JUST when it looked as if Bracknell Town looked favourites to finish runners-up to Hayes & Yeading, they now have a fight on their hands, writes Dave Wright.

Despite losing 1-0 to the champions-elect last Saturday, they remain second in the South Central Division standings but are now joined on 62 points by Marlow and Cheshunt.

All three will almost certainly be involved in the play-offs, but the highest placed team will have the advantage of playing at home in the semi-final, which Robins and Marlow have a game in hand of their closest rivals, so their clash at the Alfred Davis Memorial Ground next Saturday takes on even greater importance.

Hayes officials and supporters considered Bracknell were the second best side they have seen – and Town now have seven games left in which to prove it.

They were certainly unlucky to have returned home pointless from the impressive but uncompleted SKYex Community Ground, where the attendance of 416, helped by a good contingent from Bracknell, set a new record.

On an immaculate-looking pitch, the fans were treated to a thoroughly entertaining encounter, full of good attacking play between two sides who between them have totalled 200 league goals this season.

Town keeper Mark Scott was in fine form, but the better chances fell Bracknell’s way – there were four good first-half opportunities in particular – and they were unfortunate not to have been ahead at half-time.

The pattern of play largely continued in the second half and it was just a pity the game had to be decided by a controversial 62nd-minute penalty.

Hayes right wing-back Ashley Smith was put through on the right. Scott dived bravely in his path, but in doing so received a blow to his head. With the keeper laying on the ground, Matt Day raced over intending to protect Scott, but in doing so he pushed Smith out of the way.

Perhaps a quicker thinking referee would have blown his whistle to stop play, but instead, George Warren awarded a penalty and Toby Little sent Scott the wrong way from the spot.

Town pressed forward in search of an equaliser with Seb Bowerman just unable to get enough power on a header from fellow substitute Ash Artwell’s centre and then Bowerman seeing his cross headed narrowly wide by Joe Grant.

However, Hayes had opportunities to increase their lead with Mitchal Gough striking the crossbar with a speculative shot from 40 yards and Nick Elliott firing wide of an open goal. It was their 15th win in 16 home games and they need just another five points from six games to seal the title.

Bracknell’s game this coming Saturday at Marlow should prove another close encounter. Mark Bartley’s side boast the best defensive record in the division having conceded just 24 goals in 31 games, but they have found the target only 54 times compared to Town’s 85.