VERDICT: Table-topping Steelmen enjoy a perfect start to the year
Corby Town opened up a seven-point lead at the top of the BetVictor Southern League Division One Central as they kicked off 2020 with a fine 3-0 victory over Bedford Town at Steel Park.
Two first-half goals from Callum Westwood and a late James Ireland header sealed the deal for the Steelmen who are setting themselves up for a title challenge in the second half of the campaign.
Halesowen Town now appear to be the big threat as they sit seven points adrift but with three games in hand. The clash between the two sides at Steel Park at the end of this month could well be crucial in the final reckoning.
For the time being though, Corby can reflect on an excellent festive period as this win came following a 3-0 success at Yaxley on Boxing Day.
The Steelmen certainly came out with a bit of fire in the belly and they were unimpressed with an early challenge on Jordon Crawford from Matty Harriott for which the Bedford man was booked.
And Corby were rewarded for being quick out of the blocks when they opened the scoring on eight minutes.
A Jake Duffy free-kick into the area was headed clear as far as Westwood and he took one touch before firing home from 15 yards.
Little was seen of Bedford as an attacking force as Corby looked the sharper throughout the first half.
Duffy saw a free-kick deflected wide, neither Ryan Robbins nor Westwood could turn the ball home following a scramble in the box while Crawford had a header ruled out for a push as they hunted a second.
But they did double their advantage five minutes before the break.
And Westwood, who had been guilty of a couple of missed chances at Yaxley on Boxing Day, was on target again as he flicked another Duffy set-piece into the far corner.
Things were a lot more open after the break and Robbins forced Jamie Head into a save from 20 yards before the frontman saw a shot take a wicked deflection and it looped up but bounced off the crossbar.
However, in between those chances, Bedford went close themselves with Alastair Worby making a good save to deny Thomas Hitchcock before Gary Mulligan produced an excellent clearance off the line from the follow-up effort.
The Eagles went on to have their best spell of the game, only for Worby to deny them with a series of good saves.
He made another brave block to deny Hitchcock and then turned an effort from Drew Phillips around the post.
And the stopped showed off his reflexes when he batted the ball away after the dangerous Hitchcock connected with a cross from the right with the sweetest of volleys.
That proved to be the defining moment as the Steelmen weathered the storm and they wrapped up the points with seven minutes to go.
Crawford crossed from the left, the ball was headed up into the air and substitute Ireland sent his own header beyond Head and into the corner.
In the end, there could be no arguments at the final outcome as Corby ran out deserved winners.
Let’s hope they have started the year as they mean to go on...
Steelmen: Worby; Hartley, Wise, Mulligan, Warburton; Duffy, Ling; Westwood, Rogers (sub Ireland, 71 mins), Crawford; Robbins (sub Sandy, 79 mins). Subs not used: Carpenter, Parsons, Montgomery.
Bedford: Head; Cotter, Steele (sub Longden, 70 mins), Green, Hall; Donnelly, Ford; Phillips (sub Tomlinson, 84 mins), Harriott, Walker; Hitchcock. Subs not used: Coulson, Calcutt, Olaoye.
Referee: Ryan Williams.
Goals: Westwood (8 mins, 1-0), Westwood (40 mins, 2-0), Ireland (83 mins, 3-0).
Bookings: Harriott, Westwood, Ling, Wise, Robbins, Ford (all fouls), Hitchcock (dissent).
The Raj (www.therajrestaurant.net) man-of-the-match: Alastair Worby - The Corby goalkeeper enjoyed a second clean sheet over the festive period and he played a key role as the Steelmen weathered a second-half storm from Bedford. They were leading 2-0 at the time but Worby made at least four important saves to ensure no nervous finish could be set up.