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Important win for Mickleover in relegation battle

Mason Warren lining up to take a Mickleover free kick in the first half.

Mickleover prevailed 2-1 winners over Witton Albion in a tightly fought encounter at the Don Amott Arena thanks to goals from two debutants on Saturday.

Shaquille McDonald scored the opening goal with an amazing strike from distance before Callum Niven scored a late winner following Rob Hopley’s equaliser for Witton midway through the second half.

Both teams came into the game knowing three points would be huge as they both look to avoid relegation.

Mickleover had the first shot of the game after six minutes through a very audacious first-time effort from Mason Warren but Greg Hall held the ball easily.

Hall was forced to make a much more difficult stop after 10 minutes as he tipped a curling Stuart Beavon shot round the post brilliantly.

Witton had their first decent chance in the game just before the 15-minute mark but after intercepting a poor Jonathan Hedges clearance, they failed to capitalise, and the home sides’ defence recovered well.

Shaquille McDonald opened the scoring in the 23rd minute of his second Mickleover debut with an absolute peach of a goal. The ball was laid back to him on the edge of the box and McDonald curled the ball into the top right corner without taking a touch leaving the keeper rooted to his spot.

Sports continued to be the better side as three minutes later Beavon sent a difficult header just wide following a free kick on the halfway line.

It was a quiet rest of the half from both sides and Mickleover went in at the break deserved 1-0 leaders.

Joe Ferguson almost equalised straight away for Witton but his shot flashed just wide within a minute of the restart.

McDonald was inches away from his second goal in the 49th minute when he smashed an effort against the bar following some neat footwork. Beavon did in fact put the rebound in the back of the net, but the offside flag went up and it did not count.

Sports then hit the bar again three minutes later, this time through a Joe Bateman looping header.

Hopley put a free header over the bar in the 62nd minute but made amends a minute later when he equalised for Witton. Mickleover failed to deal with a ball over the top and the ball was squared to Hopley who had a relatively easy finish.

Sports should have regained the lead with 14 minutes to go but after Beavon controlled a McDonald cross, he could only manage to put his shot wide.

Callum Niven was brought on with 84 minutes on the clock and just four minutes later he scored what turned out to be the winning goal prompting big celebrations from the home bench. Niven picked up the ball just inside the box and his low shot made it past Hall into the bottom corner, even though the keeper did get a hand to it.

Witton then had two penalty shouts waved away by the ref in quick succession in added time but Mickleover managed to see out the win and get a huge three points which overall they deserved.

Mickleover are now four points clear of the relegation zone but the teams around them still have many games in hand.

Sports’ manager John McGrath said: “Obviously we had the two games called off with South Shields due to COVID and Nantwich with a frozen pitch. We wanted to keep the momentum going after beating Hyde 4-1 on New Year’s Day. We started really well. Shaq on his debut with a great finish and a great goal. I felt we were well deserving of the three points.

He added: “Any three points between now and the end of the season is really really important for us. It’s also important that against the teams in and around us we do pick up points. They are the old proverbial six-pointers and we’ve taken three points away from them and it makes everybody else around us kind of sit up and see that we are picking up results now.”

He had this to say about the next couple of games and beyond: “We’ll look to win every game that we play in, the reality is that it is a tough league. We have to go away to Nantwich on Tuesday night who are down there with us, so we have to do what we have just done to Witton to them. It’s another six pointer and the lads know the importance of the game. We’ve had them watched, we’ve had them scouted so we will go into the game full of confidence.

Mickleover face Nantwich town away from home in midweek before they are back at the Don Amott Arena next Saturday against Atherton Collieries as they look to build on their perfect start to 2022.

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