Northgate Russell up a Win
Audacious 1 – 2 Northgate
SMCCFL Division 3
Three wins in their opening three games of the new season created a sense a hope, excitement and belief that Northgate could challenge on all fronts this year.
Two frustrating defeats in the two following games burst that bubble and left the Tangerines well off the pace of early season leaders St Kentigerns, and lingering in mid table.
One week of rest due to a postponed Charity Cup match allowed opportunity to take stock, rest and re-evaluate seasonal targets.
The 2017/18 season saw Northgate do the double over this week’s opposition, Audacious church, and included one of the season highlights in Josh Slade’s infamous overhead kick attempt. A Saturday off and time to remember these victories restored belief within the squad, and so a confident group set off to Manchester to get the league campaign back on track. The urgency felt in needing to do so sums up the level of maturity now felt in the club, a stride forward from the early ‘nearly’ days.
Rest also gave Messrs Clark and Jones chance to recover from their lingering calf and foot injuries, the latter returning to the fold for the first time since the opening day. Russ Morgan made his first appearance since the famous Charity Cup win, whilst Mainwaring and McNeil completed the returns list. Davenport took place behind a relatively experienced back four of Scott, Harvey, Clark and Broomhall, with Jones, Slade and Campbell making a formidable central midfield trio. Mainwaring and Owen began the day on the wings with Morgan leading the line as a lone striker.
Incredibly, in the week leading up to the game it came to light that Audacious’ first kit is also bright orange. Having lost their pink kit used last year in these fixtures, Northgate were forced to source a kit from elsewhere and so donned the yellow and blue of Clark’s Christleton High School. With shirt numbers ranging from 70-85, it was Owen who took the hit the hardest. Missing his beloved number 9 shirt, he got creative and decided on the number 72 so it adds up, and his creativity rubbed off as he worked down the left flank to play in Morgan and Campbell in the opening stages.
Having won the toss for the first ever time, Slade opted to play into the extremely strong wind that was blowing down the pitch. Despite some bright play from Owen, Campbell and Morgan going forward in patches though, the pattern of the half was difficult defensive doggedness from the men in yellow. Unable to simply clear their lines, the emphasis had to be on playing the ball on the floor through the midfield, even when under pressure. With Jones threading the moves together from his deep lying position, there were neat passages of play that cut through the Audacious defensive unit with precision. However, just as common were misplaced passes flying straight out of play, or worse – to an attacking opponent. The hosts didn’t need much of an invitation to shoot either, making full use of a strong wing and slick, wet surface to rain down fire on Davenport’s goal. Resolute and focused though, the Northgate keeper was agile and alert as he dove down low to parry out some nerve-wracking shots skidding along the grass. Two examples of the strength of the wind were evident as Davenport threw the ball out to Harvey in front of him, only for the defender to have to retreat behind where it had initially been thrown from to collect it. Campbell was also called into important evasive action as a swerving corner was drilled in and was on its way to curl directly into the goal before the midfielder on the post was on his toes to head away.
Knowing that to get to the break level would be an achievement in these conditions, it was no surprise that Northgate celebrated strongly as they broke the deadlock. Able to pass the ball up towards the halfway line, Harvey then found himself with time and space from deep to attempt a long cross-field ball as the wing momentarily subsided. Morgan was on the end of it and rounded the goalkeeper but another defender blocked his effort from the edge of the box. What resulted was a comedy of errors, as the clearance hit another man, fell to Campbell to who was tackled, but then as he sprinted towards the loose ball again and threw in a slide tackle of his own, the ball bounced kindly off his outstretched foot and crossed the line! All of this was also taking place after the Audacious keeper was lying on the ground at the edge of his area complaining about a knock in the first tackle on Morgan. The referee (an Audacious player on his comeback from injury) took no notice though, and Northgate were able to weather the very real storm until half time.
A much needed breather was afforded to the visitors who were feeling bright in both their performance and their multi-coloured kit; the orange socks really giving an international flavour to their attire. Calls rang out from all over the team to not resort to long balls now with the assistance of the wind, and Clark was also keen to point out a poor record of converting half-time leads into full-time victories; especially following the debacle of the second half performance two weeks previous. A straight swap was made on the right wing with Mainwaring making way for Scott McNeil; with Morgan’s first half display of how to hold the ball up and make the right decision enough for him to keep his role despite the temptation to swap record goalscorer Owen back to his usual place.
