|Venue||Astonfields Road, Stafford, ST16 3BX, Marston Road|
|Competition||Moore & Co Construction Solicitors sponsored North West Counties Football League Division 2|
|1. Louie Whiting|
2. Paul Griffiths
3. Liam McKinney
4. Steve Hassall
5. Paul Ridley
6. Liam McMann
7. Charlie Reeves
8. Steve Millington
9. Russell De-Matteo
10. Oli Warrender
11. Mark Nicklin
12. Karl Williams (for 11, 26 mins)
14. Danny Stevens (for 12, 86 mins)
15. Ray Notice (for 7, 71 mins)
|1 Barrie George|
2 Tony Cullen
3 Kevin Elvin
4 Mark Rawlinson
5 David Chadwick (capt)
6 Billy McCartney
7 Darren Lyons
8 Simon Carden
9 Jonathan Mitten
10 Rory Patterson
11 Adie Orr
12 Ryan Gilligan (for 4)
15 Phil Power (for 9)
|The day was bound to arrive when FC United of Manchester would fail to score in a league match. I bet most observers would not have staked much money on Eccleshall FC being the team to inflict this upon the league leaders, particularly after their 7-1 humbling in August at Gigg Lane and considering the rich vein of goal-scoring form enjoyed over recent matches by the league leaders.|
The Eccleshall manager Mark Askey fielded a much different line-up for this return fixture with only 4 starters from the August match in his starting line-up this time. Karl Marginson also made some changes; Gareth Ormes has a groin problem so Kev Elvin moved over to left-back, Tony Cullen took over at right-back. Steve Spencer was also absent, due to injury, with Mark Rawlinson coming into central midfield. Paul Mitten was still out after leaving just after half-time in the last match and Joz Mitten returned, in the 9 shirt, as a result of his cousin‚€trade;s absence.
There was no immediate debut for new signing Josh Howard although he was present at Stafford Rangers to sample the unique FC United atmosphere accompanied by ex-teammate at Mossley, Tony Coyne. Also present were Steve Torpey who is very close to full fitness after a prolonged time out with a hamstring strain, Scott Holt has recovered from his thigh problems and is hopeful of some pitch time very soon. Phil Melville was also on hand prior to moving out to Salford City for a brief loan spell.
The United players took to the pitch with black armbands as a mark of respect to Russ Delaney, FC United board member, who sadly died early in the week after a brave fight with illness.
United kicked-off the match after the now customary brief delay as congestion at the turnstiles was allowed to ease prior to the start. It soon became apparent how challenging the conditions were and also how ‚€ėup for it‚€trade; Eccleshall were. There were more than a few miss-controlled passes in the opening minutes. The odd untrue bounce/bobble did not help matters but the main difficulty for United was in the shape of their opponents who were pressing the United players and offering no time for the visitors to settle into a rhythm.
A pattern emerged quite quickly with Eccleshall closing so quickly in the centre of the park that often United chose to bypass midfield entirely with long balls pumped from defence straight into the front two. On some occasions those long balls stuck but more often than not the Eccleshall backline were mopping up comfortably as Mitten and Patterson lost possession.
The United front two did link well early on, only 2 minutes into the match, to create an opening. Little did we know at that stage that chances would be so few and far between. On this early foray forwards Mitten gathered the ball on the left flank before threading a pass into Patterson. Patterson in turn passed onto Cullen, supporting from rightback. Patterson stepped over the return pass but then received a fortunate rebound in a great position. He fired right-footed but could only direct the drive into the side-netting, wide of the near post, this from right of goal some 8 yards out.
A couple of minutes later and a Lyons corner kick found McCartney via a Patterson flick on at the near post. The big centre-back diverted the ball goalwards but saw his effort scrambled away by a defender near to the left post. On 20 minutes Carden snatched at a Lyons cross and dragged his shot wide from 15 yards out.
Eccleshall had created little to this point but then threatened a couple of times in quick succession. Their excellent leftback, McKinney, was seemingly more willing than any his teammates to support their infrequent attacks. He delivered a probing cross on 27 minutes that Barrie George did well to gather at the near post, a real tester that might have caused problems if either George misjudged/mishandled it or if an attacker had run to the near post.
