BOSTON UNITED 1 BARROW 1: Willis shines as the Pilgrims hold the Bluebirds

George Willis.
George Willis.

George Willis pulled off a series of superb saves to earn Boston United a 1-1 draw with Barrow.

Pre-season contests may be primarily there to allow managers the chance to cast an eye over their squad and try out new tactics.

But today’s match saw the former Sheffield United stopper show fans in the Jakemans Stadium exactly why Adam Murray convinced chairman David Newton to stump up the cash to bring him over from Gainsborough.

There were firm blocks, saves from distance and also reaction stops as the National League side were regularly frustrated.

Ashley Hemmings gave the Pilgrims the lead with a well-executed free kick, only for Richie Bennett to finally break the keeper’s resistance after the break.

Another positive for Boston was the return of Gregg Smith, the striker playing the final 10 minutes following his ankle fracture on New Year’s Day.

United looked lively in the early exchanges with plenty of willing runs and neat interplay between Hemmings, James Clifton and Tyrell Waite, the latter seeing an effort swerve away from the Bluebirds’ upright.

Adam Murray began with the back five which had kept clean sheets in their opening two warm-up matches, and keeper Willis pulled off two superb saves to ensure the hosts went into the break yet to concede.

A firm hand denied former Pilgrim Asa Hall’s powerful 25-yard strike before a reaction block kept out Bennett’s close-range header.

Karl Hawley then went close on three occasions for United, a volley flying wide, a low drive from Clifton’s free kick cleared off the line by Jimmy Dunne and a 20-yard effort rattling the outside of Barrow’s upright.

But the deadlock was broken by Hemmings in the 41st minute, his curling free kick beating the Bluebirds’ trialist keeper at his near post.

The positioning was suspect, but there was no doubt about the quality of the strike.

Willis began the second half by frustrating Barrow with a brilliant double block.

After parrying Dan Jones’ vicious strike he reacted sharply to set himself to push away Jordan White’s headed follow-up.

The United number one was finally beaten by Bennett’s 51st-minute goal.

Willis had tipped White’s initial effort onto his crossbar but, with the keeper grounded, Bennett reacted first to bury the ball in the Boston net.

But Willis was back to his best seconds later, firmly forcing Hall’s drive away from danger.

Boston almost snatched victory at the death when Harry Vince met Smith’s knock down, only to blast inches over, before Kabongo Tshimanaga saw an effort blocked and Smith headed a corner over.

UNITED: Willis, Hare, Beatson, McGuire (Broadhead 66), Keane, Cowgill (Batchelor 66), Clifton (Vince 57), Chapman, Hawley (Tshimanga 63), Hemmings (Smith 80), Waite (Hemmings 75); Subs (not used): Yeomans, Burgess.

BARROW (from): Trialist, Audel, Jones, Hall, Dunne, Diarra, Hughes, Harvey, Bennett, White, Bauress, Panayiotou, Fitzpatrick, Gomis, Moore, Trialist, Trialist, Trialist.

Ref: Alistair Wilson.

Att: 447.