Northgate 0 – 1 Timperley Parish
SMCCFL Division 3
Four months on from the dominance of the 13-1 opening pre-season friendly win, Timperley Parish were due back in Chester to complete the first half of the league season. Keen to avenge the embarrassment of their first ever fixture as a new club, and having had a respectable start to the season with 2 draws and a win, Timperley will have had dreams of an upset from the start. On the other hand, Northgate’s form has slumped since the clocks changed at the end of October with many fans angry at the decision to officially end summer time in this way, and some blaming the lack of shaving from the two players in the squad during November.
Clark knew the importance of the game in restoring squad morale after a run of tough matches, but discovering goalkeeper Ben Davenport was still suffering the after-effects of a dislocated thumb from 2 weeks previous, serious doubts were shed over the feasibility of naming a squad. However, learning lessons from Harvey’s torrid time at St Kentigern’s, the Northgate scouts had since been out to find a new reserve goalkeeper and this game gave the opportunity for a debut for Chris Luke in goal. Josh Coleclough was also set to make his competitive debut after his appearance as a special guest referee in the last game after recovering from a long-term ankle injury. Mike Taylor and Jonny Clark himself were other returnees from hamstring and calf issues respectively.
Opting for the 352 that has seen periods of excellent play but not a consistent 90 minutes of play for a while, Clark lined up with Harvey and Davenport either side of him in a back 3; the latter making a rare outfield appearance. McNeil and Campbell took up positions at wing back outside of a middle 3 consisting of Jones, Elkington and Davies. Owen was looking to repeat his early season goal-scoring antics up front partnered by Coleclough.
An early morning accident on the M56 had somehow managed to delay one car from Timperley on the journey over and so Northgate, after already rearranging this match from a few weeks ago, sportingly agreed to delay kick off. The later KO time of 10.50am came and went, but with only 9 players there by 11am both teams agreed to make a start. It was a backs to the wall job for the visitors at the start of the game then, but their opponents, the 2017/18 Fair Play Award winners, looked less like they wanted to punish this disorganised start and more like they wanted to continue to do the sporting thing and just pass the ball around without any incisiveness. With both teams constantly looking over their shoulders, eventually the game moved towards normality and 11vs11 after 15 minutes.
Northgate were in control as the first half went on but the closest they came was a couple of glancing headers flying past the post from Jones and Clark, and a whistling volley from Davies that hit the side netting. Anything that came in the opposite direction was easily and swiftly dealt with by the back 3, with Davenport easing into his defensive role with a commanding aerial display as well as coming close with a curling effort on goal of his own.
As the dominance began to grow, the shock was palpable as a rare breakaway through a long ball down the left allowed the Timperley striker to bear down on goal unopposed. Taking the ball out wide, Luke came flying out of his goal to close down the angle but the forward clipped a ball around him, bouncing into the empty net before Clark could make up the ground. It would prove to be their only shot on goal of the half as Northgate came out again to create more chances. McNeil gave way for Theo Thomas for an injection of pace down the right hand side, and his industry began to cause problems for the visiting defenders. Josh Coleclough was unfortunate to not open his account after a fine close-range stop from the keeper, and then Ben Jones looked for all the world like he had scored as the half neared the end. Striking a looping ball from just outside the box towards the bottom corner of the goal, the goalkeeper then underlined his excellent performance as he made a miraculous leap across to get a hand to it, drawing praise from both teams.
The half time whistle went and the Gaters jogged in after a frustrating 45 minutes. Captain Jones was full of encouragement that the goal would come, while Clark also demanded more work rate to ensure that it did. Davies was replaced by Taylor in the centre of midfield and the Tangerines got out early to put the pressure on the team that had conceded 51 goals in their previous 8 league games.
