Thurlow Nunn League division one south

Halstead Town were left to rue not making more of first-half dominance as local rivals Wivenhoe Town dealt a big blow to the Humbugs’ Thurlow Nunn League division one south promotion hopes.

A crowd of 309 were at the Milbank Stadium for the Friday night action, but it was the away contingent who were celebrating at the final whistle.

Halstead knew three points could be crucial to keep them second in the league and in with a chance of promotion and appeared on track for that in the opening 45 minutes.

However, the following 45 saw things unravel for them as the Dragons continued their resurgence under manager Gary Monti with a sixth victory from the eight games that he has been in charge.

Two goals from Aaron Donaldson put Wivenhoe in the driving seat and although a Jordan Pavett strike gave Halstead some late hope, they were left frustrated at the end.

There were three changes for Halstead from the side that won 2-0 at May & Baker the previous weekend, while the Dragons had five changes from the line-up that started their last outing, a 3-2 win at Wormley Rovers.

It was Halstead who made the early running and dominated possession, but clear cut chances were at a premium as the game took a while to find its rhythm.

They began to push the pace of action, though, with a Jordan Pavett header going just wide from Kane Munday’s free-kick and a ball fired across the Wivenhoe goal by Joe Morris cannoned off the post.

The Wivenhoe back line remained disciplined under pressure, though, and that allowed their own forwards to see more of the ball, but it was the hosts who came closest to breaking the deadlock on 32 minutes.

It came when a lofted ball over the back of the Wivenhoe defence arrived with Munday, who struck a beautifully-hit volley that forced Dragons keeper Jordan King into a smart save at his near post.

And the Wivenhoe shotstopper was in crucial action again ahead of half-time with a vital save in the 45th minute.

A long ball forward had been well-taken by Morris before he cut inside his marker and unleashed a fiercely driven shot that King did well to turn behind to make sure it stayed goalless at the break.

Halstead were looking to maintain their dominance in the second half, but within two minutes of the restart, they found themselves trailing.

It was a sucker punch of a goal as the Humbugs defence was caught napping by a simple ball over the top that allowed Aaron Donaldson to break clear and, after showing composure under pressure, he drilled the ball into the bottom corner of the home goal.

Halstead knew they had to respond swiftly and almost levelled when Morris headed narrowly wide from a Charlie Pleace free-kick.

However, they were unable to regain the levels of possession they managed in the first half and the game became scrappy.

That suited the Dragons more than the hosts with neither side really able to craft much in the way of chances.

When they did come, they tended to be from distance like a 62nd effort from Wivenhoe’s Ben Dixon that he let fly from outside the box and Humbugs keeper Jack Cherry dived to his right to grab hold of the ball.

As the half wore on, though, it was Halstead who began pushing the pace of the action again but they were dealt another blow on 73 minutes when they were the architects of their own downfall.

Hesitancy in the Halstead defence saw them unable to clear the ball and that tentativeness was ruthlessly punished by Donaldson who poked the ball in for his second goal of the night.

Now trailing by two, Halstead needed to find some real urgency and they gave themselves a lifeline with ten minutes remaining when Morris’ long-range shot came back off the post into the path of Jordan Pavett, who turned the ball into the Wivenhoe net to lift home hopes of a comeback.

However, they proved short-lived as, despite late pressure from the hosts, Wivenhoe held on to their lead to maintain their return to form under the guidance of boss Monti.

Halstead, meanwhile. Will have to hope promotion rivals Coggeshall United stumble in their own run-in if they are to have a hope of finishing in the top two.

Halstead Town: Jack Cherry, Charlie Pleace, James Regan (Ross McLintock), Garry Burdett, Connel Dunlop (Matt Coppen), Nick Miller (Marcus Warren), Jordan Pavett, Jake Brown, Chris Harris, Joe Morris, Kane Munday. Subs not used: Ben Morgan, Tom Cook.

Wivenhoe Town: Jordan King, Josh Chapman, Ross James, Angus Poole, Ben Dixon (Costa Gaugham),, Tim Dennis, Aaron Donaldson, Sam Mead, Myles Passley (Wesley West), Liam Whitehead, Miguel Nydam (Scott Grant). Subs not used: Liam Daniels, Kevin Barham.

Referee: Ian Pascu.