Bridge Bolton 1 – 4 Northgate
SMCCFL Trophy Round 1
Knockout football has not been kind to Northgate in the past. Defeats to Poynton, Kay Street United and most recently Warrington Ambassadors 2 have left fans with about as much hope of a cup run as Newcastle fans. Worse still, with all those frustrations coming against opposition of their own division, an away draw to Division 1 outfit Bridge Bolton did little to stir ambitions in the Trophy competition.
On the back of a dramatic late win last week at home to Macclesfield Parish, Clark took a strong squad into Bolton to be greeted by a field without any goalposts and a metal container containing little more than benches and disease for changing rooms. Ben Davenport was making his return from suspension and starting in goal for the first time in 2 months when he dislocated his thumb against Kay Street. Steve Scott, Matt Hilsden, Jonny Clark and Mark Broomhall lined up in a back four that resembled a familiar sight from the 2017/18 campaign, behind a central midfield trio of Jones, Holden and Coleclough. Matt Ward returned from injury to start on the left wing, with Lawrie Campbell on the right providing support on a very wide pitch for talisman Alex Owen.
Finally getting under way after the home manager had to pick up several lumps of dog turd off the pitch, the Northgate defence immediately did their best impersonation of the mess by allowing the Bolton forwards to walk straight through them and shoot at Davenport with the opening 30 seconds. Thankfully the keeper was switched on and gathered to spare his teammates the embarrassing opening they had in his previous game against Kay Street. The hosts looked the sharper in the early stages, with the left winger particularly causing problems running with the ball, but they were unable to create any more meaningful chances.
Having weathered the early storm, Northgate began to get a grip of the game and realised that the space out wide was suited to the pace of Ward and Campbell. A couple of half chances came and went to warn the hosts, and on 20 minutes the deadlock was broken when a big Davenport punt down the left wing found Ward who controlled expertly to beat his man. In space he then picked out Owen with a low cross and the striker finished accurately, stroking it into the bottom corner with his first touch. Five minutes later and the lead was doubled. Big Ben was this time credited with the assist as another long kick down the middle had the opposition centre back troubled, sticking a leg out and missing the ball, allowing Owen a 1 on 1 with the keeper which he buried with confidence for his 5th goal in 3 games – levelling last season’s total of 17.
In shock, the division 1 outfit were clearly struggling to get a grip on the game began to argue with each other as well as the referee when he continued to punish several poor late challenges they put in; mostly on Josh Coleclough who was covering a lot of ground in midfield. He, as well as Holden and Jones had been making sure that the aerial battle had been a truly Tangerine affair, and it was to be a combination of the midfielder’s strengths that took the lead to 3.
Standing over a free kick in a wide position, 10 yards out from the box, Coleclough eyed up the targets and curled in a wonderful ball to the backpost where Holden got up highest and nodded it down into the side of the goal to send the visitors wild. Ward and Scott made way for the fresh legs of Stringer and Harvey with 15 minutes to play in the first half, and helped see out the target of a clean sheet at 45 minutes. Despite the hosts’ claims that Northgate were the worst team they’d faced all season, the Tangerine’s direct play had torn them to pieces and they led 3-0 at the break.
The most common and worrying theme of Northgate’s season has been second half capitulations, particularly in the opening 10 minutes. With specific instructions given as to how to keep things ticking over for what was sure to be a testing 45 minutes, they set out with confidence. A couple of changes for Bolton gave them fresh impetus up front though, and their sharpness and energy caused instant problems as Clark and Hilsden worked out how to deal with the change of threat; their tricky winger having moved more central also.
After seemingly seeing off a tough 5 minutes, it looked as though Northgate would be able to push on again themselves. However, a quick breakaway from a set-piece caught the defence unawares and as Harvey slipped as he positioned himself to head the ball, the home striker was through alone with Davenport. He managed to pull off a great save low to his right, but another Bolton forward was first to react to the rebound and slotted it in to give them hope. With a decent sized following on the touchline there was a lot of noise to make life difficult for Clark’s men, and after recent collapses their resolve would face a real test here now.
A self-enforced substitution by Harvey to change his boots meant that Steve Scott returned to action again, and Northgate weathered a bit of a storm. A Broomhall injury then allowed for Harvey to enter the fray again, this time at left full back. Half-chances came and went for both teams in the ensuing period, with Owen coming close to getting his hat-trick after almost gaining fortune from sloppy defending once more but not quite being able to get the ball out from under his feet quick enough before defensive reinforcements arrived.
