STRIKER Joe Cook fired home a first-half hat-trick to inspire a rampant Frolesworth United to a 7-1 demolition against title-chasing Throops at a sodden Dunley Way on Friday evening.
The former Coventry City man returned to form converting his first three chances inside the opening half an hour, before Ben Harris’ side added four more goals after the break against a stunned Throops in not only the best performance of the season, but arguably the best performance under Harris’ tenure.
Callum Wills and Sam Young both deservedly got their name on the score sheet in the second-half, before substitute Jake Pantony finally ended his goal-scoring drought with his first of the season and then Harry Simmons reached doubled figures in what’s been a fruitful campaign for the 18-year-old.
The result moves United back in to the top three, two points ahead of local rivals Dunton & Broughton Rangers, having played a game less and with them still to play on the season’s final day and effectively ends Throops’ fading title hopes.
Manager Harris will be hoping his side can repeat their fantastic display at Knighton Park against table-topping Star & Garter on Sunday morning, but he will also be disappointed to hear that valiant right-back Martin Fennon will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a broken anklebone.
The return of Mark Baker and Josh van Allen from the United States could prove a timely boost to Harris' depleted backline, dependant upon their fitness.
The Rabbits went into their first midweek game of the season with just one win in their previous five outings and smarting from a late Sunbury leveller last Sunday and they were without the services of captain Mark James, right-back Sam Pratt and Josh Peel as Harris’ defensive crisis continued.
However, he was delighted to welcome back stalwart Jack Boulton, alongside Nathan Bedford at centre-half meaning Harvey Morgan was employed at left-back. Talisman Pantony missed last weeks 2-2 draw with the F.A Intermediate Cup finalists and he was only fit enough for a place on the bench, meaning youngster Max Jones made his debut in the heart of midfield alongside Filipino playmaker Dominic Ivens.
The front four was a familiar one, with Young in the hole behind Cook and Jack Sutherland and Wills either side and the hosts started on the front foot in miserable conditions at Steve Rendall Park.
Cook has been out of sorts lately, notching just once in his last four outings in a 3-2 defeat against Niffy Rangers, but he returned to form with aplomb and gave his side the lead after just 13 minutes when he converted a lose ball in the box following a devastating run and shot from Sutherland.
Frolesworth were moving the ball quickly on a slick surface and Cook completed his hat-trick with a three minute double salvo shortly before the half-hour mark when he firstly looped home a delightful lob via the aid of a slight deflection, before saving the best till last when he delicately steered Wills’ low cross into the far corner after the two had breached the offside trap.
It was a testament to the front man’s sublime attitude when things hadn’t been going his way in recent weeks, and he has now surpassed his record tally for the Rabbits with 16 goals in a prolific campaign so far.
The hosts were in complete command by now, although they did show their naivety on 33 minutes when Throops pulled one back courtesy of Duane Martin’s neat finish to seemingly make it game on, but United once again got themselves on the offensive predictably through the revitalised Cook.
He was unfortunate not to hit four shortly after when he burst through and showed his brute force by holding off a trailing defender, although he could only miscue his effort over the bar on his weaker foot. But Frolesworth would simply cruise through the gears in the second-half; smashing home four unanswered goals to record their highest league win of the season.
Wills, simply unplayable on the left, started the rout 11 minutes after the restart with a typically calm finish, moving him onto 15 for the season and just one behind strike partner Cook with three games left in the race for the club’s golden boot.
Young was next to join in, himself the catalyst for many United attacks as he sprayed the ball all evening to Frolesworth’s dangerous wide men, but he burst through himself on this occasion before thumping the ball low and hard into the far corner with his hammer of a left foot.
Harris sensed blood and he was keen to punish Throops after his side twice let them off the hook having lost 3-1 on both occasions this season and with talismanic Pantony and super sub Simmons both on the bench, he intelligently introduced the pair to great effect.
Pantony has suffered as a result of being employed in front of the back-four this season after finishing as top scorer in the last campaign, but Harris decided to utilise him as the lone striker and it immediately paid dividends as he struck a long overdue first goal of the season with a powerful drive.
And, not to be outdone, Simmons tapped home his 10th goal of the season after making his ninth appearance from the bench in the 73rd minute to propel United back into the automatic promotion places with just three games of the season remaining.
It proved to be third time lucky against Throops for Harris’s side, though this was no fluke as the Rabbits deservedly inflicted defeat on their fellow promotion rivals. The Yorkshireman will be confident that if his side can continue to create chances at will, they stand every chance of springing a surprise on the division’s leaders on Sunday morning.
UNITED – (4-2-3-1) GREEN © 9, FENNON 9, BOULTON 9, BEDFORD 9, MORGAN 8, JONES 9, IVENS 8, SUTHERLAND 8, WILLS 9, YOUNG 8, COOK 10 (MOM)
SUBS – SPLEVINGS 7, PANTONY 7, SIMMONS 7
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