Northgate 1 – 8 St Kentigern’s
SMCCFL Division 3
Back in November, Northgate suffered their biggest defeat in their history with an 8-0 humiliation in Manchester. St Kentigern’s, new to the SMCCFL this season but experienced in other leagues, have been blowing teams away this season scoring an average of 6.5 goals a game, culminating in a hideously good goal difference of +80 after 14 games. Despite Northgate’s record breaking run of form with 5 consecutive wins, this was always going to be a tall task.
Stepping up to the challenge was another large and strong squad. Only 3 changes were made by Clark since the comfortable 4-0 win over Warrington who lie at the opposite end of the table. So with Davenport, Coleclough and Heathcote all absent, in came Slade, Clayton and Taylor, making his first appearance of 2019. Having been delayed in the morning by a worse-for-wear Matt Ward, James Sharrock didn’t have much time to warm up as he lined up behind a familiar back four of Scott, Hilsden, Clark and Broomhall. Jones, Slade and Holden ensured there would be no shortage of work-rate in the centre, whilst Campbell and Clayton started on the wings to provide pace and productivity for Owen up front, looking to score for a 7th match in a row.
In their distinctive green and black kit, St Kentigern’s looked a familiar opponent, the memories of their top players etched into the minds of the Northgate players who faced them in Manchester. Thankfully, only 5 of that matchday squad were playing today which brought fresh optimism. The optimism didn’t last too long though. After 15 minutes, the visitors were ahead with a relatively soft bit of a defending allowing a winger time and space to cut inside the corner of the box, then flashing a shot across goal and into the side netting.
Having hoped to keep them at bay for as long as possible, it was a body blow to Clark and his men. St Kentigern’s had conceded less than a goal a game so far in the league and so to overturn this now would be an even bigger task. The disappointment doubled not long after as in the face of a frustrating lack of Northgate goals from long throws this season, it was to be a Kentigern’s throw that would make it 2. Hurling it into the 6 yard box towards their enormous striker, Clark was brushed aside as the green giant nodded in with ease.
Heads were beginning to wobble as Northgate hadn’t experienced trailing since away to Westwood 2 months earlier, and as the size of the task mounted with the 3rd and 4th goals it became clear this could be a very long morning for the Tangerines.
Steve Scott couldn’t quite shake the flu that had dogged his week and so had to be withdrawn after just 25 minutes for Martin Harvey, and an injury to Clayton saw the introduction of half-awake Ward to the left wing. Mike Taylor also came on in the first half, replacing Campbell on 35 minutes in a big to restore some energy and hope in the Northgate ranks. A few decent moves were put together by the hosts, with Owen working hard to make himself available against a well organised defense, but despite the midfield’s best efforts they just couldn’t find a way through to even test the goalkeeper. The closest they came was Ben Jones’ drive from just outside the box after a surging run from Slade down the left and some interplay with Owen, but the effort was taken by the wind and flew high and wide of the goal.
The wind was, by now, playing a huge part in the game. With strong gusts blowing directly across the width of the pitch, there were plenty of misplaced passes and mistimed touches on display from both teams; apart from Ward who showed sublime skill to bring a looping ball down from over his shoulder, only to then kick it out for a throw in with his next touch.
Playing the conditions, Kentigern’s were spreading the ball about well with composure and finesse, with their 3rd and 4th goals coming from superbly weighted passes from midfield to the wings and the attacking trio made no mistake in finishing them off; despite 3 or 4 blocks in total from Sharrock and Clark on the line before the striker eventually got his goal to make it 4-0. Five minutes before the break, the goal of the game came as Northgate did everything right in defence but it wasn’t enough. Holding up the play and remaining disciplined was what had been lacking earlier in the half, but they forced Kent’s backwards with the ball. That was until a midfielder took an effort at goal from 30 yards, caught it beautifully but swerved back and forth on its way to goal, completely bamboozling everyone along the way.
