Walton Casuals’ winning run finally came to an end after a late goal from Corinthian-Casuals meant a far from ideal start to the New Year.
Having endured a goalless draw in the last trip to King George’s Field, it looked to be a similar story for the Stags until Harry Ottaway’s header sent the hosts in front after 86 minutes.
With two of the highest scoring teams in the country coming together to kick-off 2018, goals may have been expected if not for the defensive displays of both sides.
The absence of Joe Hicks for the first time since his summer move meant Stuart Baldwin would be handed just his third start of the season – although manager Anthony Gale would hope he’s a “big game player” after tough trips to Dorking Wanderers and Carshalton Athletic.
And it was Baldwin who stepped up first with an early goal-line clearance to prevent former Walton favourite Gabriel Odunaike striking inside five minutes.
A quick break from Josh Kelly followed, and almost caught the hosts off guard if not for the defence of Warren Morgan. Throughout the half, the pitch wreaked havoc for Kelly, Youssef Bamba and Tyrell Richardson-Brown in attack – with several chances ending with a slip.
After a dry spell, Odunaike tested the Casuals again with a powerful header crashing onto the crossbar, but it left the hosts frustrated at being unable to break the deadlock.
The Corinthians looked to control the game as the first half matured, but the visitors still had their fair share of chances. Bamba came closest after a clever free-kick narrowly escaped the open path of the winger, before Kelly was pulled down just outside the box and Richardson-Brown’s header sailed narrowly over the bar.
In what should have been a game of two halves, Walton appeared the more dominant side throughout the second half. Denzel Gerrar was rarely tested on his 75th appearance for the club and any saves were routine. However, a fine performance from Corinthians keeper Danny Bracken also kept his side in the game.
Kelly came close a few times before being given a rest on the hour mark, although his replacement Toyosi Olusanya was also unable to find a way past the experienced number one.
Bamba continued to test the full-backs with his pace, and the late introduction of Sean McCormack could have caused some damage – but it was a single move from the hosts that ended all hopes of a stalemate between the play-off contenders.
A clever move from Josh Uzun saw Baldwin beaten out wide, before an outside of the boot flick found its way into the path of Ottaway. An unstoppable header flew past Gerrar into the bottom corner and left the visiting players devastated after a valiant 86 minute display.
The defeat sent Walton down to fifth – but just a point separates the two Casuals who have to meet again in April. The Stags travel to second-placed Cray Wanderers this Sunday, who have suffered just one league defeat all season.