Westwood 5 – 5 Northgate
SMCCFL Division 3
Four months ago, Northgate’s excellent start to the season brought them a 3-1 victory at home against recently relegated Westwood despite being behind at half time. Whilst the weather in Manchester for the away leg was much colder than the September fixture, it was to be a tale of 3 second half goals once again to take the game away from Westwood.
After surviving the horrors of Holden’s fragrant gift to the changing rooms, Northgate made their way out to the 3G pitch with time only for a very short warm up due to late opening up of the facilities. A large squad of 14 enabled for a positive attitude and lots of energy though, and the visitors made a start as bright as their beautifully washed kits from Elkington. Returning to a familiar 451 formation, Sharrock lined up behind the same back four that overcame their opponents at home; Harvey, Holden, Clark, Broomhall. Rob Elkington held things together behind Josh’s Coleclough and Slade in central midfield, whilst Campbell and Owen provided the legs out wide to support lone striker Dave Tonks making his first start up front of the season.
Early pressure was all being caused by the visitors, but a few little niggles and contentious decisions by the referee frustrated Holden who eventually talked himself into the book as he appeared to wind up the man in the middle. The breakthrough wasn’t to be far off though and came with a stroke of fortune as a Coleclough corner was whipped in only to be punched into the net by Westwood’s own goalkeeper. Dominance continued through solid defending and sensible midfield play until Campbell opened up some space down the right with some great work, delivering a cross into the box for Owen to tap in – only for it to be ruled out for Tonks being given offside. More questionable refereeing began to colour the game as both teams struggled to understand many of the decisions being made; clear ball-winning tackles given as fouls, substitutes threatened with yellow cards as they came on, and even the Westwood manager keeping the ball in play going unnoticed.
Staying true to their standard of play though, the Tangerines doubled their lead thanks to some superb play. Picking the ball up on the halfway line, Holden played a neat one-two with Elkington further ahead, and then found Tonks inside the box who tucked a neat finish under the keeper into the bottom corner. Clark made two substitutions then on 30 and 35mins, with Broomhall and Owen making way for Davies and Stringer respectively for a new-look left flank. The pressure continued and Tonks was desperately unlucky to not add to his tally, directing headers wide and over the bar from pin-point free kicks and corners from Coleclough – making his presence felt with a scintillating passing display.
A stroke of luck for the hosts gave them hope at half time, as a long range effort came from a forward in space, hanging and swirling in the wind to catch out Sharrock as it dipped underneath the crossbar. A message of encouragement and to finish the job off came from Clark at the break, as a defensive switch around was made to bring Hilsden on, moving Holden to right back for Harvey.
The restart proved the beginning of a very different period of play, as the start Westwood midfielder started shifting through the gears to drag his team forward in the same direction the wind had now changed. Long, wind-assisted balls and pacey forwards were causing problems for the Northgate back four and chances began to appear for the hosts. Sharrock pulled off a fine stop low down to his right from the midfield maestro, but 5 minutes later the Westwood man went one better and tucked in a powerful effort at the bottom post to equalise.
Tails up, Westwood were on top and Northgate’s positional discipline was waning. The Manchester outfit took the lead as their winger beat a defender inside the box, shifting the ball neatly onto his favoured right foot and smashing it into the roof of the net. Clark ordered more changes on 70 minutes, with Holden and Elkington making way after solid displays, with Harvey and Broomhall reinstated as full backs whilst Davies moved into midfield.
Despite the fresh defensive legs, Northgate’s disorganisation was being exploited and Westwood’s fourth came from a complete mix up as they advanced through midfield and passed along a line of players inside the box queueing up to finish. Clark managed to get across to make a desperate block with his sizeable backside, but then Hilsden and Harvey were both off balance and as the latter nearly gave a penalty away it didn’t matter as a simple tap in was on offer. A 5th goal seemingly put the game to bed whilst the striker latched onto a lucky bounce over Hilsden’s head, beating him to the ball and firing across goal to make it 4 goals without reply in the second half.
Everyone connected with Northgate would have been forgiven for thinking the game was over, but nobody was about to give up just yet. Coleclough and Stringer made way on 80 minutes for the reintroduction of Tonks and Holden, but it was the work of captain Slade who inspired the spark of a comeback. After going in the book for persistent fouls, his determination saw a run down the left flank end with a cross to the revived Holden to finish on the 86th minute.
As the referee declared there were 4 minutes remaining, shouts of ‘get the ball’ to hurry the kick off still seemed laughable. Two minutes passed and Westwood were managing to keep the ball at the other end of the pitch to quash any lingering hopes, until a free kick allowed every orange shirt to fill the box to get on the end of a Sharrock delivery. A clearance was made, the keeper made a desperate header back forward and it ended up with a Northgate throw down the right. Holden took a quick throw-in into the box to find Campbell who found himself pushed in the back. The referee pointed to the spot and Owen confidently converted down the centre of the goal to give the visitors 1 more minute to find an equaliser.
Panic had set in for Westwood who, under calls for ‘smash it anywhere’ sent a clearance almost vertically into the air straight after kick off. The loose ball was pounced upon and an orange wall surged forward to pressurise the defenders. Clark found himself able to win a 50/50 with a midfielder whilst spreading the ball to Campbell out on the right. Darting down the touchline, he delivered a delicious ball high into the box causing mayhem with nearly 20 players surrounding the play. A knock down fell to Holden who saw Davies screaming for it out of the corner of his eye. A little lay-off to the edge of the box found the midfield man who unleashed a shot that somehow made it’s was through the crowd of bodies and smashed into the roof of the net. Absolute scenes. Tangerines from every direction flew towards Davies and celebrated the goal as if they’d just won the cup final. Despair for Westwood, delight for Northgate. That was to be the final action of the game as the whistle blew for full time on kick off, and handshakes all round ensued as both teams appreciated what a roller-coaster of a game this had been. 3 goals in 4 minutes had secured Northgate what had become the most unlikeliest of points. A dominant first half-display followed by a disastrous second-half, rescued by the strength of character and resilience buried deep within the Tangerine Army. With bogey-team Macclesfield Parish up next week, Clark will be hoping they can join the dots together for a complete performance, building on the patches of intensity here in Manchester for a first win against their Cheshire compatriots.
- James Sharrock (GK)
- Martin Harvey (RB)
- Mark Broomhall (LB)
- James Holden (CB / CM)
- Jonny Clark (CB)
- Rob Elkington (CDM)
- Lawrie Campbell (RM / CM)
- Josh Coleclough (CM / RM)
- Dave Tonks (ST)
- Josh Slade (CM)
- Alex Owen (LM / ST)
12. Pete Davies (LB / CDM)
13. Ryan Stringer (LM)
14. Matt Hilsden (CB)
Man of the Match – JAMES HOLDEN