Evostik Southern Div 1 South & West.
Hungerford Town 0 Cirencester Town 1.
CIRENCESTER TOWN stunned league leaders Hungerford by outplaying them in the first half and then outbattling them in the second period, despite having only ten men for the last 40 minutes.
Captain Jamie Reid returned to the starting line-up for Ciren, his first outing since breaking his right leg against Paulton Rovers in early December.
Those familiar with the combative midfielder will not be surprised to know that Reid received a yellow card as early as the 13th minute for a clattering challenge on Gary Horgan. And he was sent off in the 53rd minute after appearing to knock a Ben Wells free kick goalwards with his hand.
Between the two yellows, however, it was Reid’s sublime volley which earned the visitors all three points.
Ten-man Town were inevitably under the cosh in the last 20 minutes as Hungerford pressed for an equaliser but such was the tireless harrying and stoic defending of Brian Hughes’s heroes that keeper Glyn Garner never had a meaningful save to make.
A Mark Draycott header in the 11th minute, which whistled just wide of the post, was as good as it got for the Crusaders. Thereafter it was virtually one-way traffic in the opening 45 minutes with Ciren’s four recent signings all playing feature roles.
Garner’s faultless handling bred confidence in his back four, which was superbly marshalled by Leigh Henry.
And Ciren’s new right back Shane Anson – playing in the Hellenic League for Slimbridge only a fortnight ago – did such a good job on former Swindon Town wide man Alan O’Brien that the pacy winger was forced to try his luck on the other side of the pitch in the second half – with no more notable success.
Meanwhile, Ciren’s attacking threat has been considerably bolstered by 19-year-old winger Josh Morse, whose pace and trickery was a constant source of aggravation for the hosts.
A near-post flick by James Mortimer-Jones off a Ben Wells cross in the 21st minute fizzed just over the bar for Ciren before Morse twice failed to test keeper Paul Strudley from long range after engineering shooting chances.
But Strudley could nothing to stop the only goal of the game in the 28th minute.
Sam Collier showed great strength to win the ball on the left edge of the area and laid the ball inside to Reid, who hit it sweetly first time with the outside of his right foot and watched it curl away from Strudley into the corner.
The Centurions continued to make the running with Reid and Wells both having chances before Collier, who was having a mighty game as the sole striker up front, brought down a difficult high ball on his chest before letting fly from fully 35 yards out; Strudley was a relieved man to see it whistle narrowly wide.
Understandably, the complexion of the game changed early in the second half when Reid needlessly received his second yellow, one of ten handed out by an overfussy referee.
But for all their possession, Hungerford created only two serious goalscoring chances – James Clark and Harry Goodger the wasteful guilty parties – as they failed to have the nous to break down a resilient Cirencester who defended superbly from the front.
Indeed, the visitors could have made victory more comfortable with counter attacks late on.
Aidan Bennett smothered a shot wide from the edge of the box with only the keeper to beat and, deep into added time, Jon Beeden, on for the injured Morse, found the side netting from a tight angle after determinedly chasing a lost cause.
This was more like the redoubtable Cirencester of their play-off-winning season and bodes well for the remainder of the campaign.
CIRENCESTER TOWN: Garner, Anson, Dunton, Thompson, Henry, Mortimer-Jones, Reid (capt), Wells, Collier (Packer, 75), Bennett, Morse (Beeden, 85). Unused sub: Griffin. Standard MoM: Leigh Henry (Cirencester); Diak John (Hungerford).