Deflated, Northgate trudged in at half time 5-0 down. With the match over as a contest, Clark knew he had to instil a fresh challenge and revive some confidence in his men. Encouraging them to keep heads up against what are clearly a top side, the instruction was to play for pride in the second half. If it was Football Manager, it was a textbook moment for “Do it for the fans!”
And they did.
A dogged opening 15 minutes saw Northgate build their way back into the game and not only frustrate their opponents but cause them problems as well. Clark and Hilsden were making vital interceptions at important times, ably assisted by Harvey and Broomhall at full backs tracking their tricky wingers at all times. Jones and Holden were once again the driving forces behind keeping the ball on the floor to play forward from the back; something that brought out an audacious Cruyff turn from Clark on the edge of the box that had hearts in mouths almost as much as when he actually gave the ball away 30 seconds after the restart demanding ‘simple stuff’ from his players!
Improved energy seemed to be the answer in this period, and Taylor and Slade were giving absolutely all of it to drag their team back in it. Another driving forward run from Slade was found by Jones, and the midfielder appeared to have been fouled, nay wrestled to the ground inside the box. Having just set the ball wide to Taylor before the infringement, the winger chipped in a delicate cross to the man on form waiting in the middle; Alex Owen nodding in a header at the near post to put Northgate on the front foot.
That wasn’t to be the end of the matter though, as the scuffle between Slade and his assailant continued after the goal; the Kentigern’s players appealing for some reason that the goal should not stand. The referee stood firm to his decision, spoke to both players involved and even had to threaten the visiting manager with a sending off before restarting a game that all of a sudden looked capable of boiling over. 5-1 up, the league title seemingly in the bag, and St Kentigern’s were imploding psychologically.
A physical battle ensued in the game as the visitors started to send the ball direct to their huge forwards, and piled on the pressure. For the most part, Northgate stood firm and were winning more than their fair share of aerial battles, but soon enough they broke through. 25 minutes into the second half and at 6-1, the stuffing appeared to get knocked out of the hosts. Harvey and Clark thought they had dealt with the danger, forcing the winger to play back up the line, but then a quick pinpoint pass to the middle found the forward who was never going to miss.
Ward and Taylor made way again for Clayton and Campbell, but the pattern of play was difficult to shift even with fresh legs. Broomhall also later literally fell on his backside with cramp, and so Taylor came back on for the last five minutes at full back. Despite Clark almost clearing one off the line, Kenigern’s went on to score their 7th and 8th goals which were celebrated strongly by as they moved onto 100 league goals so far in their 15 game season. An outrageous statistic.
Souring the taste of an outstanding performance, St Kentigern’s continued to argue with the referee over minor incidents despite a 7 goal lead and eventually a red card was rightfully shown to their midfielder for swearing directly at the official.
Overall, a hugely disappointing morning for Northgate in their final home match of the season. In a season that has seen 3 more home wins than the previous campaign, it must be viewed as a blip in a bigger picture of progress. The most successful league campaign in SMCCFL history looks set to finish with a goal difference of over 100, whilst Northgate will now be looking to restore some pride away at Timperley and settle some old scores at Kay Street in their final league games. Before that though, there is the small matter of a Quarter Final in Warrington on the 16th March that Clark. Another tough ask against a strong Division 1 outfit, Clark will be looking to banish memories of this one and go at them with no fear.
- James Sharrock (GK)
- Steve Scott (RB)
- Mark Broomhall (LB)
- Matt Hilsden (CB)
- Jonny Clark (CB)
- Ben Jones (CDM)
- Lawrie Campbell (RM / LM)
- Josh Slade (CM)
- Alex Owen (ST)
- James Holden (CM)
- Alex Clayton (LM / RM)
12. Martin Harvey (RB)
13. Matt Ward (LM)
14. Mike Taylor (RM / LB)
Man of the Match – MIKE TAYLOR