FC United go into their final game of 2019 in their best form for nearly five years but a tricky tie awaits at Hurst Cross as they take on bogey team Ashton United.
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The Reds have won five consecutive matches for the first time since February 2015 and another victory on Saturday would see them finish the year in third place in the Bet Victor Northern Premier Division.
The FC United faithful have not witnessed a winning run like this since the Reds won the same division five seasons ago at the seventh attempt. That year, Karl Marginson’s side marched towards the title with six consecutive victories, all in February, which came straight off the back of defeat in FA Trophy quarter finals at Torquay United.
Now with Neil Reynolds at the helm, the current crop of FC United stars will be looking to match that run on Saturday whilst sending out a clear statement of intent for 2020 and beyond.
The title winning side of 2014/2015 finished 2014 in seventh place with two away victories over Curzon Ashton (4-0) and Kings Lynn (2-1). After beating Grantham Town 4-0 last weekend, everyone at the club would be delighted to see history repeat itself with a 2-1 win at Ashton this Saturday.
As highlighted, a victory would propel FC United into the top three for the first time this season. A draw or a defeat would see the current Reds finish the calendar year in seventh place, just like their title-winning predecessors.
So, whatever the result on Saturday, history suggests Reynolds’ team will be very well placed for a promotion charge in 2020. However, to achieve third place United must change an indifferent record at Hurst Cross.
The head-to-head record between the two clubs is 11 wins for FC United, nine for Ashton and just one draw. However, victories at Hurst Cross have been hard to come by, especially in league encounters.
The Robins, who are currently second from bottom with games in hand, have hosted the Reds seven times in the Northern Premier League since our first meeting on Boxing Day 2008. Ashton have won four, FC United just two and there has been one draw
This season, Ashton suffered four straight defeats in November – a run which saw them fall into the relegation zone. However, new manager Michael Clegg, formerly of Atherton Collieries, managed to stop the rot in his first – and so far only – game in charge with a shock 3-2 win at promotion chasing Basford United. Two postponements since mean he hasn’t been able to build on that result, yet.
In contrast, FC United have been absolutely flying in the league and FA Trophy recently after a difficult start to the season. That has largely been down to the rediscovery of one man.
With an incredible 23 goals in 25 appearances already this season, FC United have the most lethal striker in the division in Tunde Owolabi. The Belgian’s prowess for finding the net has seen the Reds storm towards the top of the table and him steam into the top 20 goal-scorers in the club’s 15-year history, despite the fact it’s his debut season with the first team.
With scouts from various Football League clubs assessing Owolabi’s capabilities, it remains to be seen how much longer he will be scoring goals in the red, white and black of FC United of Manchester. But we’ll enjoy it whilst we can.
Whilst obviously relishing having a special talent in the side, the Reds are by no means a one-man team. Paul Ennis and Regan Linney have both contributed a healthy eight goals each from midfield and FC United’s goal difference is second only to league leaders South Shields as the Reds have aimed to tighten up at the back.
A settled back four in front of the experienced goalkeeper Cameron Belford has been key to that. Additionally, with captain Michael Potts, Luke Griffiths and Stockport County loanee Alex Curran all pulling the strings in the middle of the park, the future looks bright for this current side.
Manager Neil Reynolds and the FC United faithful will hope the momentum continues on Saturday and into the New Year. Ashton United versus FC United of Manchester at Hurst Cross is this Saturday with a supporter-friendly kick-off time of three o’clock. It’s pay on the gate as usual but remember tickets are £2 cheaper if bought in advance. Get yourself to that football ground.