal to his collection for the Steelmen to secure the points.
It means Corby are five points clear at the summit going into the festive period, although Halesowen Town are now emerging as a big threat as they have three games in hand on the leaders.
Nonetheless, joint-bosses Ashley Robinson and Gary Mulligan can reflect on an encouraging first four months of the season with their team looking like they will be battling it out for the title and the sole automatic promotion place.
The Steelmen were dealt a blow ahead of the game with captain Jake Duffy being ruled out due to a calf injury while Joe Burgess was serving the second of a four-match ban with striker Stephen Diggin still missing due to a knee problem.
But those entrusted with the shirts ensured the efforts of the brilliant volunteers who worked miracles with the pitch to ensure the game went ahead were rewarded.
Inevitably, the surface cut up as the afternoon went on and it ended up being a real test of Corby’s battling qualities.
Indeed, such was the collective effort that the Steelmen ensured goalkeeper Alastair Worby wasn’t seriously tested all afternoon as they ensured the visitors had to feed off scraps for the most part.
It was at the other end where the majority of the chances were created and Ryan Robbins saw an early effort saved by Ryan Schmid at the near post after a cross to the far post from the outstanding Sam Warburton.
Robbins did get the ball past Schmid after he was sent clear but Jay Rolfe got back quickly to clear the danger just as the Corby forward looked set to score into an empty net.
There were further opportunities with Jordon Crawford sending a volley just wide before captain-for-the-day Charlie Wise nodded off target at the far post following a corner.
But the breakthrough finally came five minutes into the second half.
Crawford picked the perfect pass as he put Sandy away in the left channel.
And there was no stopping the assistant-manager as he showed plenty of composure to rolled the ball through Schmid’s legs to give his team the lead.
It was a lead they would hold on to. The conditions worsened as more rain arrived but, to a man, the Steelmen worked their socks off to retain possession before managing the game in the appropriate manner.
They could have had an extra bit of breathing space when Crawford raced away on the left but chose to square the ball instead of shooting and Robbins slipped at the crucial moment to allow Schmid to gather the ball up.
It didn’t matter though. Corby battled away to ensure there were no further scares on their way to another vital victory.
It’s most definitely a case of so far, so good for the table-topping Steelmen. A merry Christmas indeed.
Steelmen: Worby; Westwood, Mulligan, Wise, Warburton; Hartley, Ling; Robbins (sub Parsons, 78 mins), Ireland, Crawford; Sandy (sub Dean, 87 mins). Subs not used: Robinson, Carpenter, Montgomery.
Welwyn Garden City: Schmid; Eales, Close, Rolfe, Taylor; Bradshaw, Walklin; Ironton, Vasey (sub Bailey, h-t), Adinna (sub Watson, 63 mins); Da Silva (sub Stead, h-t). Subs not used: Alomenu, Sexton.
Referee: Alan Cox.
Goal: Sandy (50 mins, 1-0).
Bookings: Hartley, Taylor (both fouls).
The Raj (www.therajrestaurant.net) man-of-the-match: Sam Warburton - There were numerous contenders on a day when a collective hard-working display was the order of the day. But the ever-reliable left-back caught the eye. Solid as ever defensively and posing a threat with that left foot of his, Warburton turned in the sort of display everyone at Steel Park has come to expect from him.