A mysterious penalty and vanishing stoppage time were two contentious points as United fell to defeat at Melbourne Park against league leaders Chelmsford City despite leading at half time through a Matt Ruby goal.
Manager Garry Haylock, still devoid of his regular strikers, fielded the exact same side that beat Grays on Tuesday evening. It was a good opening for United and with just 14 minutes played we took the lead. Ram Marwa was adjudged to have been fouled a millimetre outside the box and when Josh Scott's free-kick was misjudged by keeper Danny Gay the ball appeared to strike Matt Ruby in the unmentionables before rolling into the net, they all count though!
The home side started to come back at the United defence and the very lively Kevin James found Ricky Holmes 20 yards from goal, he fired towards the top corner of Aaron Howe's goal but missed the angle by a fraction. Minutes later the Clarets tested Howe for the first time when the keeper did well to catch a looping 25 yard effort from Bertie Brayley.
It was just past the half hour mark when
the ball was touched to Marwa who saw Gay off his line and tried to lob him with the outside of his boot but the ball just cleared the crossbar as Gay scrambled back and fell into the net making the United faithful at the opposite end cheer thinking it was a goal. The half closed with Scott heading on a loose ball before trying to curl the ball into the bottom corner but his effort was just off target.
I am not sure what manager Jeff King said to the Clarets at the break but they were like a different side in the second half, putting the United defence under intense pressure at times but only winning the game with a very mysterious penalty award.
Howe showed good hands to pluck an Andy Duncan header from a James corner out of the air before a sweeping move down the left flank saw Spencer Knight find Holmes but his first time volley dipped just over the bar. Still the Clarets pressed for the equaliser and with 20 minutes remaining James' corner from the right was met by Dave Rainford at the near post but he was also too high.
The leveller was only a minute in coming though, a long clearance upfield by Gay who had just been rolling around on the ground after being caught juggling the ball outside his area by Scott, was worked wide before being flicked on by James Baker to substitute Jason Hallett who slotted into the corner of Howe's net.
Five minutes later United could have retaken the lead when a Gary MacDonald free-kick was met by the unmarked Tom Cadmore but his header was far too high to trouble Gay. Play immediately moved to the other end, Hallett dispossessed MacDonald and when the ball ran loose to Baker, Howe had to be quick off his line to block the striker's shot.
Eight minutes remained and it still looked like United could hold out for a point against the league leaders until a James corner was swung into the middle of the area and in a gaggle of players referee Bampton pointed to the penalty spot much to the astonishment and outrage of the United players, three of whom appeared to have been shown yellow cards for their protests. Rainford stepped up and in usual fashion smashed the ball straight down the middle of the goal to give the Clarets a somewhat fortunate lead.
Three minutes from the end United had a solitary chance to level when newly arrived substitute Steve Perkins got on the end of a Danny Allen-Page free-kick but his header was well off target.
United's annoyance and frustration didn't end there though, despite two lengthy injury treatments, two goals, four substitutions and long waits for the ball to come back from across the running track, referee Bampton somehow managed to baffle all 1502 supporters when he authorised just 1 minute of added time. Protests from United players and management continued after the final whistle which saw Leon Solomon also yellow carded a full two minutes after the final whistle had blown.
Report by Kevin Watts. Photos by Ray Peploe.
Match Highlights available at www.fcvideo.co.uk
Website United Man of the Match: Matt Ruby.