Northgate 2 – 0 Kings Church Bolton
SMCCFL Division 3
Defeat to Timperley seven days previously was a hard pill to swallow, suffering an upset and frustratingly drawing a blank in front of goal against the worst defence in the league. One more chance of a victory remained ahead of the Christmas break, with bottom side King’s Church Bolton standing in the way of 3 points to stop the drop down the table. A convincing early-season win in the reverse fixture was enough to give Northgate confidence today would be there day.
Freezing temperatures and solid ground during the week meant that there was a late call on whether the game would go ahead, but a mild night ensured that the pitch was not only playable but in excellent condition given the amount of rain there had been in the days before. Several changes were made to the squad since Timperley, with absences from Luke, Davies, Jones, Campbell, Taylor and the suspended Davenport. This left spaces for Broomhall, Sharrock, Slade, Holden, Heathcote and a long awaited return for Matt Hilsden after his wrist injury suffered in the first game of the season.
After failing to score in 3 of the last 5 games starting with a 352 formation, Clark decided to return to the more familiar 451 shape. James Sharrock lined up behind a back four of McNeil, Harvey, Clark and Broomhall, a central trio of Holden, Slade and Coleclough were inside of Thomas and Heathcote on the wings, with Alex Owen taking up his position as lone striker. Fresh faced and eager to get going, James Holden was full of chatter before the game and after conducting a thorough warm-up he was getting himself stuck into the game early. With just 1 goal scored in the opening half of a game in the last 6 outings, Clark’s insistence on a positive start was taken on board and Northgate scored the first goal of the game since a windy away day against Audacious. A long ball knocked into space for Owen to run onto was sent forward by Clark but the goalkeeper got there first. Continued pressure from the striker however was enough to put the keeper off and he fluffed his clearance, hitting it straight against the talisman who made no mistake in passing the ball into an empty net for a goal to mark his 25th appearance for the club.
Dominance continued in the first half, with Heathcote and Thomas both causing problems out wide and the midfield 3 winning everything in the air. The lead soon doubled when a Coleclough corner was whipped into the front post and onto the head of James Holden, via a questionable deflection off a defender. An awkward challenge on Thomas though forced him off through injury, allowing an introduction for Rob Elkington on 35 minutes; the assistant manager slotting into the holding midfield role to move Coleclough onto the right wing.
Bar a few hairy moments between Harvey and McNeil as they took some time to get acquainted on the right hand side, and Broomhall giving the own-goal specialist another opportunity to put the ball past Sharrock, the home defence was resolute in keep chances to a minimum for the opponents. Clark was sweeping up well and Broomhall was tight to his man on the wing as Sharrock barked orders from the goalmouth fuelled by his unprecedented pre-match preparation and breakfast routine.
At half time, Northgate were good value for their 2 goal lead and could have easily been further ahead. With Clark confidently offering a high value goal-bonus to Holden before the game, he was slightly relieved when the midfielder passed up a second opportunity in front of goal just before the break. However, for the second half he was encouraging of the game being put to bed by even the unlikeliest of characters. It was also time for the first league action of the season for Matt Hilsden. The man who racked up the most appearances in 2017/18 was making his return from a broken wrist at the start of September, and slotted in next to his old defensive partner Clark at the back, as Harvey moved out to full back for McNeil.
Immediately Hilsden was tested out as the visitors pumped a few long balls forward in an attempt for some direct recovery in the game, but the experienced defender was equal to everything…in the air at least…as he settled back into the swing of things. Without a clean sheet all season, shutting the door for the opponents was top of the priority list for Clark in this second half and so positional discipline had to remain high around the team. Sharrock was expertly holding on to any and every cross or shot from distance that came his way to release the pressure, as Christmas miracles were happening all over the pitch; Broomhall heading the ball, Sharrock praising his defence, and Slade putting a shot on target. Following the frustrations of the previous week, this had the feeling of a game where despite a lack of confidence and form, everyone was pulling together to make the little things count.
Sure enough, the pressure grew for Kings and as Clark continued to frustrate the Bolton striker, things began to get a little tasty. Complaints started to get directed at the referee for the smallest thing, the forward throwing himself to the ground as he tried to outmuscle the player-manager and later kicking out a few times at him after being beaten to the ball. Another Kings forward had to be removed from the pitch by his manager angry at him being unable to keep his cool, and except for a rash reaction from Harvey rushing to the defence of his own manager after being upended by the striker, Northgate impeccably kept their discipline all over the pitch.
A largely tight and tense second half was endured more than enjoyed by the hosts but, given recent form, learning how to see out a win and gain the confidence it brings was more important than anything else today. A solid, battling performance and clean sheet was the perfect way to see out the end of 2018 and begin the Christmas celebrations.
A topsy-turvy calendar year has seen 23 games played, with 10 wins, 1 draw and 12 defeats. 42 goals scored and 49 against show that there is always drama in a Tangerines match (the 0-0 draw against Kay Street being the exception that proves the rule). Off the pitch there have also been several weddings and babies born in the squad and 2019 will be no different as Clark is hoping for the birth of the heir to his managerial throne to fall kindly amidst a busy January fixture list. An away trip to Warrington in the 2nd round of the Cup is first up on the 5th January before league action returns a week later.
- James Sharrock (GK)
- Scott McNeil (RB)
- Martin Harvey (CB / RB)
- Jonny Clark (CB)
- Mark Broomhall (LB)
- Theo Thomas (RM)
- James Holden (CDM / CM)
- Josh Slade (CM)
- Alex Owen (ST)
- Josh Coleclough (CM / RB)
- Mike Heathcote (LM)
- Rob Elkington (CDM)
- Matt Hilsden (CB)
Man of the Match – JONNY CLARK