FC United’s relegation worries continue after a nil-nil draw at Southport on Saturday afternoon but the Reds have moved a point closer to safety and are now two games unbeaten.
With Guiseley losing at home to Alfreton, Neil Reynolds’ side are now seven points behind their fourth from bottom West Yorkshire rivals with 10 games to go.
However, that gap could have been cut to five points had FC United scored one of the two gilt-edged chances that came in each half on Merseyside.
Tom Peers somehow put a header wide from a fantastic Steve O’Halloran cross a minute before the interval. And almost an hour later, substitute Jack Banister held onto the ball for too long when he should have squared to his unmarked captain Kurt Willoughby, who was waiting to score what could have been an 82nd minute winner.
Positives and negatives seemed to be in equal measure for the 541 FC United supporters in attendance at Haig Avenue. After going four weeks without picking up any points, the Reds have now steadied the ship by earning two in the last two weeks and kept their first competitive clean sheet since 8th December against Curzon Ashton.
However, draws alone will not be enough to avoid relegation from the Vanarama National League North and FC United must find a match winner from somewhere. At the moment, it doesn’t seem obvious where that will come from.
United’s skipper and top goalscorer Willoughby was at the heart of most of United’s attacking play but the 21-year-old’s 14 goals so far this season need to be backed up by his teammates. The England C team striker couldn’t break the deadlock despite looking lively throughout.
The closest he came was in the ninth minute when a fierce strike from the edge of the box was tipped over the bar by goalkeeper Dan Hanford. Moments later Chris Lynch found space just inside the area and drilled in a shot but Hanford was equal to it.
Blackburn Rovers loanee Andrew Fisher was looking equally commanding in the FC United goal and dealt with everything thrown at him in the first half. The Sandgrounders best efforts came in a five minute burst of pressure around the hour mark.
The hosts were throwing players and dangerous balls into the box and they did get the ball into the back of the net. However, the goal was correctly disallowed and fullback Matty Platt was arguably fortunate to only receive a yellow card for his deliberate double handball, which culminated with him punching the ball over the line from two yards out.
Four minutes later, Southport hit the crossbar when gigantic centre-back Ryan Astles met a Dion Charles corner with a towering header.
Those two close escapes seemed to spur FC United into action and they had a flurry of half chances in the last 20 minutes. Dale Whitman was unfortunate his half volley from distance trickled wide and he also saw an effort from a near post corner smothered for another corner.
The pressure was building. However, when Banister delayed his pass to Willoughby and allowed covering defenders to get back to snuff out his overdue cross and the opportunity, the FC United faithful had the feeling that the best chance to steal the three points had gone begging and a point would have to do.
The two draws in eight days have given the Reds a small amount of momentum but they must now convert that into a priceless victory next weekend when they host Hereford. FC United will be hoping to do the double over the Bulls after beating them 3-1 at Edgar Street back in November. A win for the Reds would have the added advantage of dragging fifth from bottom Hereford back into the relegation battle.
Website man of the match: Chris Lynch. Another solid performance at the back from the experienced defender. His commitment to the cause looks unquestionable.
Report by Matthew Haley