IN THE season of goodwill Scarborough Athletic’s defence gifted a second victory in a week to Barton Town; the Humberside club must believe Boro are their own personal Santa Claus.
A month ago Boro were cruising to top spot, with clean-sheets aplenty and goals flying in at the other end. They had the best defensive record in the division.
But since December began, they have slipped from top to fourth, having conceded nine goals in three matches – four of which came in the loss to Barton on Saturday.
Ryan Blott was named skipper in the absence of suspended Tony Hackworth, and with last week’s captain Matt Draper not selected, Chris Jenkinson came in for his first league start of the season.
Two other defensive changes saw the injured Kevin Martin replaced in goal by Ed Eley, and Paddy Miller switch to left-back.
Jimmy Ghaichem came in on the wing, with Dean Windass replacing unavailable Affy Obafemi up front.
It had been going so well; 3-1 up after 55 minutes, thanks largely to Blott. But a defensive decline of epic proportions saw Barton take all three points.
Shooting towards the gas tower end in the first half, and with the winter sun still shining through the clouds, Boro’s opening play was bright and Blott could have opened the scoring as early as the second minute, but sliced wide after neat control.
Barton slowly eased their way into the game, and Tom Lee struck across Eley’s goal from a good position.
Lee would not be denied on 17 minutes however, when he dived to head in Anthony Bowsley’s free-kick to put his side ahead.
Boro rallied, and the rest of the half was mainly played in the central and attacking thirds.
Luke Fletcher struck a 20-yard drive just wide, and Ghaichem struck the bar, albeit after Blott had been called offside.
A Windass free-kick went straight into the arms of Dave Bramley, but it wasn’t long before Boro beat their former player.
A ball in from the left found Blott in the area, who controlled the ball and made space to hit a dipping shot over Bramley for 1-1.
In the aftermath of the goal Bowsley was booked for dissent, and Barton’s manager Dave Anderson and one of his staff were ordered from the dug-out for foul and abusive language.
They claimed Blott had handballed in the build-up to the goal, but their misdemeanours saw them watching the rest of the game from behind the barriers.
Buoyed by the goal, Boro drove forward looking to get ahead. From passes from Blott and then Windass, Law forced Bramley into two low saves within the space of three minutes.
Boro were on top, emerged after half-time with an attacking passion which saw them two goals ahead within ten minutes.
On 49 minutes Law finished well from close-range, after a Miller throw had been flicked on.
Blott then out-muscled Kallum Radley to take Ghaichem’s pass into the box and sweep a low shot past Bramley for 3-1.
Barton switched their front players, with Gareth Barlow and uneffective former Boro player Scott Phillips being replaced by Rich Medcalf and Gareth Owen.
Immediately the change paid dividends, as Lee struck his second to reduce the arrears with a neat half-volley.
Boro attacked once more, and from a Law free-kick Blott saw a shot saved. From Law’s corner Jenkinson’s header was tipped over.
With the storm clouds now over the ground and the pitch becoming drenched, Naylor and Daz Winters were replaced by Dave Kemp and Nicky McNamara. In between substitutions Blott had forced Bramley into another save.
It was another Barton substitution which brought the scores level however.
Martin Cooper – a Scarborough lad – came on, and with his first touch equalised from close range after Jenkinson had been guilty of losing possession cheaply.
Blott clipped the bar with a free-kick as Boro tried to regain the lead.
Ghaichem tried too hard to win a penalty in the eyes of the referee, who booked him for an obvious dive in the area.
With time running out Boro kept the pressure on.
Blott shot wide on his left foot when well placed, Windass went close, and Fletcher hit the side-netting.
Miller’s left-foot drive was palmed away by Bramley, and it looked like it wouldn’t be Boro’s day after all.
That was confirmed in the second minute of added time, when a weak kick-out by Eley fell to Owen. He squared for Medcalf, who drilled into the empty net and gave his side the win against his former team.
Barton may be the form side in the division, having won their last eight games, but with three points in sight, defensive frailties gave Boro their just desserts.
And the loss will certainly give Rudy Funk a lot to think about over his Christmas pudding before the Boxing Day derby against Bridlington Town.