Northgate 4 – 0 Warrington Ambassadors B
SMCCFL Division 3
After a week of uncertainty about the location of this game, eventually Warrington declared they could not find a pitch local to them and so Northgate played host to their opponents at the County Offices despite officially being the ‘away’ team. Following a week’s rest the previous Saturday, Northgate were attempting to stretch their record unbeaten and winning streaks even further and were full of confidence to do so given their previous 5-1 home win against their opponents in October.
Clark had a large squad available to him, and after recovering from the knee injury that sidelined him for the Audacious victory and a cold in the week, he could take his place in a familiar back four alongside Scott, Hilsden and Harvey. An unfortunate warm-up incident involving catching a football led to goalkeeper Ben Davenport injuring his thumbs, but luckily James Sharrock was on hand to don the gloves as the conspiracy against him ever playing outfield again continues. Ben Jones, Josh Coleclough and James Holden made up the middle trio inside Campbell and Ward on the wings, with Owen once again leading the line.
The early stages of the game were comfortable for the hosts, the ball being passed about nicely. Coleclough in particular was pulling the strings from the centre, his vision and precision able to find anyone else in orange in space from wherever he was receiving the ball. Scott and Campbell were causing problems down the right flank, and a few half-chances came and went as Northgate looked every inch the team looking for their 5th win in a row.
Just as he has done in the previous 3 games, it was Alex Owen who would break the deadlock in the first half. Some neat build up play saw Jones advance through the midfield and find the striker on the penalty spot. Turning his man and shifting the ball onto his left, he struck the ball back across goal and into the corner. Whilst the celebrations were not exactly muted, there was a definite atmosphere across the pitch that it had only been a matter of time, and that there was more to come. Having only scored 8 league goals all season, with 46 against them, Warrington didn’t look to have any sort of confidence or belief that they would turn this around.
What followed was one of the most extraordinary scenes and displays of poor team spirit since Lee Bowyer and Kieran Dyer at St James’ Park in 2005. A long ball caught out the Northgate defence and two Warrington forwards bore down on goal both looking capable of finishing the chance. One of them took the shot but Sharrock made himself big and made an important save and the ball was cleared. The next thing anybody knew though was Martin Harvey flying over to the striker who didn’t take the shot and got him in a classic bearhug in response to the Warrington man running over to and kicking his own teammate! The forward was angry about having the chance taken off him, so booted his fellow player instead. Having been kicked, his teammate turned around and punched him in the face before the pair of them could be separated by both teams. With everyone dumbfounded, the referee calmed the situation and showed 1 red card and 1 yellow, leaving everyone involved with Warrington both amazed and thankful they still had 10 men on the pitch.
Attempting to move on from the craziness, Northgate began exploiting the additional space now available and were moving the ball well. An immediate chance to punish the visitors went begging though as Clark put a free header wide from a Coleclough corner, looking for his 2nd of the season in the same style as he did his first. For all the pressure that was being created though, there were very few clear cut chances being formed and a change around came on 30 minutes. Harvey and Ward made way on the left side for Broomhall and Heathcote, but it was the strong right flank that finally made the impact it had been threatening. Campbell picked up a loose ball in his own half and made a dazzling run past 2 or 3 players into the opposing end before picking out Owen on the edge of the box with a pinpoint diagonal pass. With a first touch that his ex-England international namesake would have been proud of, the Northgate talisman brought the ball down with ease and then caressed it into the corner for his 10th goal in the last 6 matches.
Half time arrived with Northgate cruising at 2-0, and Clark introduced ‘bad thumbs Ben’ into the fray at right back, prompting a shuffle around. Scott moved to the right wing, Campbell to the centre and Holden came off after a hard-working first half pushing the play forwards. The message was clear: get an early goal and put this game to bed. So, in true Northgate style, Warrington got back into the match.
Whether it was complacency, a revived sense of urgency from Warrington, or just struggling to adapt to the positional changes, Northgate were a yard off the pace of their opponents in the opening stages of the second period. Hilsden was being loud and vocal at the back to keep things organised but moving further up the ball was being lost easily and coming straight back to the defence. Sharrock was forced into a couple of good saves, catching and holding on with confidence to ease the pressure, but the Tangerines needed to step up a level.
With 30 minutes still to play, Ward and Harvey were reintroduced to try to spark some life back into the hosts. Scott – who had had a goal disallowed due to Heathcote being judged to be interfering with play in an offside decision – and Owen, despite being on a hat-trick, were removed as Ward went up front and Harvey made a rare appearance on the wing. It wasn’t long before the decision was justified as the two substitutes combined for the all-important 3rd goal; Harvey bearing down on goal but selflessly deciding Ward was in a better position he squared it and the finish was applied. Something appeared to click again for the hosts, the effort levels clicked up a gear the visitors began to look tired and like the floodgates could open. Campbell nearly made it 4 a minute later when played through the middle and 1 on 1 with the keeper but the shot with the outside of his boot bounced agonisingly wide of the post.
Pressure continued to build on the Warrington goal, with the joy coming mostly down the Northgate right again. Half chances came some more for Ward, Jones and Heathcote, but to no avail. Jones and Coleclough were continuing to dominate with the ball on the floor from the centre of the pitch, and it was a flowing move that came all the way from the defence that finished it off. Sharrock and Broomhall exchanged passes, Jones dropped deep to collect and drove forward, using his fellow midfielders before receiving it back further nearer the opposing half. Spreading it to Harvey, the winger set the ball back to the advanced full back Davenport on the corner of the box. From here options were limited, but the man best known for stopping the ball going in the goal unleashed a ferocious arrow-like shot right across the face of the goal and into the top corner. The record crowd of 7 went wild, and the whole team (apart from Sharrock who was now claiming his thumbs also hurt) ran over to the goalscorer to celebrate his first ever goal for the club.
With 15 minutes to play, attention turned to keeping a clean sheet for just the second time this season. Holden was reintroduced and replaced Clark at centre-back with the instruction of seeing the game out. Owen and Scott also came back on in the last 10 and 5 minutes respectively, the former in a bid for his 3rd hat-trick of the season. He was desperately unlucky not to have it as well. After missing a couple of good chances with his head, he finally had the ball in the back of the net again – but this time it was ruled out for 2 other teammates being offside. The game then reached the conclusion that seemed inevitable after the first 20 minutes after Northgate led and Warrington were reduced in number, but credit to the visitors for continuing to battle well and put the Tangerines under pressure for a good period in the second half.
Five wins out of five and now six unbeaten is a run of form that will face the biggest test of all next week as Northgate prepare to host St Kentigern’s. Themselves winners against Kay Street on Saturday, that means the Manchester outfit have won promotion from Division 3 and now scored 90 goals in just 14 games – 8 of them against Northgate back in November. Clark will hope that the recent upturn in form, a home leg and a larger squad available might just be able to cause them a few problems. But in being so quick to look forward after a 4-0 win shows just how far this Northgate squad have come this season, and they are hungry for more.
- James Sharrock (GK)
- Steve Scott (RB / RM)
- Martin Harvey (LB / RM)
- Matt Hilsden (CB)
- Jonny Clark (CB)
- Ben Jones (CDM)
- Lawrie Campbell (RM / CM)
- Josh Coleclough (CM)
- Alex Owen (ST)
- James Holden (CM / CB)
- Matt Ward (LM / ST)
- Mark Broomhall (LB)
- Mike Heathcote (LM)
- Ben Davenport (RB)
Man of the Match – JOSH COLECLOUGH