Being made to defend a succession of corners meant that Northgate’s confidence in the air and at set-pieces was growing, and they’d threatened with more of their own as well. It was to be in this way that the nerve-settling fourth goal would be added. A Josh Coleclough corner was whipped in, curling in towards the goal when the keeper had to react late to tip it back over the bar – a much more successful attempt than the Westwood goalkeeper 2 weeks previously. The resulting corner would be the one that counted. Another excellent delivery came swinging in from the left, and it was met by the onrushing head of Clark to power it into the side of the goal. His first goal of the season, and his first headed goal for the club, the delight was obvious as he wheeled away in celebration with his right arm raised above his head. There was no denying it, this was a crucial goal in denting the Bolton belief and increasing Tangerine tenacity.
Twenty minutes remained on the clock and it was still not to be a formality, despite the plump 3 goal cushion the visitors now sat on. Bridge Bolton would do everything they could to squash that cushion down; sitting on it, pulling feathers out of it, even kicking Lawrie Campbell in the back after he’d been DDT’d to the ground. As tempers began to fray (which, incidentally is as much damage as Bolton actually did to the cushion) for the hosts, some nasty challenges were going in and frankly ludicrous appeals shouted at the referee. However 5 minutes after being loudly told to go down if he feels anything, the Bolton substitute striker did just that; going down dramatically at the smallest of niggles from a Holden foot. The referee pointed at the spot to the hosts’ jubilation, even with the man fouled admitting he went down very easily. Never one to back away from a challenge though (his recent disciplinary record speaks for itself), Ben Davenport stepped up and pulled off a marvellous save from the spot-kick, getting down low to his left and pushing the ball around the post for a corner. A body blow for Bolton, another step towards a huge Cupset for Northgate.
Time wore on, and the pattern of play continued. Northgate remained resolute in their defence, the back four of Scott, Hilsden, Clark and Harvey performing admirably under sustained pressure and physical threat. Scott had the new left winger comfortably in his pocket, as did Harvey on the other side. Hilsden was winning everything in the air all day, and Clark pulled off a wonderful recovering slide tackle that literally left the forward punching the ground in disgust. As well as this strong disciplined defensive performance, the Gators were looking deadly on the counter. Ward had been reintroduced midway through the second half due to an awful challenge on Coleclough ending his great display. Full on confidence, Davenport pulled off another superb save, launching himself high towards the top corner to palm away a strong effort from the edge of the box. At the other end, good work from Owen ended with Campbell having an effort at goal which was met with a save of equal quality.
A final flurry of anger from a Bolton forward directed at Clark after a strong challenge led to Martin ‘Bodyguard’ Harvey pulling out his famous bearhug again, as the striker threatened to knockout the Northgate manager; refusing to shake hands as the whole affair got strangely out of hand. Continuing a good game, the referee diffused the situation well and the Bolton man took himself off the pitch with just 2 minutes to go.
The final whistle went and a Northgate could celebrate a famous win. Away wins have been hard to come by in their history, but a 4-1 win in Bolton against a team 2 divisions higher up has to go down as one of their best ever results. Handshakes (almost) all round finished off what had been a good contest in all. There could have easily been several more goals in this for both teams, but for Northgate they had much to owe big Ben Davenport who claimed man-of-the-match for his involvement in creating 2 goals and saving a penalty. Back to back wins for the first time since September and unbeaten in 3 shows confidence returning to this squad. With second-placed People’s Church lined up for a return to league action next Saturday, Clark will hope to extend that run and avenge the disappointing turnaround they suffered at home back in October. Further afield, as a result of the fantastic performance here, Northgate also have their first ever quarter final to look forward to in March.
- Ben Davenport (GK)
- Steve Scott (RB)
- Mark Broomhall (LB)
- Matt Hilsden (CB)
- Jonny Clark (CB)
- Ben Jones (CDM)
- Lawrie Campbell (RM / LM)
- Josh Coleclough (CM)
- Alex Owen (ST)
- James Holden (CM)
- Matt Ward (LM)
- Martin Harvey (RB / LB)
- Ryan Stringer (RM)
Man of the Match – BEN DAVENPORT