Northgate 2 – 4 Poynton Connect
After two weeks without a game due to cancellations, Northgate prepared for their second consecutive game against Poynton after the tightly contested 5-4 away from home in September, and their first home game in six weeks. With Ben Jones called away on international duty late on Thursday night, Clark was left with a squad of 13 with which he opted for a more familiar 4-5-1 formation after the 3-5-2 experiment last time out. Davenport was given the nod for another start in goal behind a regular back four of Scott, Hilsden, Clark and Broomhall. Thomas and Ward gave plenty of pace out on the wings whilst Elkington, Heathcote and Campbell solidified the midfield behind Morgan leading the line for the first time on his own.
Given the length of time between games and particularly since playing at home, Northgate could have been forgiven for a slow and rusty start, but it was the men in orange that started the brighter. Poynton’s grey strip reflected the wet and windy weather, and their start will have put a dampener on the spirits of their travelling supporters who had turned up in number. Campbell’s persistence in midfield and the pace of Ward and Thomas meant that Northgate were providing a significant threat and getting a lot of the ball in the attacking third, but unfortunately with no final ball finding a way through. A couple of half-chances put wide provided promise but nothing to shout about.
Poynton began to grow into the game and returned to their familiar long-ball style that brought them some success last time, but, prepared for the assault, the back four comfortably and consistently cut out the first ball, and Davenport was always on hand to come out and claim anything that ran long. With both teams looking more solid and organised than three weeks ago, it seemed as if it would take something special to break the deadlock, and something special it was. Captain Morgan picked up the ball in space around 25 yards out, and with no clear options around him swung his right boot and curled a sublime effort right into the top corner of the near post, leaving the goalkeeper with no chance. Northgate led for the first time since their last home game and it was no more than they deserved.
A reaction came as expected from the visitors and they showed patches of good football, patiently passing the ball around but orange shirts remained organised and made their tackles well. With only a few minutes to go until half time though, Broomhall, who had dealt expertly with his winger all half, brought down his man just inside the box with a late challenge. The penalty was dispatched and shortly afterwards the break arrived with the game now holding a very different vibe. Clark was full of encouragement for his men after one of the most positive 45 minutes of the season, and instructions were for more of the same at both ends.
The visitors flew out of the blocks in the second half, and put the back four under pressure with their movement and commitment to throwing numbers forward. Clark made two quick changes and Sharrock and Crank replaced Thomas and Broomhall respectively. With the pressure piling on, Clark and Hilsden were having to make several last ditch tackles and blocks as the Poynton’s movement caused problems. It told around 15 minutes into the half when a cross-field ball from left to right found the winger who neatly turned inside the onrushing Clark, played a low cross into the centre where the striker finished leaving Davenport without a chance. Now behind, Northgate needed to push on but it wasn’t long before two became three. A corner came into the six yard box and straight to Davenport, but full of confidence after a few excellent punches in the first half he opted for the punch again – this time missing it and hitting the ball into his own goal.
Northgate heads began to get flustered and panicked now two goals behind in a game that had felt comfortable for 40 minutes. Sharrock provided strength down the right and delivered a couple of good balls for Morgan but the defenders were equal to them. Controversy then followed as Campbell appeared to have got a toe to a ball the goalkeeper was picking up, when the keeper reacted angrily and ran aggressively at Campbell looking set to throw a punch. Fortunately, a Poynton defender stepped in to de-escalate the situation, but somehow the visitors came away with a free-kick after it all calmed down. Morgan continued to threaten whenever he could get on the ball, and saw a couple of close efforts flash wide, and Ward also had one saved.
Just as things began to seem a bit more positive, Morgan appeared to all the world to be fouled just wide of the penalty area and indeed both teams stopped for a moment expecting the whistle. However, the old adage of ‘play to the whistle’ can never be ignored, and Poynton’s speed of thought was quicker than their counterparts and launched a huge ball downfield to an unmarked striker who passed across to his partner to make it four.Clark pushed Sharrock up front to partner Morgan, moved Campbell out wide in a move to 4-4-2 aimed at getting the ball into the box and causing some problems. Still seeming in the game, the hosts pushed on and it was Ward who broke through with an excellent run through the defence and powered the ball home into the roof of the net to keep hopes alive. 10 minutes remained, and Northgate needed two goals to take it to extra time.
A series of long throws and corners threatened the goal but Poynton were holding firm, literally in one case as a Clark header appeared to be ‘elbowed’ off the line by one defender. Another weaving Ward run couldn’t quite find the space to shoot, Campbell had a long range shot just tipped over the bar, and Sharrock very nearly got on the end of a shoddy backpass before the goalkeeper. Davenport’s arrival in the box for a corner signified the kitchen sink being thrown, but it wasn’t to be and the referee blew the final whistle as another long throw was cleared.
It goes down as another desperately disappointing defeat for Northgate, a solid effort on the most part tinged with misfortune and mistakes. After the game the squad were disconsolate, but Clark was quick to remind everyone that the defeats are not an indicator of this team’s ability but a combination of inexperience and some poor luck. Just five competitive games into the existence of the club, there is much promise and potential, and as such Clark has urged patience and persistence from his players. Ultimately, they are out of the Cup and into the Trophy. However, with a bye in the next round they are automatically into the quarter final scheduled for March, which gives something positive to focus on for the future.
1. Ben Davenport (GK)
2. Steve Scott (RB)
3. Mark Broomhall (LB)
4. Matt Hilsden (CB)
5. Jonny Clark (CB)
6. Mike Heathcote (CDM)
7. Lawrie Campbell (CAM)
8. Rob Elkington (CDM)
9. Theo Thomas (RM)
10. Russ Morgan (ST)
11. Matt Ward (LM)
MAN OF THE MATCH: Jonny Clark