Northgate reign over Kings
Kings Church Bolton 2 – 5 Northgate
SMCCFL Division 3
Seven days is a long time in football. Much can happen whilst all appearing consistent in two strong wins. One week previous Clark was cheering the Tangerines on in the Charity Cup from Majorca, Elkington once again winning at the helm to increase media speculation surrounding Clark’s position. Rumours of division in the squad were beginning to come to the fore as no fewer than 10 of Elkington’s winning squad became unavailable for Clark’s return the following week. So as Saturday rolled around, a win and three points to start off the league season were important for many reasons.
With only hat-trick hero Owen, midfield maestro Campbell and self-proclaimed “Mighty” Martin Harvey remaining, the Northgate squad was stretched to its limits to find a team to travel to Bolton and nine new men came in. James Sharrock returned in goal – keen to match Slade on the number of wins for the club and stop his run of being present for every win – ahead of a defence of Steve Scott, Harvey, Clark and Broomhall who returned 10 days after the birth of his first child. With a lack of regular central midfielders available, Ali Kapasi took on the mantle of the defensive role behind Campbell and Matt Ward – himself still incredibly looking to win his first match for the club. Josiah Mainwaring and Scott McNeil prepared for their 2nd and 1st competitive games respectively on the right and left wings whilst Owen took up his familiar role as the lone striker.
As the rain lashed down from the grey Bolton sky, spirits were high in the Northgate camp with the new and returning faces excited for their first match of the season, and it was nearly the newest member of the squad that made the breakthrough in the first minute. A quick throw-in from the right found its way into the box into unthinkable space. McNeil came running in from the left and latched onto it, only to put it straight at the keeper who managed to somehow keep hold of it. Apart from this early opening, the first 10 minutes were fairly level as both sides tried to figure each other out. However, it was to be the home team that was to score first.
Striding forward for his first long-throw opportunity of the game, Clark eyed up the targets in the box. Given the numbers of changes in the squad and relative inexperience on the pitch though, there was very little height to aim at as the Kings squad was vastly taller and more physical in all areas. Ward won the flick on at the front post but it fell straight back to the hosts who hit on a devastating counter-attack. Catching a couple of defensive efforts off balance, they eased through to the edge of the Northgate box and their striker curled in a fine effort that rebounded in off the post.
As an urgency swept across the team, in desire as much as in style of play, the Tangerine army refocussed and a period of dominance soon commenced. A string of chances materialised as the midfield trio of Kapasi, Ward and Campbell began to feel at home in the centre with each other. Kapasi was expertly breaking up the play and simultaneously controlling it and finding his teammates. Despite the lack of height, set-pieces were a fruitful source of chances, with Clark tantalisingly heading just over the bar from a Campbell corner. The equaliser though came with a bit of quality from centre-forward Alex Owen. With a free-kick just outside the box struck against the crossbar just five minutes earlier, a second opportunity presented itself in a similar position and he wasn’t to pass it up. This time, the power and curl were perfect as it looped over the outstretched goalkeeper and found its way into the top left corner of the goal.
With reinforced confidence and belief, Northgate pushed on and looked to punish Kings and prey on their inexperience, this being their first ever competitive fixture. Another couple of half chances came and went, but again it came to a set piece from Owen to put the visitors ahead. From a similar position, everyone was expecting him to go for his second goal. Sharrock, on the other hand, was (as always) making himself heard from the other side of the pitch. Spotting McNeill in space to the left of the box, he instructed Owen to pass it instead of shooting and Owen obliged…in a way. A little chipped pass sailed through to Campbell in the 6-yard box and the midfielder volleyed home fiercely past the goalkeeper in what was claimed was a pre-planned routine despite Sharrock’s directions.
