EVESHAM United head into tonight’s (Thursday) fixture at lowly Shortwood United occupying sixth place – the final play-off spot – following a tense 2-1 derby victory over Bishops Cleeve on Saturday.
Billed by some as ‘El Collico’ due to United manager Paul Collicutt having managed both sides, the hosts knew victory was paramount in their bid to once again book a place in the end of season shoot-out.
However, nothing was a given against the Gloucestershire side, for whom just a third away win of the Southern League West campaign would have breathed much-needed life into their seemingly futile battle to beat the drop.
A scrappy start to the match was understandable and it was the visitors who drew first blood when former Evesham man Jack Watts netted from just inside the box in the ninth minute past a seemingly unsighted Kevin Sawyer.
Bishops Cleeve were belying their position in the table and held the Robins at the bay for the remainder of the first half despite Jordan Bryan dragging a shot wide and Archie Haskayne firing a low drive straight at the keeper.
However, Evesham emerged for the second half a different animal and within 60 seconds Adam Mann had skimmed the bar.
It was 1-1 in the 58th minute when man of the match Haskayne’s jinking run ended with him firing home via the inside of the post.
Almost immediately Haskayne then forced former Robins keeper Sam Gilder into a stunning save, but the stopper was powerless to prevent Mann thundering an 18-yard strike into the roof of the net on 61 minutes.
Evesham remained largely in control of proceedings for the remainder of the game but Bishops Cleeve never surrendered and there was relief among the bulk of the 269 crowd when the final whistle was blown.
After the visit to Shortwood, Evesham head to Bristol to face lower mid-table outfit Mangotsfield United on Saturday before finishing the campaign at home to AFC Totton on April 28.
The final-day fixture could carry huge importance, with Totton two points below the Robins having played a game more ahead of Evesham’s fixture tonight.
With games in hand, Didcot Town and Bideford are sure to also have a huge say in the race for a top six place.