Christmas Never Stopped Anything! Central North SA go down fighting in Northgate’s return to action.
Central North SA 0 – 6 Northgate
SEVEN weeks had passed since Northgate last played a game, beating Audacious in early December to stop the rot of a losing streak. Despite the late postponment a week earlier, the management at the Salvation Army club worked hard to raise a squad to immediately rearrange the match, and whilst most games in Manchester were cancelled due to waterlogged pitches, this one stayed on to welcome these two back into SMCCFL action.
On a cold and soggy morning, with the post-Christmas fitness of his squad having a huge question mark looming over it, Clark was pleased to be facing familiar opposition after their 12-0 demolition job at home in the first league game of the season. Having a solid squad of 13 available also lent itself well to a rotational system to keep legs fresh in wide positions. James Sharrock donned his gloves once a deal had been struck for him to be kept warm with a flask of hot chocolate at half time, and took his place behind a familiar back four of Scott, Hilsden, Clark and Broomhall. Ben Jones sat in the holding midfield role allowing Morgan and Slade, who had just shaken off a knee injury, freedom to roam. Away specialist Ali Kapasi and Wade Crank occupied the wings whilst Alex Owen was keen to repeat his hat-trick heroics of September here in the return fixture. Mike Raven returned to the squad for the first time since that memorable match, and took his place on the bench alongside Theo Thomas.
A bright start from Northgate in their fluorescent orange was about as far from the gloomy morning filled with fine rain as you can imagine. A couple of early chances came and went for Owen and Kapasi, whilst Jones came the closest with a precise effort coming back off the inside of the post to everyone’s disbelief. Under instructions to avoid complacency, it looked very quickly as though Northgate meant business as they surged forward in numbers. Eventually, it was Jones who got the breakthrough. A fine run down the left from Crank found Owen, who then expertly looked up and was able to cut back for the Jones who picked his spot with a lovely side-footed finish from the edge of the box. At 1-0, Northgate began to turn the screw.
Battling in the centre, Slade won the ball back from a threatening home advance, and played the ball wide to Kapasi on the right. He then threaded a perfect through-ball in between two defenders allowing Owen time and space to round the keeper and finish with good composure. Just a few minutes later and two became three as Owen was the benefactor of an enormous kick downfield from Sharrock in goal. The route-one approach saw all defenders miss the ball and again the forward buried it with ease as Sharrock claimed his 2nd assist of the season, but first from anyone whilst playing in goal.
Moments of a fightback began to appear from the hosts, with a pacey winger causing occasional problems when able to link up to a tidy centre forward. A sluggish Clark and Hilsden were caught out on a couple of occasions when routine blocks should have been made, but there was always another defender on hand to get them out of trouble with Broomhall getting across well with an excellent slide tackle to stop one dangerous looking break. Control of the game was never really anything other than the visitors’ though, and perhaps the goal of the game came from a lovely period of passing play. Jones – who had just hit the woodwork again minutes earlier as he crashed against the crossbar – Morgan and Slade all combined across the middle as they advanced towards the box, but it was Slade who showed the vital quickness of thought to dummy a pass back inside, turn neatly and thread through to the onrushing Steve Scott. Scott, previously unknown for his attacking fervour, showed expert finishing to chip the ball delicately past the goalkeeper after a deft touch to move through what had looked like a solid wall of defenders. More chances came and went before half time, with the fresh legs of Raven and Thomas introduced on 30 minutes for Crank and Kapasi, with both having decent efforts on goal saved and flash just wide. Both Owen and Jones felt hard done by to not have a hat-trick, but as the whistle went for half time everybody gathered with a smile on their faces.
With one eye on a tough match next week against City Church, Clark’s instructions focussed on getting into good habits, putting more goals on the scoreboard and improving fitness levels. Morgan pushed forward to partner Owen up front leaving Jones and Slade to mop up the middle as a 442. However, developing a worrying pattern, Northgate were slow out of the blocks after the restart. Another good break down the left saw the CNSA striker flash just wide as a warning shot.
A rapidly deteriorating pitch that had already began the day as heavy and slippy was having a negative effect on the quality on show, and some of the slick passing seen in the first half was no longer evident. The only real patches of grass were now out wide so Raven and Thomas were needed to work hard to get the ball. Thomas unfortunately had to withdraw from the action soon into the second half due to illness, and so Kapasi was reintroduced but this time at right back to allow Scott some more freedom to get forward and display more attacking prowess. A somewhat frustrating period then ensued, as neither team were really able to make the most of the conditions and situation. With the game as good as won it seemed Northgate had taken their foot off the gas, although the surface exaggerated every single mince pie and chocolate eaten over the last two months.
Eventually, a bit of quality shone through to get the goals flowing again. Jones, managing to put his corner flag difficulties literally to one side, delivered a lovely in-swinging corner into the box. Waiting in the middle, after having just told Hilsden ‘this one is mine’, was Clark who showed superb athleticism and ingenuity to take the ball down with his shoulder in a crowd of bodies, and smash home the sweetest of half volleys into the roof of the net. Wheeling away with his arm raised aloft like a certain former Newcastle number 9, Clark’s teammates rushed around him and the crowd went wild to celebrate a goal which Shearer would have been proud of himself.
Buoyed by another goal, a few more chances began to fall Northgate’s way. Slade had a run on goal but just shot over, Jones and Morgan both got into good positions but couldn’t finish and Crank, having come on for Broomhall at left back, went on a trademark mazy run but his eye-of-the-needle ball through to Owen saw him judged just offside. It would be Owen who would have the last laugh however. A cleared corner saw the ball drop to Hilsden on the halfway line with time and space to consider his options. Opting for the direct approach, he fizzed in a ball to the in-form striker who showed great confidence and composure to pick his spot and place it in the corner for his second hat-trick of the season. Sharrock was called into action late on as a tired pass forward was intercepted and a powerful striker was pounced upon with a strong left hand to keep his first clean sheet intact and ensure that the victory was comprehensive.
Ten goals scored in the last two games have now ensured back to back victories for the first time in the club’s history, as well as this being the first ever away win. Having moved now into the top half of the table, Northgate’s next task couldn’t be more different. From a team now lost 6/6 to a team that have won 6/6 in the league this season, City Church Manchester will travel to Chester expecting to continue their 100% record. Clark, however, will be telling his team of their recent cup defeat to Poynton and hoping this evidences some vulnerabilities they can exploit as Northgate look to continue their greatest ever run of form.
- James Sharrock (GK)
- Steve Scott (RB / RM)
- Mark Broomhall (LB / RB)
- Matt Hilsden (CB)
- Jonny Clark (CB)
- Ben Jones (CDM)
- Ali Kapasi (RM / RB)
- Josh Slade (CM)
- Russ Morgan (CM / ST)
- Alex Owen (ST)
- Wade Crank (LM / LB)
MAN OF THE MATCH – Ben Jones