AIRBUS maintained their unbeaten record and remain three-points clear at the top after drawing 1-1 with second placed The New Saints at the Hollingsworth Group Stadium.

There was an end-to-end start with both sides looking to stamp their authority on the game early on. From a corner on quarter of an hour both Ian Kearney and Steve Jones had headers blocked in front of goal. The Wingmakers had just about shaded the opening exchanges.

However, from a Chris Marriott corner on 23 minutes there was an uncharacteristic mix-up between Lee Owens and goalkeeper James Coates - which allowed Marriott’s cross to creep in at the near-post and put TNS 1-0 up. The Wingmakers responded with some good pressure immediately after but the visitors were solid and well-organised at the back.

From an Airbus free-kick a TNS head flicked the ball onto the post which was as close as the Wingmakers had come on 35 minutes. Five minutes later another corner provided an opportunity when Paul Harrison’s finger-tip save was all that prevented Ian Kearney’s header from drawing Airbus level.

Chances were few and far between for either side before TNS headed into the break with their 1-0 lead. The Wingmakers began the second-half brightly and were unlucky not to convert their possession into a goal but for good defending from TNS.

On 52 minutes Airbus drew level when James Owen fed Chris Budrys on the edge of the area - and his shot through three TNS defenders found the low far corner of the net. The Wingmakers deserved to be back level at 1-1. The game was now very open with both teams looking to, and capable of, taking the points.

TNS were the first side to make a change on 58 minutes with Alex Darlington coming on in place of Matty Williams. On 62 minutes Mike Wilde forced a good low stop from Coates before Aeron Edwards glanced a header wide as the visitors enjoyed a spell of pressure of their own.

The first change of the game for Airbus saw Sam Hart introduced in place of Lewis Short on 68 minutes. A minute later Lee Owens got forward and tested Harrison with a curling shot before TNS cleared their lines. With just under 20 minutes to go a good strike from Budrys narrowly missed the target in what was a very even game.

Ryan Fraughan replaced Jamie Mullan for TNS with just under quarter of an hour to go. With 10 minutes to go Steve Jones cut inside the area and curled a shot just over the bar as the Wingmakers went close to going in front. They then replaced Ryan Wade with Ritchie Partridge while TNS put Greg Draper on in place of Mike Wilde.

The last throw of the dice for Airbus with four minutes to go was to replace Chris Budrys with Steve Abbott. A minute later Mike Roddy received a yellow card for a shirt-pull on the Saints’ Chris Marriott.

A minute into stoppage time Sam Finley broke forward for TNS and went close with a dipping shot which narrowly cleared the bar. Ritchie Partridge then went into the book for a foul on Marriott. That proved the last real action of the game as the Wingmakers defended resolutely to secure a well-earned point, after another good performance against quality opposition.

By Rory Sheehan

Below: Budrys scores despite the attentions of Kai Edwards and Phil Baker.

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