UniBond League Premier Division EASTWOOD TOWN 4 FC UNITED OF MANCHESTER 2
TWO goals each from Ian Holms and Andy Todd earned Eastwood their second win over FC United of Manchester in just over a fortnight.
Yet again Paul Cox and John Ramshaw gave the nod to their favoured starting formation and Sam Ralph was given Ian Deakin, Tris Whitman and Marc Smith from the first team squad to boost his reserves at Ilkeston.
After the euphoria of the second round FA Cup tie win over Wycombe Wanderers, expectations of another near capacity crowd were dashed when the hordes expected to cheer on the rebels never materialised.
Estimates of up to 1,000 travelling 'Mini-Reds' had dwindled to around 700 by Friday and I, personally, doubt whether more than 300 made the trip.
Apparently without their regular full-back pair, Karl Marginson settled for Alex Skidmore and Adam Turner in their stead and another change was the introduction of hot-shot striker Tommy Turner, whose 17 goals in 14 games for Bacup Borough had tempted Marginson to sign yet another forward.
Early midfield sparking soon translated to steady downhill Badgers pressure and when Anton Foster, Richard Dunning and Ross Gardner exchanged crisply delivered passes, Holmes only just missed a vital connection as Sam Ashton sprawled stranded a few yards out.
In 13 minutes, Gardner ran on to a perceptively weighted through ball from Alistair Asher and Papis Dieyte, fatally caught wrong side, rashly dived in.
Referee Mr Benton, by a huge margin the best referee I've seen this season, had a simple spot-kick decision to make. Holmes claimed the set-piece responsibility and shot carefully past Ashton.
Leading scorer Kyle Wilson had an obvious chance when Skidmore's long ball forward caught Eastwood ball watching.
The striker did little for his pedigree with a wild shot two feet wide of Shane Redmond's left-hand post.
Apart from such isolated moments, play was centred exclusively around Ashton who did well to thwart Gardner, Mark Hume and Simon Sturdy in turn but the keeper was comprehensively beaten in 20 minutes.
Todd, currently in a rich vein of form, profited from slick interpassing between Foster, Dunning, Lindon Meikle and Gardner when the ball reached him 25 yards out.
A surging run took the flanker past Skidmore and Josh Nugent and, as Ashton tried to close down, Todd swept imperiously around the keeper and 'walked' the ball in for a 2-0 lead.
We then watched in almost disbelief as Holmes, fed in by Todd and Russell Cooke's wizardry, casually rounded and equally casually flicked his shot against the quaking keeper's right-hand post.
As the second period started both keepers brought off tidy saves.
Meikle was beginning to show his full range of skills and after one cross was headed inches over by Holmes, his next cheeky run bore fruit.
This time the little forward's run on to Foster's pin-pointed pass was capped by an accurate low-driven cross taken in his stride by Holmes and slipped assuredly past Ashton for a 3-0 lead in 74 minutes.
Holmes had another chance when Gardner, whose first touch is a thing of beauty, controlled Cooke's long clearance and fed his striker in.
To the relief of an increasingly fractious visiting support, skipper David Chadwick got in one of his trademark fierce challenges.
On 80 minutes neither Chadwick nor his mate Nugent could do anything about Eastwood's fourth goal.
Again Gardner orchestrated but it was Meikle's fiercely driven cross which sent Todd hurtling through space to crash a vividly spectacular header in off Ashton's crossbar.
In a ten minutes spell so careless it got - and thoroughly deserved - a fierce public verbal bashing from Ramshaw, Eastwood switched off and were caught by a two-goal sucker-punch in the closing stages, and substitute Carlos Roca was behind both.
In 85 minutes his cross was fired fast by a visibly irate Redmond by Simon Carden.
If the keeper had been angry about lack of cover here, he was literally incandescent as Roca was allowed acres of space to crash a second goal just on time.
The 'late, late no-show' could not wholly take the gilt off an otherwise impressive display which forcefully underlined the Badgers' promotion, not to say title winning, ambitions.
To get man-of-the-match in a team like this, Andy Todd had to be good. He was!
1 - Shane Redmond
2 - Alistair Asher
3 - Russell Cooke
4 - Richard Dunning
5 - Mark Hume
6 - Simon Sturdy
7 - Lindon Meikle
8 - Anton Foster (c)
9 - Ian Holmes
10 - Ross Gardner
11 - Andy Todd
Subs not used: Peter Knox, Matt Rhead, Paul Robinson, Craig Swinscoe, Wayne Diuk
Referee: D Benton (Sheffield)
Best Badger - Andy Todd