(Second) Half the World (went) Away
Northgate 2 – 6 Oasis Reds
Three weeks have passed since these teams last met in their pre-season friendly, enough time for Northgate to get their hands on their first ever kit sponsored by Signature Audio, Joe Bullen’s PA company. With their usual home ground out of action it had been suggested that the game might have to move to an away match in Warrington, but the Northgate board worked hard during the week to secure a pitch in Hoole which was in very good condition. Debuts were handed to Northgate duo Mike Raven and Alex Owen, starting at left back and centre forward respectively, as Clark opted for a 4-4-2 formation to allow Dave Tonks to partner Owen whilst Russ Morgan and Ben Jones partnered up in midfield. Theo Thomas and Mike Heathcote provided the width ahead of a regular defence including Scott, Hilsden and Clark.
Instead of their usual red, Oasis donned their white shirts to remove any chance of a clash with the striking orange shirts, black shorts and orange socks of Northgate. But, despite the new shirts, it was the away team that started the brightest as they cut through the middle of the pitch twice in the opening 5 minutes to force saves from James Sharrock in goal. This sparked Northgate into action, and their first real chance came from a corner as Hilsden headed back across goal to Morgan who headed just wide. After about 20 minutes, the breakthrough finally came with a bit of route one play. Sharrock launched a free kick from deep in his own half forward, Tonks beat the defender to flick the ball goalwards and with the keeper racing out, Owen just beat him to it and poked the ball up and into the goal to make it 1-0.
The lead wasn’t long lived though as a long ball of their own saw an Oasis striker in acres of space running onto the ball. Clark gave chase recovering from out wide and launched into a long slide tackle but the attacker was too quick and Clark ended up bringing him down just inside the box. Sharrock got a solid hand on the penalty but it was hit just too hard and Oasis were level. Belief then grew and Northgate got anxious as they found themselves in familiar territory, and before long an Oasis corner wasn’t cleared properly and the second phase saw the ball drop perfectly for an Oasis header across goal. This wasn’t without controversy though as a second Oasis player appeared to tap the ball in on the line rendering him offside – but the referee deemed him not to have touched it and awarded the goal.
With five minutes to go in the first half, Heathcote provided another long ball forward towards Tonks and again it proved to be the key. Owen and Tonks both bore down on the goalkeeper with Owen this time turning provider for Tonks to tap in to equalise. Having withstood a lot of pressure from being outnumbered in midfield, Clark then made a tactical change to the 4-5-1 system used predominately in pre-season by bringing off Tonks, pushing Heathcote infield and bringing on Matt Ward on the left wing. An instant impact from Ward saw him win a header out wide, run onto the following ball, and with some neat work with Morgan, win a free-kick that was saved on the stroke of half time.
Northgate started the second half as they left off and were on top for an extended period. Morgan, Owen and Jones all came close with some decent efforts at goal but didn’t force a save out of the goalkeeper whose best work of the day was collecting and punching clear many of Clark’s threatening long throws. Thomas made way for Davenport on the right wing, and eventually it was the substitute Matt Ward who made the next breakthrough, finishing neatly under the goalkeeper after a composed pass from Owen – only for it to be agonisingly ruled out for offside. 2-2 it remained until the 65th minute when an Oasis break down the left saw a cut back to the striker who, with seemingly no space, managed to fire a bullet into the top corner at the near post. Minutes later, another break down the left allowed the winger to fire across goal and Sharrock’s solid parry out was unlucky to fall straight to a white shirt who gladly tapped in to make it four.
With 20 minutes to go it was looking bleak for Northgate as they had a feeling of déjà vu. They continued to battle but Oasis were full of confidence and enjoying their football. An injury to Heathcote confirmed the decision to return to 4-4-2 as Tonks was reintroduced in an attempt to recover the game, but this again left the midfield outnumbered. With lots of tired legs, the game opened up and chances appeared at either end. Shrugging off numerous challenges, Morgan threaded a beauty of a ball through to Owen who himself looked to have been fouled inside the area but although he managed to stay on his feet his finish trickled wide past the post. The game then soon disappeared as a contest as Sharrock got the ball stuck under his feet when turning away from a centre forward who then easily passed into the goal from 18 yards. In the dying minutes another cruel blow came courtesy of the goal of the game with a superb curling effort high into the top corner to make it a somewhat unrepresentative 2-6 scoreline.
This was undoubtedly an improved performance from Northgate despite the result worsening from three weeks previous, but the last 20 minutes will make that a hard pill to swallow. Clark knows that it is still very early days in this club’s life and that this Oasis team is a strong one, so confidence in the team will grow game by game. He has gone on record to say the Charity Cup this season is about gaining much needed experience in the squad, and now everyone involved is looking forward to having six games in the next seven weeks to build some momentum in the league, starting next week back at the County Offices against SA Central North.
Words by Jonny Clark.
1. James Sharrock (GK)
2. Steve Scott (RB)
3. Mike Raven (LB)
4. Matt Hilsden (CB)
5. Jonny Clark (CB)
6. Ben Jones (CM)
7. Theo Thomas (RM)
8. Russ Morgan (CM)
9. Alex Owen (ST)
10. Dave Tonks (ST)
11. Mike Heathcote (LM)
Man Of The Match: Russ Morgan