On, off and on: Northgate secure first win in 3 months after rollercoaster 24 hours!
Northgate 4 – 2 !Audacious
Hours after releasing the team news on the Thursday ahead of the match, a text came through that sent waves of frustration through the Northgate camp: the opposition did not had enough players to field a team and the game was to be rearranged for the 3rd time in as many months against different clubs. Whilst this seemed impossible for a church of around 4000 members, the only positive at this stage was the lack of dilemma at also having to find a replacement referee as booked official Gareth Edwards was called up to an FA Youth match earlier that same day.
Friday morning. A new dawn came, and after all had seemed lost another email came through with news of more players suddenly available for Audacious and a decision from their manager that they will definitely travel and the game is back on. Buoyed by the news, Clark now set about finding a referee – a task that would end up unsuccessful even after an entire evening on the phone. Resigned to the fact he would be taking centre stage with the whistle, it was another despondent disappearance to bed and the end of the night.
Saturday morning. The hours of hope, excitement and anticipation ahead of a game. But this morning felt different as Clark reached for his Weetabix, opting to leave the porridge oats for a day designed for 90 minutes of competitive action. As he sat down to eat, a text from Matt Hilsden came through offering his services for 45 minutes of refereeing to share the job with his manager and defensive partner. This was the lift Clark needed, especially after Audacious had lost their second kit and needed him to get bibs from his school for them to play in. He wolfed down his breakfast with a spring in his step – he would go to the (foot)ball! The morning then took the final step from despair to delight when at 9.30 Clark received a call from Edwards to say his FA game was waterlogged and he was now free to referee the match. It was all in place. Northgate had a full squad of 14, an opposition team and a referee, but most of all – a hunger to win.
With a fairly settled side available, Northgate set out with a familiar looking 4-5-1. Sharrock was in goal behind a back four of Broomhall, Hilsden, Clark and Crank. Slade sat as the holding midfielder behind Holden and Morgan, back in the squad after a few absent weeks, whilst Campbell and Heathcote brought the width. Owen took his position as the lone striker looking to make amends after his first goalless game at Oasis.
Turning up having found their second kit after all, it was perhaps the first game of football ever seen of Orange against Pink, but it was the hosts that started the brighter. Early chances came and went and it was clear that Northgate were in the ascendancy and needed to make a breakthrough. A run from Owen was blocked as he hesitated to shoot, Slade narrowly missed the target with a header from a corner, but the most gilt-edged chance fell to Lawrie Campbell who, after a terrific pulled back ball across the box from Heathcote, found himself unmarked inside the six yard box only to put it wide.
Perhaps it was the guilt of wasting that chance which inspired the opening goal. A quick break after defending a corner saw the ball reach Campbell on the right who instantly fired the ball to the opposite wing for Heathcote. A quick touch out of his feet and a looping cross-shot over the keeper had Heathcote ready to wheel away and celebrate – right up until Owen popped up and tapped it over the line just like his hero David Nugent.
Having ensured that their record of scoring first in every home game was intact, Northgate relaxed slightly and Audacious started to slowly play their way into the game. A few runs out wide got the home defenders on the turn but they were resolute enough to restrict the attackers to long range strikes, most of which sailed safely past the post. Clark’s rotation of midfielders began on 30 minutes with Slade making way for Elkington, who looked instantly comfortable winning headers in the middle and getting the ball passed across the pitch.
A second goal soon followed to give Northgate their first two goal lead since the demolition of SA Central North. Again it was Campbell with a cross-field ball from right to left and again Heathcote provided the finishing quality. Beating his defender and driving just inside the box he unleashed a vicious drive low into the far corner to give the hosts the cushion their first half performance deserved. This was a Northgate side that looked every inch the team they had promised to be in 10-15 minute spells throughout their run of defeats. Working for each other, passing the ball on the floor, creating and taking chances in the final third – Clark was full of praise for a dominating 45 minutes. With Holden leaving at the break, Jones entered the fray for his first appearance since September.