Establishing a two-goal cushion was the crucial ‘turning of the screw’ that Northgate needed, and it was Kapasi again in the thick of the action to create it. Pouncing on a loose ball after the referee played advantage after a trip on Ward, Kapasi saw Owen making a run and threaded an inch-perfect, defence-dividing pass. The striker, high on confidence, took the ball past the onrushing keeper and went one better on his previous effort after rounding him, delivering what he described as ‘an accomplished left foot finish’ into the empty goal. A few set-pieces late into the half threatened to pull one back for Kings, but safe hands from Sharrock and a block on the line from Clark ensured the score remained 3-1 at the break.
Full of encouragement at the break, everyone knew that one more goal could kill this game off or let Kings back in. Assistant manager Steve Scott was keen to ensure the squad remained calm and the passing game stayed central to the gameplan, gesticulating silently with his arms until someone recognised what he meant.
After the restart, Northgate picked up where they’d left off and unleashed a barrage of chances upon the hosts’ goal. Owen had multiple golden opportunities when 1-on-1 with the keeper but his opponent was equal to the shots every time, leaving the striker hanging his head in his shirt each time wondering if he was ever going to get his 2nd hat-trick in as many games. Josiah Mainwaring, a constant threat with his pace and physicality down the wing almost got his first Northgate goal after a barnstorming run saw him infiltrate the defence only to strike against the post, after which Ward could only find the defender on the line with the rebound. With chances going begging, the danger was never far away at the other end. Sharrock began to be called into action, making a couple of fantastic diving saves to push the ball wide. For all of the aerial advantage the Bolton outfit had though, it was a low set-piece that got them back in it. A well-struck corner was met with a low volley hit viciously into the bottom corner too hard and fast for the man on the post to do anything about that. In a flash, in a game that should have been out of reach, Northgate were in danger.
A flurry of attacks began to hail down like the September rain, a change of personnel bringing a pacey threat to Sharrock’s goal as Kings began to peel the orange defence. Throwing their heads at everything, the defensive four were battling to keep the opposition at bay. Again Sharrock was throwing himself at everything and pulled off a wonder-save to keep his team ahead, flying across the goal to stop a glancing header destined for the corner. Finally arriving after a delayed journey, debutant Pete Davies was introduced midway through the half to bring some more height to the midfield as McNeil made way after an impressive debut himself, with Ward moving back to his familiar left wing position. The impact was almost immediate. A few headers and passes to ease himself into the game, and before long Davies found himself on the edge of the box receiving from Owen who’d turned his man, and he sweetly curled the ball into the gaping left side of the goal with all the sensitivity of holding a newborn baby.
This seemed to knock the stuffing out of Kings. At 4-2, there was a palpable breath of relief around the visitors. Matt Ward gave way for the final 10 minutes allowing a reintroduction of McNeil, and, despite a few long balls and pushing forward, the Northgate defence stood firm. The icing on the cake came as Owen latched onto yet another perfect pass from the midfield, Kapasi providing the assist again as man-of-the-match Alex Owen FINALLY secured his hat-trick with what turned out to be the final kick of the game. After the game he had this to say to the press:
Goal number three was as much relief as anything. After missing chance after chance for the 3rd hat-trick in four games, another through ball from Ali saw me race behind the defence again and lob the advancing keeper.
Under-pressure Clark had similar sentiments of relief:
It’s been a long week and there have been many challenges. The team were fantastic today, right across the pitch. Ten changes to a winning squad is never easy but this shows the strength in depth we have this season, with players able to come in and challenge in every position on the pitch. Three points in the Charity Cup, now three points to start the league in difficult circumstances is an excellent start but now we must kick on. My main hope and focus is the unity of the squad and now we move on to welcome Westwood back in Chester next week.
1. James Sharrock (GK)
2. Steve Scott (RB)
3. Mark Broomhall (LB)
4. Martin Harvey (CB)
5. Jonny Clark (CB)
6. Ali Kapasi (CDM)
7. Josiah Mainwaring (RM)
8. Lawrie Campbell (CM)
9. Alex Owen (ST)
10. Matt Ward (CM)
11. Scott McNeil (LM)
12. Pete Davies (CM)
MAN OF THE MATCH – Alex Owen