It doesn’t get much better than a debut winner for a new striking signing – and that’s exactly the start to his St Neots Town career that Nabil Shariff enjoyed yesterday.
The prolific frontman struck the decisive blow 20 minutes into the second half to earn Saints a 2-1 triumph at Bishop’s Stortford which stretched his new club’s unbeaten run to eight Southern League Premier Division matches.
Shariff and fellow new attacking recruit, Lewis Irwin, were both handed starts by manager Matt Clements.
They contributed to a smart opening spell from Saints which was rewarded with a seventh-minute breakthrough when player-coach David Bridges struck for the second successive match.
Bridges fired a low shot through a crowd of players from the edge of the penalty area after being picked out by a cross from Dion Sembie-Ferris.
Only a fine clearance from home defender Jordan Westcott prevented Liam McDevitt from doubling the advantage on his return to action.
And Westcott soon provided another important contribution at the other end when hauling the home side level in the 31st minute with a well-placed shot from 20 yards.
New faces Shariff (with a rising shot that went just over) and Irwin (who saw an effort well blocked by a defender) both went close to restoring Saints’ advantage before the break.
Irwin was again a whisker away when steering a header from a Jack Bradshaw corner just over the bar moments after Taylor Parr had a shot blocked from the same supply line.
But the first-ever league clash between the sides was settled by Shariff in the 65th minute as he raced onto a long clearance from former Bishop’s Stortford man Johnny Herd, skipped round goalkeeper Tyler McCarthy and slotted the ball into the gaping net.
A terrific save from goalkeeper Mikey Emery ensured St Neots remained ahead seven minutes later as he thwarted Jack Williams at full stretch.
Bishop’s Stortford cranked up the pressure in the closing stages, but the Saints defence stood firm to ensure their side pocketed the points and took another step up the Premier Division standings to ninth.
“I’m really pleased with a victory which showed both sides of our game,” said boss Clements.
“We proved how much of an attacking threat we are, combined with having the resilience and defensive steel needed when under pressure.
“It’s great for Nabil to hit a debut goal. Lewis was also a handful inside and outside the box, while Dion looked electric at times.
“As good as our front three were, it is the unsung goalkeeping, defensive and midfield heroes who are also earning us results by regularly putting their bodies on the line.
“We’re unbeaten in eight league games and I can only applaud the lads for that, but we’re still a long way off reaching our full potential.”
The victory did come at a cost as midfielder Kyran Wiltshire limped off with an Achilles problem less than 30 minutes into his return from a four-match suspension.
The next challenge for St Neots is provided by table-topping King’s Lynn Town at the Premier Plus Stadium on Tuesday, 7.45pm.