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McDonagh brace helps Crusaders make it eight unbeaten at home with win over rivals Poole

Hungerford Town made it eight home league games unbeaten as a second half brace from Conor McDonagh fired them to a 2-1 win over out of sorts Poole Town on Tuesday night.

It was not a classic, but the Crusaders did not care.

Town, who made one change as midfielder Joe Shepherd returned from suspension, were notably more pragmatic than the weekend, when boss Danny Robinson was left questioning the character of his side after they let a three-goal lead slip against Sholing.

Joe Shepherd produced an outstanding performance on his return to Town’s midfield
Joe Shepherd produced an outstanding performance on his return to Town’s midfield

However the home side were distinctly lacking in imagination going forward and struggled to string a succession of passes together in what was a fairly uninspiring first half at a soggy Bulpit Lane.

Visitors Poole, who have lost four of their last six in all competitions, showed slightly more intent and were more positive in possession, with former Football League midfielder Wes Fogden posing a threat with some neat touches and driving runs.

Conor McDonagh registered the first shot on target in the 17th minute when he curled a speculative free-kick straight into the hands of Poole’s Max Evans – who endured a difficult spell on loan with the Crusaders at the end of last term – but it was the visitors who created the only real first half opening of note seven minutes before the break.

Cameron Murray’s backheel unleashed Tony Lee on the left-hand side of the box but the former Farnborough frontman’s powerful drive was turned past his near post by the experienced Ryan Clarke.

Poole continued to shade things after the restart and had a goal ruled out on 56 minutes when Will Fletcher was penalised for a marginal offside after sliding in at the back post.

However, it wouldn’t be Halloween without a nightmare and the Dolphins pressed the self-destruct button just after the hour to gift Hungerford a lead.

Centre-half Harvey Wright sold keeper Evans short with a backpass and the former Yeovil man’s attempted clearance cannoned off Conor McDonagh and looped over him and into the back of the net to make it 1-0 in fortuitous circumstances.

Poole went close to an equaliser 12 minutes later when Will Fletcher’s looping header rebounded off the crossbar but the Crusaders doubled their lead after 79 minutes when the visitors failed to deal with a bouncing ball from Clarke’s long kick and in-form frontman McDonagh produced a sharp finish to score his 17th goal of the campaign.

Conor McDonagh’s brace took his tally to 17 goals this season
Conor McDonagh’s brace took his tally to 17 goals this season

Poole pulled one back in added time when substitute Destiny Ojo curled beyond Clarke from eight yards but the Dolphins’ fate was sealed and, despite Hungerford’s habit of relinquishing leads of late, 45 seconds later the referee blew for time as Town made it seven points from the last nine.

“There’s a bit of history between Hungerford and Poole, they’ve been up and down the leagues together, so I know how much this one meant to our fans,” a delighted Danny Robinson said afterwards.

“We could’ve felt sorry for ourselves after Saturday. We ended up getting a point and, to be honest, it ended up being a good point.

“We showed great character. We’re a good side, but we’ve not shown it at times this season.

“I’m proud of the reaction, I’m proud of how we competed, I’m proud that we almost kept a clean sheet.

“If we can keep it tight, we’ve got goals in us and we showed that again tonight.”

Boss Danny Robinson feels his side are starting to come good as the Crusaders move into the top half
Boss Danny Robinson feels his side are starting to come good as the Crusaders move into the top half

And Robinson admitted he set his side out with a slightly more defensive mindset than Saturday, knowing that with a front three of McDonagh, Elis Watts and Adulai Sambu Town will prove a handful for any side’s back line.

He said: “There was nothing between the sides. The first goal was always going to be key.

“Clarkey (Ryan Clarke) had a couple of saves to make, we had a couple of half chances.

“We knew we had to be more solid, we got a bit of luck and we defended well.”

Robinson was full of praise for returning midfielder Joe Shepherd, who missed out at the weekend after accumulating five yellow cards. The former Swindon Supermarine man produced a dynamic performance in the middle of the park, helping the Crusaders maintain a level of control against a Poole side that looked to get the ball down on the deck.

“I thought Joe Shepherd was outstanding,” he said.

“He was our best player tonight. He did a mountain of running and was everywhere for us, he’s top of the stats every week.

“We missed him on Saturday. He’s got great energy, he’s an infectious character in the changing room and he’s a lad that’s massively bought into what we’re trying to do.”

The Crusaders, who have dropped points from winning positions on multiple occasions over the last couple of months, saw their advantage halved in added time but held on to all three points this time – although Robinson admitted Poole’s late goal did leave him feeling more nervous than he would’ve liked.

He said: “I have to say, if anyone’s thinking of becoming a manager – don’t do it, it’s too stressful!

“Even with 45 seconds to go tonight, I still had my heart in my mouth.

“We don’t do things the easy way here at Hungerford, but I think that’s one reason the people that come and support us love it. We’ve got that fighting spirit.

“It’s no good for my heart, but now we can relax and enjoy this victory. I hope people can see that we are getting there.”

Hungerford, who are up to 10th in the Southern Premier League South, can now turn their attention to a trip to Isthmian League side Westfield for their FA Trophy first round clash this weekend.

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