UTTOXETER Town opened their Staffordshire County League Premier Division campaign with a 2-2 draw against title favourites Redgate Clayton.
A cracking crowd of 161 turned up at Oldfields and were treated to an action-packed spectacle against last season’s runners-up in the division.
Newly promoted Town went into the match without some of their most experienced players, with James McCarron, Kyle Esplin and Liam Sowter all unavailable and manager Mark Grimley giving full debuts to two 17-year-olds, Harry Price and Alex Woods, with Jason Cockshut and James Curley also making their first appearances for the hosts.
With Uttoxeter knowing that Redgate’s frontline of Wayne Glover, Jimmy Gartside and Ryan Greene would be a handful, Grimley made the decision to employ Lee Bagley in the centre of defence to nullify their attacking threat.
Town looked bright in the early exchanges and were able to see plenty of the ball as they took the game to their visitors.
Matt Redshaw producing a trademark mazy run down the right before seeing his shot blocked.
With only 11 minutes on the clock Town were given the perfect opportunity to grab their first of the season when Rob Collins curled a free kick into the box that seemed to be destined for Curley’s head eight yards out, only for some clear shirt pulling to leave the striker on the ground and the referee pointing to the spot.
Vociferous protests from the visitors were waved away, with a number of Clayton players entering the referee’s book before Jack Holley stepped up to slot home the spot kick.
It was the ideal start for the hosts who had begun brightly and it seemed better was to come when even further dissent from the visitors ended with their centre-half being dismissed before the restart.
Uttoxeter had the goal and the man advantage and it seemed they would kick on but the dismissal galvanised a Redgate side who had started slowly.
Bagley and Glover were locked in an intriguing battle and Tommy Smith was producing a thunderous display in attack as the balance of the game swung from end to end but Redgate’s attacking threat never diminished and they grabbed an equaliser on 34 minutes.
Gartside somehow managed to retain the ball despite the attentions of Gadsby and Collins and when the winger exchanged passes he found room to test Alex Langridge, who was equal to the effort but the ball fell kindly to journeyman Glover, who prodded home from a yard.
Half-time approached with both sides enjoying some brief glimpses of goal without really testing the opposition keeper, Holley’s near-volley from Gadsby’s flick as close as either side came to grabbing a lead.
The restart saw a change of formation from Town, who pushed Collins and Woods into midfield, with Holley dropping i to a back three as they took the game to Redgate for the second time.
They were well worth the lead when it arrived on 67 minutes.
Skipper Gadsby won the ball in midfield and drove forward, feeding the ball to Smith, who saw his effort deflected for a corne.
From the resulting set-piece, Collins delivered perfectly for last season’s top scorer Smith to rise majestically at the far post and crash his header home to the delight of the watching spectators.
It was no more than the hosts deserved after a fine second half display but with the referee seemingly losing control of the contest there was always likely to be another twist and it arrived on 76 minutes.
Gartisde delivered from the left and with minimal contact Redgate’s midfielder threw himself to the floor, with the referee pointing to the spot.
Gartside dispatched the penalty despite the best efforts of the impressive Langridge and Town were again left going in search of the winner.
Gadsby thought he had grabbed it twice, first when he cut inside before seeing a right foot drive fly inches past the upright before a left-footed effort cannoned back off the bar after good play by Curley on the right of the area.
With time ticking away Clayton were settling for a point as Town probed with each attack and when Redshaw curled in a sumptuous cross, Smith strained every sinew but could only see his volley palmed to safety by the Redgate stopper.
It brought an end to a high tempo encounter that will act as a good building block for Town.
They will be looking to grab their first win of the season tonight as they entertain Florence at Oldfields, kick-off 6.30pm, in another tough encounter.
Bagley grabbed the New Century Construction man-of-the-match award after an excellent performance in central defence.