WELWYN GC crowned their Southern League debut with a deserved win in front of the biggest crowd of the day in the Division 1 Central, as over 250 people looked on at the BP Mitchell Stadium.
On what was a bittersweet occasion for the club, as they paid tribute to the much-missed Terry Hayes, WGC’s record appearance holder and top goalscorer, who died prematurely last week aged 60, Adam Fisher’s side played their part with an opening day victory.
A fine first-half performance secured the 2-1 win over visitors Didcot, who reached the play-offs in the league’s South West division, in which they played last season.
The Citizens got off to a fine start, when new signing Adam Hunt put them ahead with a fifth minute goal from a long-range cross-shot that seemed to bamboozle Didcot keeper Leigh Bedwell, the ball dropping in behind him to send the Herns Lane crowd into raptures.
But the lead was short-lived. Within five minutes, Didcot were level.
A free-kick on the left-wing was tantilisingly floated over by full-back Matt Woodley. New Citizens’ keeper Dan Green half came, but realized he couldn’t reach it and Didcot skipper Adam Learoyd got to it on the back post and head down past the keeper and in for 1-1.
WGC returnee Jay Lovell had flattened Didcot’s Spanish forward Felipe Barcelos in the seventh minute and the pair got involved in another tangle that earned a booking for both five minutes later,
Visiting keeper Bedwell kept his team on terms with a good save with his feet from George Ironton, after Dan Bond and Jay Rolfe had done
the spadework, before the marauding Hunt made a fine run and cross to pick out Rolfe, who shot into the side netting.
Jon Clements, having a quiet time, turned beautifully on a Bond pass only to strike his effort straight at keeper Bedwell, before Rolfe struck a well hit 20 yarder just over the Didcot woodwork.
Didcot threatened to take the lead twice in the closing minutes of the half.
On both occasions, WGC keeper Green saved the day, firstly flinging up his arm to deflect a powerful drive from Didcot’s Seth Humphries that was heading goalward and then making a fine save with his legs to keep out a Barcelos effort.
Then on the stroke of half-time, WGC fashioned a fine second goal.
Adam Hunt – who celebrated his Citizens debut by being named man of the match in a further tribute to Terry Hayes – delivered a pinpoint cross onto the head of Jay Rolfe, who met it with an equally impressive header to give Bedwell no chance for 2-1 at the interval.
The second-half couldn’t match the first 45 minutes for quality and became something of a war of attrition.
Both sides made their substitutions - Lee Close, Brett O’Connor and Josh Bronti coming on for WGC - Payne, Ironton and Bond making way.
Then on 77 minutes, Barcelos got his marching orders from referee Aldous for a very theatrical dive, as he went down under challenge from Lovell, cutting into the area.
Despite being reduced to 10 men, Didcot piled on the pressure in the closing stages, Learoyd only being denied a second goal with a header from a set piece, Green keeping out the effort with his legs!
Josh Bronti earned WGC’s second yellow of the afternoon, in delaying a restart in stoppage time.
WGC: Green, Hunt, Lovell, Corran, Sexton, Rolfe, Payne (Close 60), Ironton (O’Connor 71), Spaul, Bond (Bronti 79), Clements.