A quite incredible afternoon at Drayton Beaumont Park yesterday resulted in The Ravens extending their unbeaten run to seven games with their fifth win a row in a remarkable game against Abbey Hulton United.
Following what was a very competitive first half, the contest turned into somewhat of a rout in the second period, as the Ravens took apart a team, who the week previously had given the lead leaders, West Didsbury, a run for their money.
What was perhaps even more extraordinary than the high scoring encounter, and the margin of victory, was the performance of the club’s, if not the entire leagues’, man of the moment, Sean Doyle. The striker completed a remarkable seven days by scoring a double hat trick to add to his four strikes last weekend against Eccelshall, and the brace bagged at Barnton in mid-week. His tally for the week totalling 12 goals! An exceptional performance and statistic.
Manager Chris bass was unfortunately absent this weekend, through illness, so Assistant Lee Dixon took up the cudgel as de facto Manager, while Director of Football Paul Jones stepped in to fulfil Dixon’s usual role (although perhaps not as vocally). Team selection was as difficult as ever as there was the usual plethora of absentees. Furo Davies, magnificent in mid-week, was unavailable, while Dan Simpson, Lee Gale and Charlie Higgins were all missing through injury. The squad did however, welcome back Luke Murray, Ryan Burns, Jacob Crook and Sam Baines.
It was a slow start for the Ravens as this, the third game in seven days, seemed to have taken its toll on the players during the first 20 minutes of the match, and they looked lethargic in shape, concentration and passing. Matters weren’t helped as Alex Maitland, a stalwart at the back all season, had to be replaced by Cam Avery after just four minutes with injury.
The enforced change in personnel didn’t seem to help the Ravens back three as they struggled to cope with Abbey Hulton’s adventurous 4-2-4 formation and on 13 minutes they went behind, failing to cope with a long ball played into the channel down the right side of the Ravens defence. With Avery having no option but to go out to engage the winger. The latter whipped in a quick cross and an Abbey striker was unmarked in the area to score easily past the hapless Matthew Quirk in the Ravens’ goal.
Dixon and Jones did not stand on ceremony, and immediately reverted to a back four, moving Jack McVey into the centre of the defence alongside Ryan Burns. The tactical change nearly had an immediate effect, as first Sam Baines went close with a header from a McVey pass, and Doyle very nearly connected with a through ball, after a flowing back to front move involving five players.
While our passing wasn’t at its best at this stage, we were creating chances and following a rasping Luke Murray shot on the turn was saved by Abbey’s ‘keeper, the Ravens did equalise on 28 minutes. Another deep through ball from McVey sent Doyle in on goal and the big striker, showing remarkable calmness, rounded the keeper to score from a relatively tight angle.
Six minutes later we were in front. Murray, back to his bustling best, beat a defender on right side of the penalty area and sent a dangerous cross flashing across the box. Jacob Crook recovered the ball at the back post and crossed expertly right footed to pick out that man Doyle, who headed home with ease to put the Ravens ahead.
The goals had galvanised the Manx side and our football now began to flow. Murray was unlucky not to add a third with two chances just before the break, but both his excellent strikes were expertly stopped by Abbey’s ‘keeper. At the other end though, some sloppy passing/clearances out from the back set up a chance for United, and a left footed snapshot ended up, thankfully, going wide of the post and the Ravens held on to the lead going into half time.
As has been the case in many matches this season, the intensity of the Ravens play was heightened at the start of the second half. Within minutes of the restart, a Sam Baines pass was seized upon by the rampant Doyle and he secured his hat trick (the first of the game) with a low shot which the ‘keeper could have done better with. Not that we, or Sean, cared.
The goal was the trigger for us to start dominating the game, although substitute, Cam Avery himself had to be replaced on 55 minutes with another injury. Adam Cooil, sans head band, took his place at right back.
Despite another enforced change, the Ravens now had the bit between the proverbial teeth and after Murray saw another great drive saved, Doyle secured his fourth goal just after the hour. McVey (again) with another precise pass found Sean, remarkably unmarked in the six-yard box, to score easily. Almost immediately it was five! Doyle pressed an Abbey central defender, and the ball ran loose to Murray, who this time scored gleefully to break his mini goal drought.
Perhaps a bit of complacency set in at this point, as a drop in concentration resulted in a long ball being sent through the middle of the Ravens defences for an Abbey striker to race through and score. This was a kick up the backside for the Ravens however, and after Doyle was brought down in the box, Jack McVey stepped up to score our first penalty of the season. Jack’s excitement at scoring was palpable. Well, as excited as Jack can get.
The game, as a contest, was probably over at this point and the Ravens controlled the remaining 20 minutes with ease, and found time to tee Doyle up for two more goals. The first from a Ste Whitley corner, and finally for this second had trick, after being played through a strangely vacant Abbey defence to make it eight!
Even another bout of poor concentration in injury time, which gifted Abbey a third goal, couldn’t take the shine off a remarkable result and a very decent performance – especially the final hour.
Dixon was delighted at games end.
“A great performance all round and happy we could get the three points,” said the stand-in Manager. “It was a difficult start for us as these (Abbey) were an exceptional team and they looked very well drilled and we struggled early on, which wasn’t helped by us having to replace Alex (Maitland) so early. But these little challenges keep popping up and the lads keep coming up with the answers. It was a real squad effort today. The momentum of the game completely changed once we equalised.”
Man of moment Doyle was also exuberant and modest about his current form.
“That was a nice day the office,” exclaimed the big man. “It’s been no mean feat to win so comprehensively against this team today because they were very good. I just keep popping up in the right place at the right time and the lads keep finding me. I am just trying to hit the target and hope the goals come. I do feel confident at the moment, but we all do, so long may it continue.”
With some more injuries picked up during the course of the game, Bass, Dixon (and Jones) will be delighted to have a seven-day break before next week’s journey to County Durham for the next stage on this amazing journey, and an FA Vase 1st round fixture against Billingham Symphonia FC.
Team: Quirk – Higginbotham, Maitland (Avery, Cooil), Burns – Whitley, Baines, McVey, Crook – Williams – Murray, Doyle.
Unused Sub: Kearns