FROLESWORTH United's promotion hopes were left hanging by a thread this afternoon, as they suffered a reality check after a crushing 4-0 defeat at the hands of a sublime Star & Garter at Knighton Park. United's second game in just three days proved ultimately to be a bridge too far, as they were comprehensively outplayed from the first minute to the last against the division's likely champions.
An own goal from Harvey Morgan broke the deadlock after just 16 minutes, when he slashed at Johnny Smith's volley, before George Himan moved within just two strikes of an incredible 50 goals for the season and Nick Gomez completed the rout 11 minutes from time with a powerful run and shot.
The result means Frolesworth have now slipped out of the automatic promotion places after local rivals Dunton & Broughton Rangers' narrow 4-3 win against FC Hoskins, although the Rabbits travel to Station Road on the final day of the season after their game in hand against Star at Dunley Way on Friday evening.
However, FA Intermediate Cup finalists Sunbury United are the ones to watch as they remain just five points behind Rangers with three games in hand, meaning should they win all four of their remaining games they will clinch third place with 35 points.
Frolesworth have now left it all to do in their remaining two fixtures with 33 points the highest tally they can reach, meaning that it is now out of their hands and their ultimate fate relies on results elsewhere as they ideally require Sunbury to lose at least one of their remaining games, provided Ben Harris' side can take maximum points.
The Rabbits went into the game off the back of their biggest win of the season, a 7-1 demolition against second placed Throops but Harris was forced to make three changes, as right-back Martin Fennon, centre-half Nathan Bedford and midfielder Max Jones were all missing for the trip to Brighton Avenue.
Instead, Miles Splevings returned as a makeshift full-back, while Mark Baker and Josh van Allen were thrown in at the deep end following their return from the United States. But while United’s preparations were hampered and their nerves palpable, they started on the front foot and were unfortunate not to take the lead inside the opening minute.
Left-winger Jack Sutherland caught Star cold immediately from kick-off and raced into the box, but his low drive was beaten away when it looked destined to creep into the far corner.
It was the confidence boost the visitors needed and they had their second opportunity shortly after through Van Allen, who latched onto Dom Ivens’ flick on from Morgan’s direct free-kick but he failed to land enough purchase on his shot and it drifted harmlessly into the goalkeeper’s hands.
And in truth, those two early chances were the closest Frolesworth would come to breaching the opponents’ backline as Star soon began to assert themselves on the game and took the lead just after the quarter-hour.
United were content to let the hosts pass the ball in front of them, confident in the knowledge that their five man midfield would be difficult to break down, so it was hugely disappointing for Harris that his side would concede the opener from a corner.
The sky blues failed to sufficiently clear the danger and as the ball fell to Smith, no-one was able to close down his volley, which took a huge deflection off Morgan after he had tried to hack the ball to safety.
It was going to be an uphill struggle now for the visitors as they had to chase the game, but they had the woodwork to thank just before the break as Kieran Linnett was allowed to turn and curl a delightful effort back off the crossbar.
Manager Harris was concerned at the lack of ball retention from his side in the opening period, but he remained cautious about opening up in search of the leveller although his decision was effectively made for him inside 60 seconds after the restart when Himan doubled Star’s advantage.
Splevings has performed admirably at right-back in the absence of Sam Pratt lately, but he was exposed by the prolific front man who beat him to the loose ball before dispatching a perfectly uted half-volley in to the far corner past skipper Sam Green to notch his 47th goal of the campaign.
The Yorkshireman immediately sought change, throwing Young up front alongside Cook and leaving Frolesworth with a four-man midfield but inevitably, although the former did manage to hold the ball up sparingly, his side continued to be over-run in the middle of the park and Himan completed his brace with just over 20 minutes to play with the simplest of tap-ins.
United knew that by now the game was out of reach and they were conscious not to be on the receiving end of a hammering with goal difference potentially proving decisive come the end of the season, but the Rabbits attempted to pour forward with Ivens’ fierce drive failing to cause any trouble.
But after having played 90 minutes merely two days earlier, the Filipino playmaker’s legs were weary and he simply couldn’t keep up with Gomez who shrugged off his challenge before sliding home Star’s fourth 11 minutes from time.
It proved to be a frustrating afternoon for Frolesworth, who after a sublime display on Friday night were simply outclassed by the league leaders. However, with the season coming to its finale, both Star & Garter and promotion rivals Sunbury United have a staggering three games in just five days.
Manager Harris will be keen to get Star back to their fortress Dunley Way on Friday evening for the final home league game of the season, where United have been beaten just once so far. But he will most certainly be looking for an improved performance, as his side are now in huge danger of missing out on promotion after a season of much promise.
UNITED – (4-2-3-1) GREEN © 8, SPLEVINGS 6, MORGAN 8 (MOM), BOULTON 7, BAKER 7, IVENS 6, VAN ALLEN 6, YOUNG 6, WILLS 5, SUTHERLAND 5, COOK 5
SUBS – SIMMONS 6
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