Just before the half hour and another Eccleshall attack provided the best chance to date. A long clearance looked to be well marshalled by McCartney but he was clearly looking for assistance from his keeper who equally clearly was not confident that the ball was going to make it through to his area. The brief failure of communication, and resulting indecision, was pounced upon without hesitation by Steve Millington. The Eccleshall number 8 was, perhaps, unfortunate to see his prodded shot pass beyond the post with the goal gaping.
The main moment of controversy arrived on 40 minutes as Adie Orr appeared to be brought down on the left side of the area. Mr. Etchells from Crewe was unmoved deciding that an FC United corner kick would be the most appropriate award. Adie did not make much of a fuss and other observers, nearer to the action than I, said later that a penalty could have been justified but that it would have been harsh on the home side.
The best chance of the half, and arguably the whole match, fell to the hosts in the minutes before halftime. Again McKinney provided the cross and again Millington was furthest forward aiming to take advantage. This time Millington beat the offside trap with a well timed run. The cross was swung in from the left and was met only 8 or 10 yards from goal but the header was wayward with only George to beat. A fortunate let-off for United.
The wind hadn‚€trade;t seemed a great factor in the first period but as the game resumed, after an impromptu 20-a-side, under 13 match during the interval, so the wind speed seemed to pick up. The wind was in the faces of the home side but any hopes that the tailwind would aid FC United‚€trade;s cause were quickly dispelled as the initial exchanges of the period were even more disjointed, less fluid than a less than stellar first half.
The best chance for the visitors fell to Mark Rawlinson just before the hour mark. A long ball out of defence from Chadwick was well controlled by Patterson who beat a man before attempting a pull back to the danger area. The pass was half blocked but still fell to Rawlinson no more than 8 yards from goal in line with the right hand post. The United number 4 had to strike first time and looked to have done little wrong but Louie Whiting in the Eccleshall goal reacted superbly to paw the ball away from danger. A minute or two later and Simon Carden then had another effort but he could not keep his volley down.
With 25 minutes to go Margy brought Ryan Gilligan into midfield with Rawlinson giving way. Gilligan immediately made an impression. He seemed to add an urgency and, at the same time, some composure to the United midfield. He certainly made a case for inclusion from the start next weekend. Margy may have some tough decisions to make soon with Josh Howard also hoping to push his way into central midfield not forgetting Tony Coyne who did little wrong in the early part of the season. Best not forget Steve Spencer who will also be pushing for his place back when fit again. Who‚€trade;d be a football manager?
With just 10 minutes left Eccleshall broke quickly as another United attack floundered. Charlie Reeves carried the ball forward but wasn‚€trade;t speedy enough to carry the ball directly to goal. The covering defence forced him to hesitate at the edge of the area where he adroitly turned inside onto his left foot before firing low to goal. Barrie George had advanced from his line to narrow the angles and saved expertly with is legs.
Phil Power was then introduced to replace Mitten who had worked tirelessly for little reward. Margy‚€trade;s assistant was involved immediately as a McCartney pass to Patterson was quickly turned inside where Power then saw his effort turned back across but beyond the far post. Patterson again collected but his shot, after dribbling back inside, was high off target.
A tough game from which it was difficult to single out star performers. Margy summarised by saying that the back five and Simon Carden were the only ones who performed on the day. David Chadwick was, again, commitment personified so probably edged out the others. Honourable mentions to both fullbacks; Elvin again showing his versatility by covering at leftback and Cullen looking uncompromising at rightback.
A disappointing result, a disappointing performance but still 2,000 or so Reds sing for 90 minutes. As has been said so many times before, in order to fully appreciate the highs one must endure a few lows. This was a low point, one of very few experienced by those of us following this new team but I would be happy to speculate that none of us there would rather have been anywhere else than at Marston Road, Stafford on this particular windy Saturday afternoon.
(with thanks to FC United of Manchester supporter Wayne Clark for supplying this match report)