Vanarama National League North: Bradford (Park Avenue) 1 Brackley Town 0

A SUPERB free-kick on the stroke of half-time from close-season signing Ben McKenna gave Avenue the best possible start to the season.

The fixture computer had dished out the most difficult opening game possible for Mark Bower’s side in Vanarama National League North.

Brackley Town – who finished third behind champions Salford City and Harrogate Town – were the visitors to the Horsfall Stadium.

The clubs were play-off rivals last term and had two ding-dong battles towards the end of the last campaign.

Avenue won at St James' Park, which helped them sneak into the play-offs, but after winning 2-0 at Kidderminster Harriers in an eliminator, they were beaten 1-0 by Brackley after extra-time in the semi-finals.

There were no thoughts of revenge prior to the game as the sides prepared for a tough game, and it proved exactly that, with McKenna’s marvellous strike a worthy winner of any game.

Park Avenue manager Bower said: “When you begin a new season, you are always looking for your first goal, your first good performance, your first win, your first clean sheet, so we’ve ticked a lot of boxes on the first day, which is pleasing.

“I thought we played well, especially in the first half when we created quite a few chances and we defended well in the second half.

"We had to hang on at times but you expect that against a side as good as Brackley.

“With Salford and Harrogate having gone up, this was the toughest start to the season we could have had.

"Everybody knows what quality they (Brackley) have, but it was only late on when they looked like scoring.

“If they’d taken their chances they might have won the game but we could have been further in front if we’d taken ours.

“We had the pitch watered before the game and we played well when the ball was zipping about.

"With the heat and the wind, by the time the second half started the surface was dry and I think that suited them better, and they had the wind behind them.”

Avenue started well and striker Jake Beesley, on a season-long loan from Salford, stung Saints keeper Danny Lewis’s hands in the fourth minute, and Lewis could only parry again minutes later as Nicky Wroe sent in a swerving shot.

Lewis was the Brackley hero once more as he tipped a close-range effort over from Chris Dawson – another of Bower’s summer signings – over in the 27th minute.

Another new addition, former Guiseley skipper Danny Lowe, also came close to opening the scoring but his low drive following a half-clearance flashed wide of the foot of the far post.

The match-winning strike came in first-half stoppage time following a foul on Beesley just outside the area.

A full minute elapsed before the kick could be taken and as Nicky Clee ran over it from right to left, McKenna stepped up from the right to fire it into the top corner.