Instructions for the second half were to concentrate when defending set pieces, and that the 3rd goal had to be Northgate’s. The frustration therefore was etched all over the home team’s faces when Audacious scored a header direct from a corner two minutes after kick off. Not only that, but it wasn’t long before a midfielder ran free, played a perfectly weighted through ball past Broomhall to the winger who then finished neatly to stun the hosts with an equaliser five minutes after the break. Northgate were in danger of losing their heads. They had been here before and had a character testing 40 minutes ahead of them in a game they had been well on top of.
An understandably cagey period ensued with the visitors full of confidence and buoyed by the goals. A couple more set-pieces caused minor problems and Sharrock was on hand to comfortably claim more long range efforts whilst Northgate began to play their way back into the game and got the ball on the floor once more. 60 minutes saw the a reshuffle as Wade Crank departed after a solid performance. Heathcote dropped to left back, Owen to the left wing and Morgan moved up front to allow the reintroduction of workhorse Slade. The height and physicality of Morgan provided an additional threat for the opponents’ back four and, although from a set-piece, it proved the difference. Clark, having dispatched of his new “grippy” gloves at half time, delivered his best long throw of the game to land perfectly on the head of Captain Morgan, flicking it goalwards and in off the underside of the bar. The “On, off and on” routine of the matchup was now reflected in the scoring as the hosts led 3-2.
The push for a 4th goal to settle things then saw Northgate ramp up pressure. Despite several stoppages in play due to balls being pumped into the ditch and over the hedge all over the place, concentration remained in the game. With Theo Thomas set to make his introduction, eventual man-of-the-match winner Lawrie Campbell stepped up as a difference maker once again as he struck a delicious half volley from a diagonal 20 yards out agonisingly onto the inside of the post. However, it was the striker’s instinct in Owen to follow it up and be in the right place at the right time to tap in his 7th league goal in four appearances.
That was to be Campbell’s last action, receiving a standing ovation from the two substitutes as he came off for Thomas with 25 minutes still to play. Eager not to relax and let Audacious back into the game, Northgate continued to advance forward and created a number of chances. With Owen chasing a hat-trick he was continuing to find good positions but his best effort ended up well saved by the keeper. A counter-attacking breakaway run by none other than Clark saw him pick up the ball just inside his own half and gallop towards the open space occupied behind a flat-footed defence. Knocking it past the full back all he could see was grass and a goalkeeper ahead when he suddenly felt a foot wrap around his knee to bring him down. A cynical, professional foul that received praise from his teammates yet no punishment from the referee. Thomas finished a trademark jinking run with a decent effort at goal but again it was straight at the goalkeeper, and Owen and Morgan both had chances to shoot closed down well, even with numbers in the box to support. Perhaps the most memorable and golden of chances though fell to Slade as he tackled the goalkeeper on the edge of the box and only had one defender stood on the six yard line to beat from the edge of the box, but he put it wide. The disappointment was etched all over his face as he lay on the ground for what seemed like an eternity afterwards. An opportunity came to redeem himself shortly afterwards as a rolled pass came from Owen on the left, inviting Slade to put his foot through it. He willingly obliged, but unfortunately it was sliced and spun out towards the corner flag.
In the closing 5-10 minutes, Audacious didn’t give up hope, continuing to commit men forward when they had the ball and some neat one-touch passing caused problems as Northgate continued to push on – showing some inexperience of game management from a winning position late on. However with Sharrock marshalling his defence expertly and the desire to get over the line, the match finished 4-2, much to the relief and delight of everybody in orange. Their first win in three months had been a long time coming, and had taken lots of determination, belief and resilience through some results that had been hard to stomach. With one game remaining before the Christmas break, Clark’s target of six points from the three league games in this period all hangs on Macclesfield Parish next week.
1. James Sharrock (GK)
2. Mark Broomhall (RB)
3. Wade Crank (LB)
4. Matt Hilsden (CB)
5. Jonny Clark (CB)
6. Josh Slade (CDM)
7. Lawrie Campbell (RM)
8. James Holden (CM)
9. Alex Owen (ST / LM)
10. Russ Morgan (CM / ST)
11. Mike Heathcote (LM / LB)
MAN OF THE MATCH: Lawrie Campbell