With the wind almost literally in their sails, Northgate started strongly after the restart, with McNeil gambling on some of the passes out wide going past the full back. Space was appearing all over the place out wide, and Owen was also keen to exploit it. For as right as they were for how tough conditions would be to play in against the wind though, they were as wrong for how easy it would be from the opposite end. If first touches were not perfection, the ball was running away and chances were going begging. Even simple passing across the back four faltered as anything not glued to the floor would fly well away and land at the feet of the opposition – as Clark found out all too easily. Campbell, Slade and Jones were working in perfect harmony; creativity, industry and composure, but just before the hour mark it was the opening goalscorer who could have doubled the lead with a gilt-edged chance. Some delightful play through the middle ended up with Campbell a couple of yards from goal swinging his left boot at the ball which everyone around expected to hit the back of the net. Uncharacteristically though it flew wide of the post and far down the field behind the pitch giving the visitors enough time to close their mouths after the shock.
Unable to find a decisive second, belief in the Audacious camp grew. A tricky right winger and their strong number 9 in the centre were making themselves known and were becoming more and more direct in their approach. Harvey, Clark and Davenport were solid centrally though and with able support from Broomhall and Scott it looked like it would take something special to level the game. It was not. A looping corner towards the back post came in and as Clark set himself to jump for the header, two hands in his back nudged him down and onto the floor as the Audacious man steered his free header into the open corner of the goal. With the game having reached a stage of ‘fouls are unlikely to be given’ with the inexperienced referee, there was no chance of retribution as the official wasn’t even stood anywhere close.
A tasty final 20 minutes ensued as both teams fought for the win. It became more and more difficult to control though for the man in the middle, as not punishing a headlock from a defender’s leg on Campbell seemed to increase frustrations on both sides. Calls for handballs, offsides and fouls – both big and small – were being waved away and it almost boiled over as a striker left a foot in on Davenport after he came out to claim an overhit pass.
As temperatures rose and heavy legs sank, Broomhall made way for the reintroduction of calm head and fitness machine Josiah Mainwaring. A tactical shift then saw McNeil drop to left full back as Mainwaring returned to the wing, as well as Morgan dropping to the head of the midfield trio, Campbell moving to the left flank, and Alex Owen moving to his favoured leading role in search of a famous winner. Several half chances came and went, with efforts with blocked or pulled just wide by Slade, Jones and Owen, and despite Northgate’s increasing dominance the game had a feeling of ‘one of those games’ that would see frustration at not getting what was deserved.
In scenes never seen before on a football pitch, Slade began cramping up after his endless battling up and down the pitch, and Jones also became understandably tired in the centre – doing incredibly well to play the whole match after so long out injured. Russ Morgan’s deeper involvement therefore became instrumental in continuing to drive forward, and it was eventually his piece of quality that unlocked the door. A delightful through ball split the Audacious centre half and full back, and found both Owen and Mainwaring careering towards the edge of the box. Not many would dare to take the ball off the leading talisman at this point, but according to Mainwaring’s post-match interview, Owen himself selflessly left the ball for his teammate to fire home via the goalkeepers very slippery hands. Relief and joy were etched across the faces of all the men in yellow, none more so than Mainwaring after his first ever goal for the club.
With a few minutes still to play out, Audacious threw everything they had forward and a couple of very nervy moments required last ditch challenges, brave headers and perhaps one or two fortunate bounces of the ball all across the back four. The final whistle went and Northgate were spent. A hugely hard-working display from the Gaters had earned them three valuable points, not only for the league table but for the restoration of belief that they belong in the competitive end of this division. Their hosts had proved a much more difficult side to break down than last season, but a three in three record against the Manchester mega-church is immensely satisfying. The rearranged Charity Cup match next week takes the attention away from the league season once more, but with much to play for against Division 2 City Church, it is certainly not a game to wave away ahead of the local derby against Warrington Ambassadors at the end of October.
1. Ben Davenport (GK)
2. Steve Scott (RB)
3. Mark Broomhall (LB)
4. Martin Harvey (CB)
5. Jonny Clark (CB)
6. Ben Jones (CDM)
7. Josiah Mainwaring (RM)
8. Josh Slade (CM)
9. Russ Morgan (ST / CM)
10. Lawrie Campbell (CM / LM)
11. Alex Owen (LM / ST)
12. Scott McNeil (RM / LB)
Man of the Match – RUSSELL MORGAN