Picking up where they left off, Northgate were confidently moving the ball about from the defence to find the midfielders moving forward, but again the final piece of quality was lacking in the final third. Coleclough was working hard getting into good positions, bringing Thomas into and Owen into play either side of him but ultimately to no avail. As time ticked on it soon became clear that patience was going to be tested and that coming away with a defeat was a very real possibility. Linking onto another long ball, Timperley forced the only save of the game from Luke as he tipped over the bar minutes after another cross had been volleyed over also. Totalling 3 shots on goal was to be the limit to the visitors expansive game however as Northgate turned the screw.
Elkington, Jones, Campbell and Coleclough all had shots off target as the continued pressure seemed to wear down the defence, and as Owen then had his best chance so far headed off the line you could have been forgiven for thinking it was not going to be the Tangerine’s day. Such is the character held in this squad though that giving up was never an option. Tiredness gave way to fouls and frustration for the Timperley men, with 1 in particular somehow escaping without a yellow card for dissent as the tenacity and physicality of Northgate could not be matched. Unfortunately however, it was the hosts who fell foul of discipline worst. An off-the-ball incident between the unregistered dissenter “Chris” of Timperley and Ben Davenport led to pushes between the two. With the goalkeeper-come-defender having struck his opponent in the face however, he was shown a straight red whilst Chris received only a yellow and Northgate were left to chase the last 15 minutes with 10 men.
Despite this setback, the pattern of the game did not change. If anything, with urgency now increased, it intensified. Another defining moment then came as Coleclough continued to cause problems with the ball at his feet, turning into the box and drawing a foul. Penalty! Lifeline!
With 10 minutes to go and the chance to draw level from the spot, this was the chance that felt like the turning point. Top scorer Owen placed the ball down and walk back to begin his run up, but as he struck the ball he got over the top of it and scuffed it wide to his left and past the post as the keeper had gone the wrong way. A deafening silence rang out from among the Northgate players, scarcely able to believe they still hadn’t found the back of the net and wondering if it would now ever come.
Still pushing, and after changes to reintroduce Davies and McNeil for Elkington and Thomas, set-pieces were now proving good sources of chances. Clark was centimetres off connecting with a header from a Jones corner but the keeper’s fingertips flicked the ball over him first, and then forced another fine diving save from a header off the resulting recycled ball into the box. Martin Harvey also saw an ambitious overhead kick after a long-throw dip just over the crossbar. The belief was clearly still there with just a few minutes on the clock, but with Timperley working hard for just their 2nd win of their season the defence were motivated and playing out a classic ‘Benitez Newcastle’ performance to perfection.
As the full time whistle rang out neither team could quite believe it had finished 0-1, but the Timperley goalkeeper had played an outstanding match to nullify everything thrown at him for 90 long minutes, 15 of which he only had 8 of his own teammates in front of him for. Handshakes all round as the visitors rightfully celebrated, but despite the dominating performance – positive in many aspects – Northgate had failed to score for the 4th time in 6 matches, and this time it had proved extremely costly. A silent dressing room after the game said everything. With a promotion push now looking very unlikely being coupled with the ignominy of being 13 goals worse off that a previous performance against the worst defence in the league, it will take some real turnaround to keep heads up and restore confidence to the side that hasn’t won since, officially, British summer time.
Next week sees Clark’s men host bottom side King’s Church Bolton, at whom they secured a win on the opening day of the season with Owen scoring a hat-trick. With Martin Harvey threatening to cancel the Christmas do following the game if they fail to gain a result, everyone involved will be giving all they have to finish 2018 the way they started it – a comfortable victory.
1. Chris Luke (GK)
2. Martin Harvey (RCB)
3. Jonny Clark (CB)
4. Ben Davenport (LCB)
5. Scott McNeil (RWB)
6. Rob Elkington (CDM)
7. Ben Jones (CM)
8. Pete Davies (CM)
9. Alex Owen (ST)
10. Josh Coleclough (ST)
11. Lawrie Campbell (LWB)
12. Theo Thomas (RWB)
13. Mike Taylor (CM, LCB)
Man of the Match – JOSH COLECLOUGH