A SINGLE goal proved the difference at Malt House Lane on Saturday as Earlswood Town opened their Midland League Division Two campaign with a narrow 1-0 home defeat against Paget Rangers.
The visitors have heavily been backed to win the league this season having put together an experienced squad but a young Earlswood side took them right to the wire and perhaps at least deserved a share of the points.
Home goalkeeper Dave Hancock was first into action when he had to stretch to save a wide back pass from Chris Johnson and again three minutes later when he had to come off his line to make a good save.
Earlswood should have taken the lead after seven minutes when Matty Green was put clear by George Stevens but he put his lobbed shot high over the bar.
In the 13th minute Paget goalkeeper Pete McGuire saved as Earlswood settled down to find their players well with some neat passing.
After 20 minutes home skipper Gareth Davies sold keeper Dave Hancock short with a back pass and the keeper just managed to beat an oncoming Paget player to put the ball out for a throw in.
When the visitors did attack on a number of occasions down the left flank 16-year-old right-back Chris Johnson had an outstanding game and was on hand to thwart the visitor’s forwards.
After 35 minutes one of the Paget strikers sent in a powerful header which Earlswood goalkeeper Hancock did well to hold on to just under the cross bar and six minutes later Shaun Smith went on a good run by beating three defenders before seeing his shot deflect wide for a corner.
At the other end Paget were awarded right on the stroke of half-time which Bellingham took but it was well saved by Hancock and he quickly recovered to save the rebound which was hit in hard.
The visitor’s keeper McGuire was first into action after the break, saving from Matt Green after two minutes of the second half and after a period of midfield play Paget went close with a long range effort, and they also wasted a chance after 56 minutes by tamely shooting past the post.
Three minutes later Earlswood had their best move of the game and after a series of passes they got the ball on the left and it was put across the Paget goalmouth by Jon Farley but Alex Knight failed to make a connection with the goal at his mercy.
It looked as though one goal would win the game and this was scored by Paget after 65 minutes when they were awarded a free kick and Bellingham forced his way between two defenders to rise up and head the ball home.
Both teams created chances and with 15 minutes remaining Earlswood substitute Louis Brade had a good shot from a wide angle but saw his effort hit the side netting.
And after 83 minutes the hosts were awarded a free kick just outside the penalty box but Alex Knights’ effort was saved by McGuire and there was to be no way through for Earlswood.