Collingham 0-1 Newark Town: Blues edge nervy derby day as Nathan Arnold fires winner
A stunning goal by Newark Town player-manager Nathan Arnold proved to be the difference as the Blues beat fierce rivals Collingham 1-0 at Station Road.
The win moved Town one point clear of Retford United and two points ahead of Thorne Colliery, who have a game in-hand.
Arnold, speaking after the win, said: “Finishing the year at the top of the league, you’ve got to be pleased.
“We’ve just had a bit of a reflection on our journey so far together and I said to the players that we have got to acknowledge and recognise our good work, but we also know that there are two or three very good teams that are on our shoulder and they will push us all the way.
“When you are at the top you have a target on your back and teams want to beat you.
“Every game you go in to is like a cup final, but I would rather have that because it keeps us playing to the level we are at.
“Pressure is a privilege and it is going to be interesting going forward because we have had a few opportunities to go top of the league in recent months, but we have had games called off, so it is nice to finally have it in our hands.
“Now it is a case of asking questions of Thorne and Retford because we have been on their shoulder all season, and we have kept the level of consistency, so it will be interesting to see if they can.
“January and February will be defining months for all of us because the likes of Clay Cross and Dinnington are up there as well.”
The derby, which had more than 200 in attendance, got off to a nervy start with both sides limited to half chances in the opening half-hour.
Though, with half-time approaching, Arnold showed his quality after chasing a long pass down the line before cutting inside his defender and firing an effort into the top right-hand corner.
The second period followed a similar pattern to the first 45 minutes, with chances coming at a premium as Town secured the points.
“It was your typical festive period game,” said Town boss Arnold.
“The pitch was a bit of a leveller and it was frustrating in the sense that we didn’t get up to our levels performance-wise, but before the game we would have took the three points, especially around Christmas time, because it is just about getting the wins at this time of the season.
“Form goes out the window in derby games and it was a tight pitch, which made it hard to get the ball in behind the Collingham defence and utilise the pace that we’ve got.
“We kept it tight, defended a couple of long throws, and we handled those situations well and we saw a different side to us.
“When we are at home on the 4G pitch, we look to dominate possession, but going away and playing on pitches like that, we have to adapt and it was a great learning experience for the young players.
“Overall, it was a difficult game for us.
“Collingham competed all game — it was their cup final and they wanted to prove a point.
“We knew how badly they wanted to beat us and we had to make sure it was our cup final as well, and our attitude and mentality going into the game was spot on.”
Arnold also touched on the shared positives from the fixture, and said having a local derby was a huge boost for the area.
“It was a good atmosphere in terms of numbers,” he said. “We had a fair few come down as well, and it was good to see two local clubs going at it.
“It was my first derby fixtures, and I was told that it is always a difficult place to go.”
Collingham remain two places off bottom with a four-point advantage.
They also have multiple games in hand on those around them.
Collingham boss Gary Clark said: “It was not the result we were after but I wouldn’t change a single one of my lads for any other.
“It was a superb effort with a team of young men learning what football should be about.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy but to be able to finish the game against our local rivals with three 16-year-old’s on the pitch is a testament to our club, even more so knowing they are good enough to compete at this level.”
Collingham return to action at home to Staveley Miners Welfare Reserves, while Town travel to AFC Phoenix. Both fixtures are to be played on January 8 (3pm kick-offs).