Melksham Town 0 - 2 Bitton
Monday 4th September 2017
Sat together in the grandstand at Melksham’s Oakfield Stadium on Monday night were a couple of deaf supporters, who, unless they can lip read from 50 yards away will have been blissfully unaware of the constant dialogue which permeated the home side’s 2-0 defeat by Bitton.
What was a full on and richly entertaining Premier Division clash was ruined by the ramped up intimidation which referee Rob Wainwright and his assistants were forced to endure from on and off the pitch, which brought a bizarre six bookings in the first half and two more plus a red card in the second. Sadly, this kind of behaviour has now reached the Western League from the top and the quicker the authorities stamp on it, the better it will be for all, hearing or not.
In the match programme the Melksham boss stated that his side were ‘massive underdogs’ and he was proved right as Bitton soaked up everything the referee, the home bench and the home attack could throw at them, before striking twice when down to ten men to take home a famous victory.
Melksham had won just one of the past four league games while Bitton were undefeated in four but neither side could have predicted what was to transpire in the opening few minutes. Home defender Chris Allen was cautioned for a body check inside the first minute from which Ben Wych brought a fingertip save from Rob Brown, then referee Wainwright evened it up when Bitton’s Kyle Tooze was adjudged to have deliberately handled while on the attack. From then on it was every man for himself as Jordan Walker, Ryan Batten, Joe McLennan, Dean Griffiths and Ben Wych all joined them in the book for various offences, often prefixed by opposition players waving imaginary cards and demanding bookings, which left a nasty taste in many mouths.
In between cautions Dan Demkiv’s volley was nodded over by Matt Tovey before Shaun Benison set up Allen who was wide from distance after a fine move. By the 15th minute there were already four men treading on eggshells but the action continued with McLennan testing Brown twice, the second time after a scramble in the area. Melksham raided quickly and Benison was just kept out after a similar scramble at the other end then Tooze shot wide from fully 35 yards.
The much-travelled Griffiths then latched onto a superb Tovey through ball but having done the hard work dragged his shot wide as Bitton were creating the clear chances in what was an end to end half despite the clutch of bookings. Gary Higdon linked up with Benison but the half chance went begging then as the half came to a close Demkiv and Allen tested Ben John in the Bitton goal and Griffiths skied one from ten yards at the other.
After the break the momentum swung towards Melksham who were looking to go top of the table on goal difference from Buckland Athletic, who are at bottom club Longwell Green Sports on Saturday. Joe Stradling found Higdon whose effort was hacked away then Bitton thought they had taken the lead when Tom Knighton broke through and beat Brown, but the offside flag was already up. It was a wake up call for Melksham, who had started well and Mike Perrott brought another save from John before Benison and Stradling were both guilty of slicing shots from good positions.
Demkiv and Allen both volleyed over as Town poured on the pressure but Bitton were far from finished and Griffiths jinked in before just firing wide when well placed.
The while complex of the game then changed with 15 minutes left as McLennan appeared to be bundled over before scooping the ball up for a free-kick, but referee Wainwright decided otherwise and McLennan’s second yellow was followed by a red, widely predicted and surprisingly late on. The ten men were bolstered by substitute Josh Morgan-Williams, which in the end was to prove decisive, but Town smelled blood and peppered the away goal with Ryan Batten and his fellow defenders staging an heroic last stand. As time ran out so did the home patience and Higdon was cautioned for dissent which did not seem to register and manager Kieran Baggs was forced to substitute him to save any further disciplinary problems. Melksham had seemingly run out of ideas when Bitton struck on 88 minutes. Rangy sub Morgan-Williams had already shown he was capable of causing problems when he swept into the home penalty area before beating Brown with a sublime finish.
It was a stunner for Melksham but it got worse as Bitton countered again and Griffiths and Morgan-Williams combined to set up Knighton who finished in equally emphatic style to make it 2-0 against all the odds. Referee Wainwright was obviously enjoying his evening as he added on almost nine minutes of injury time but Bitton were home and dry and move to 11th with three games in hand on Melksham, who meet Street at Oakfields this Saturday for what could prove to be one of the noisiest games of the season.