Poynton Connect Five
Poynton Connect 5 – 4 Northgate
The second of two away trips in two weeks saw Northgate travel to Poynton in an attempt to right the wrongs of Kay Street, and put more points on the table. As the rain poured down all across the M56 and beyond, the weather made a timely turn upon arrival, which helped with getting into kit on the roadside. Poynton were coming in to the game off the back of an 8-0 drubbing of Central North SA in their only competitive game so far and were full of confidence, but Northgate hoped to bring them back down to earth.
With Dave Tonks back in the fold after a few weeks out Clark decided to experiment with a 3-5-2 formation, utilising the strength of Hilsden and Tonks at the back alongside himself. Davenport returned in goal, and Lawrie Campbell and Mike Heathcote started in the difficult wing-back roles. Morgan and Elkington retained their places in the middle and Ben Jones came back to replace Slade who was unavailable. Owen returned up front and was partnered by Theo Thomas.
Northgate started brightly on a wet and heavy surface. Jones was linking things up nicely in the middle, and Thomas provided a threat with his pace for the Poynton back four. Instructed to be better with their communication, Clark’s men obliged and the organisation of the back three looked to be going well, with the wing backs working hard to get up and down the flanks. The first goal of the game though came against the run of play and was full of controversy. A long ball down the left saw Clark give chase to a Poynton winger and as he attempted to turn into the box, a Clark slide tackle saw the ball hit the top of his chest which the referee claimed was a handball – despite the clear ball shaped mud mark where it had hit him. The free-kick was drilled into the near post where it ricocheted a couple of times off an attacker’s and Clark’s legs eventually dribbling over the line before Davenport could get there. Disgruntled, Northgate had to lift their heads and continue to play their game, and it wasn’t long before they were level from a familiar source. A long throw from Clark lured the goalkeeper out, and the ball fell to Campbell who knocked it neatly across to Owen for him to finish. The away team then counted themselves unlucky as they could and probably should have had a penalty awarded soon after, as a headed pass across the area from Hilsden was stopped by a Poynton arm but not given by the referee.
The game soon became scrappy with the wet and muddy surface making it difficult to spread the ball around, and slide tackles coming in thick and fast. Poynton’s long ball tactics were therefore working, and hitting the flanks was stretching the back three and taking its toll on Heathcote and Campbell who had to stay reasonably deep more often than not. One ball over the right found a winger who was arguably offside, but his low cross towards the striker was met perfectly and struck hard into the roof of the net…by Clark. His tracking of the Poynton man had got him just ahead of him but at full stretch he couldn’t direct the ball wide of the goal, and registered Northgate’s first OG. Half time soon followed and after a chat with assistant Steve Scott, Clark – involved in every goal so far – decided to change things up. Reverting back to a 4-4-2, Mark Broomhall and Scott replaced Heathcote and Elkington to take up full back roles. Sharrock, who’d replaced Thomas earlier, moved to the left wing and Tonks moved forward to partner Owen up top. The call was to get the ball on the floor and not allow Poynton the time on the ball they’d been given so far.
It didn’t take long for Northgate to equalise either. A cross from the right dropped down and bounced around off a few players failing to clear, dropping kindly to Owen, allowing him to dispatch for his sixth goal in three appearances. At 2-2, the belief was now there that they could go on and win. However, they fell behind again in unfortunate circumstances when a shot from close range was saved well by Davenport, but his parry fell into straight into the path of another onrushing striker who instinctively volleyed across goal.
At 3-2, Poynton had a couple of chances to double their lead and as a free-kick hit the post and spun back across the line and out of play for a goal kick, Northgate knew they needed to get back on the scoresheet themselves. They did this in the form of another own goal, this time created by Clark to make amends: another long throw caught the goalkeeper out, and with this one going on target he failed to gather it in the air and dropped it into his own net. Having equalised for the third time, a few injuries forced Northgate into making some personnel changes. Hilsden’s exit saw Tonks drop back to defence, Morgan push forward and the reintroduction of Heathcote in the midfield. Yet again though, it was Poynton who took the lead as another questionable free-kick was given against Clark for an apparent shirt pull as he won a header running backwards. Davenport again found himself making a good save only for a Poynton striker to be first to react to knock it in off the post with around 10 minutes to play.
Not long after coming back into the game, Heathcote had to come off for an ankle injury, as did Broomhall. This meant Elkington joined Jones in the middle whilst Sharrock dropped to left back and Thomas took up a more familiar position on the wing. With not long to play, Northgate rained down chance after chance. Morgan, Owen, Sharrock and Thomas all saw chances go begging, but eventually Thomas poked home after a tidy lay off from Owen which sparked huge celebrations with a few minutes left on the clock. It was then end to end as both teams thought they could win it, but in the end it was the controversial referee who made one more very debatable call. Closing down an attacker just outside the box, Clark slid into a tackle and won the ball to stop the shot – only to then hear the whistle accusing him of a two-footed challenge despite no appeals from the Poynton men. With no card issued for such an apparently dangerous tackle, confusion was abounding from all directions, which perhaps led to switching off and a lack of concentration in setting up to defend the resulting free-kick. The strike was drilled hard and low through several bodies blocking Davenport’s view and nestled into the corner to deflate everyone in orange.
As the final whistle blew, tired handshakes were exchanged from both sets of players after a thrilling encounter. With the game shrouded in controversy from the referee with free kick decisions and confusion over many dissent issues from the home team not receiving punishment, Northgate were a dejected and frustrated outfit as they huddled afterwards. Ultimately, having conceded from three of those free-kicks, they need to learn to switch on and deal with any perceived injustices more effectively. Speaking after the game, Clark was full of praise for his men who showed tremendous character in coming back from behind four times, but they just couldn’t find a way to get in front. “We need to put this down to experience and use it to motivate us going forward. We are improving game by game and we will get there”. Poynton return to Chester in the cup in three weeks time, but before that a break from league action comes in the form of in-form Division One side Ivy Cosmos in the Charity Cup.
Words by Jonny Clark.
- Ben Davenport (GK)
- Lawrie Campbell (RWB)
- Mike Heathcote (LWB)
- Dave Tonks (CB)
- Jonny Clark (CB)
- Matt Hilsden (CB)
- Ben Jones (CDM)
- Russ Morgan (CM)
- Alex Owen (ST)
- Rob Elkington (CM)
- Theo Thomas (ST)
MAN OF THE MATCH: Ben Jones