Ricky Gardner fires a hat-trick as Halstead Town beat Brightlingsea Regent Reserves 4-0 to move up to third
Halstead Town may have struggled at home in 2019 but they got 2020 off to a great start at Rosemary Lane with a comfortable 4-0 victory at home to struggling Brightlingsea Regent Reserves in the Thurlow Nunn League First Division South this evening.
After a shaky start, Ricky Gardner put the promotion-chasing Humbugs ahead 30 minutes in before two quickfire goals just before the hour mark, a header from Jamie Baker and a cool free kick from Gardner, put the result beyond doubt.
Former Hyebridge Swifts frontman Gardner completed his first hat-trick for the club with a chipped finish in stoppage time to cap a fine night for himself and his team, seeing them move into third place in the table.
Halstead went into the match, incredibly their first at Rosemary Lane in seven weeks, having jumped back into the fourth automatic promotion spot following a 1-0 away victory at Burnham Ramblers last weekend.
In contrast, opponents Brightlingsea Regent Reserves were third from bottom after a torrid run of nine defeats and a draw from their last 10 matches.
Humbugs captain Jake Brown was named on the substitutes bench on his return from an ankle injury with manager Mark McLean making just one enforced change to Saturday's winning side, with Hassan Ayten coming in for Connel Dunlop, who was not in the squad.
The visitors certainly did not look a side short on confidence in the opening stages as they were the ones asking the questions while Halstead's only attacks were coming on the break but without any real threat as too many passes were going astray.
The first real chance of the match fell to the visitors in the 23rd minute with the home defence grateful to goalkeeper Jack Cherry for producing a good diving save to push Kyle Binns' angled effort past his far post after he escaped their attentions.
But it was Halstead who broke the deadlock on the half-hour mark. After they launched a counter following a good recovery tackle by Liam Whitehead, Chris Harris cushioned a long ball into Gardner's path and after getting the ball out of his feet his shot deflected into the top left-hand corner.
It seemed to be the settler Halstead needed as they went on to enjoy their best attacking spell of the half. But Kane Munday's low free kick from the edge of the area was too close to keeper Michael Bett to trouble him while Hassen Ayten soon fired well over.
Just before the interval Brightlingsea fashioned a good chance to go in level but after Cherry was stranded having come out to make a block, Oliver Law fired comfortably over the crossbar.
Tiffany Francis was guilty of wasting a good opportunity for the visitors early in the second half before also sending a free kick from the corner of the area into the wall.
But despite the visitors' bright start once again, it was Halstead who showed the clinical edge to quickly take the prospect of Brightlingsea's youngsters taking anything away from Rosemary Lane with them to bed with two goals inside three minutes.
They doubled their advantage in the 56th minute when Jamie Baker directed his header from Chris Harris' deep cross delightfully into the bottom left-hand corner.
It was soon 3-0 and effectively game over for Regent's second string when Gardner punished them for conceding a free kick just outside the area when he wickedly curled it low round the wall and into the same left-hand corner.
Coonor Scurlock, who had been a late addition to the teamsheet for Jack Schelvis, almost made it 4-0 when his speculative shot from long range whistled not far over Betts' crossbar.
At the other end, when called upon Gary Burdett cleared anything that came through and marshalled the backline well.
After a host of substitutions were made, one of them, Callum Vincent, almost made an eye-catching entrance to the scoresheet but former Long Melford keeper Betts produced a great flying save to deny him.
A minute from time the custodian pushed another dangerous Gardner free kick away to safety before Munday was guilty of wasting a good chance to claim the fourth in added time, dragging his shot well wide when through on goal.
But Gardner did not make the same mistake in the third minute of stoppage time to claim his hat-trick. The striker, who only recently returned to fitness after a nasty hamstring injury, showed great composure to dink the ball over the advancing Betts after being played in down the inside left channel.
It provided a fitting end to the first game of 2020 at the Milbank, with the vocal support rewarded for their efforts from the terraces in a way they had not always been over the previous calendar year.
Weather permitting, they will get to see their side in action again on home turf on Tuesday when they are due to host Saffron Walden Town in the invitational Tolleshunt D'Arcy Memorial Cup quarter-final (7.45pm).
Halstead: Cherry, Whitehead, Caley, Burdett (c), Pleace (Pavett 70'), Baker, Ayten (Brown 80'), Scurlock (Vincent 75'), Harris, Gardner, Munday. Unused sub: Brown, Schelvis.
Free Press Man of The Match: Ricky Gardner
* See next Thursday's Suffolk Free Press for full reaction and a preview to the weekend trip to league leaders White Ensign.
More by this authorRussell Claydon