It was a day to extend a winning run in the league that started two months ago and Salvation Army Res. would be the challenge they would have to overcome to remain on top of the form table for November & December.
Manager Mark Crawford before the game was determined to continue a fantastic run in the league but was also tasked with tinkering the team line up and fitting in some of the players who had not seen much action in recent weeks.
The starting eleven contained many of the regular faces with a surprise call up for Herrera who would partner Bailey in attack with Barton moving out to the right wing. Manning continued his role on the left while Honeyball made his return to partner Brown in the absence of the injured Ginn (whiplash). Smith returned to the starting line up after a rest the previous week as he looks to return to full match fitness and regain his match winning prowess.
Referee G. Tinkler took charge of proceedings and blew his whistle to announce the start of the game.
A few early interactions for Herrera confirmed that he had indeed been out of the game for a few weeks as his touch was clumsy and heavy. Sporting worked hard in the first two minutes and had their first opportunity when a Salvation player was deemed to of fouled Herrera on the edge of the box, narrowly avoiding a penalty.
Benwell took this set piece and it was unlucky not to be converted by the onrushing Barton and Bailey. Barton and Herrera were causing problems for Salvation early on as they switched positions and linked up well leading to Crawford making the swap permanent in the early stages to pair Barton with Bailey and leaving Herrera to add width on the right.
Sporting again found themselves with an opportunity to score when a Herrera corner narrowly missed Barton and Bailey in the middle and the keeper was able to gather up the ball.
Salvation battled hard to keep Sporting at bay and found themselves hemmed in early on.
Sporting got another chance when on 14 minutes, Salvation gave away a corner.
Herrera had suffered a season of ups and downs and had not been able to recapture the form that had kept him the starting 11 for the first few games of the season however this game was his chance.
Herrera whipped in the corner and found the towering Brown at the far post, who guided the ball into the back of the net and put Sporting in the driving seat.
Barton came close soon after but was thwarted by the combined efforts of three defenders and the goalkeeper. Salvation would be next to strike however as they won a corner and converted to bring themselves level. Not to be undone so quickly Sporting continued to fight hard and with Smith and Benwell pulling the strings in midfield they soon worked another chance for Bailey who's resulting effort was smothered by Salvation's keeper.
Sporting carried on the pressing and when Salvation's left back was put under pressure from Barton and Benwell, Herrera made a late interception and released a pinpoint cross to find Bailey who picked the ball out of the air, flicked it over Salvation's sliding in defender and dinked the ball over the keeper to complete a superb move from Sporting and put them back in front.
Not to be outdone and under the watchful eye of his father Alan Barton, Matt Barton produced a sublime piece of skill reminiscent of Dennis Bergkamp as he flicked the ball round two defenders and released and unstoppable effort (that fizzed and dipped) past a helpless Salvation keeper.
Sporting held tight till the end of the half and went in two goals to the good and in a strong position to build on.
The next goal, should there be one could prove to be vital and Manager Mark Crawford stressed at half time that the job was only half done and that Sporting would need to be more ruthless in the second half.
The opening stages of the second half were not great for Sporting as Salvation grabbed another goal and pulled themselves back into the game. Brown, Stebbings, Bryson and Honeyball had performed very well and luck had been against them and Goalkeeper Page as he had made a string of good saves and interceptions throughout the game and did not deserve the two goals against him. Sporting proved wasteful again as Barton attempted an effort from the edge of the box after some fine interplay from Manning and Bailey on the left. Still Sporting pressed hard to open the gap once more, Benwell fought hard in the middle whilst Smith although not enjoying his best game made some decisive interceptions.
Sporting were to be pleased again as the ball broke kindly for Bailey who in his current form easily dispatched the ball into the bottom left corner of the net and restored Sporting's two goal lead.
Herrera continued to elude Salvation's markers and swerved in some fine crosses to no avail as Barton and Bailey were both closed out. Not to be stopped so easily and hot on the heels of the leagues leading goalscorer, Bailey popped up again as Dan Page launched a titanic kick into his path and Bailey wrestled free of two defenders before lobbing the keeper for the second time in the game. Salvation struck back soon after as a rebound from a corner found it's way past a very unlucky Page and kept Salvation's hopes alive.
Sporting were now in free flow and continued to press on with the attack, substitutes Krogh and Lovejoy came on replacing Manning and Smith respectively. It would be a great move as Lovejoy hassled the Salvation defenders in the box and managed to find Bailey who had snuck in at the back post and slammed his fourth of the game past a desperate and defeated Salvation side.
Krogh, fresh from the bench charged time and again at Salvation's defence leaving them backtracking in fear. Sporting were looking a little over confident now as Herrera, Barton and Krogh all attempted efforts from acute angles. Salvation found some luck when Bryson was deemed to of fouled Salvation's forward and a penalty was awarded. Page who had been in good form made a fantastic initial save and even managed to get the slightest of touches to the rebound shot but all in vain as the ball trickled into the bottom left corner of a desperately unlucky Page's net.
Sporting continued to pile forward and not even the introduction of Taylor could calm Sporting a they continued to rush their play. The game faded towards the end and finally Referee Tinkler called the game to a close.
Sporting had picked up all three points and scored some terrific goals as well as a showing of a return to form for Herrera.
Sporting had however been wasteful in front of goal and players had been greedy in the latter stages, they will have to tighten up and look to improve further if they are to finish 2013 unbeaten in seven. Elmsett will be the challenge and the game today will provide food for thought for Manager Mark Crawford.
Reports that Santa had been in attendance for the game remain unconfirmed however one eyewitness had noted that he “seemed a little more tanned than usual” stay tuned for further information.