That Man on Fire, Sean Doyle, was at it again Saturday as he scored the only goal of the game at an extremely blustery Silkmore Lane, to secure a vital win against an inform Brocton side. Doyle’s first half header secured the Ravens sixth consecutive win, our longest winning streak of the season, and maintained our second place in the league standings.
Since the turn of the year, manager, Chris Bass has been largely able to select a settled side, but for this trip to Staffordshire, there were two changes from the previous week’s encounter. Sam Caine came in to replace Ryan Burns who was injured late in training on the preceding Thursday, while Jack McVey returned to the side in place of Sean Quaye. Those two changes apart, the remainder of the team was that which had started the previous three games.
The extremely windy weather conditions were always going to be challenging, as were Brocton themselves. The hosts have been in very good form of late, losing only one of their previous nine games, and that was an extremely unfortunate late reverse to league leaders West Didsbury.
The opening twenty minutes of the contest were indeed governed by the weather, and both sides struggled to get any cohesion into their play as the elements appeared to have more control over the football than the participants. The Ravens, especially, struggled to get out of their own half during this period, albeit without Dean Kearns’ goal coming under any serious threat.
However, it was the visitors who had the first meaningful chance of the match on twenty minutes when the Brocton ‘keeper swept a glorious McVey cross off Luke Murray’s head, just as it looked as if the striker was about to bury it in the back of the home team’s net.
A few minutes later though, that’s exactly where the ball did end up. Set pieces, of all kinds, have been a big weapon for the Ravens of late and after a good piece of team pressing, Jack Camarda forced a corner. Lee Gales’ subsequent delivery was gleefully headed home by Doyle to put the visitors ahead.
The goal seemed to instil some confidence in Doyle and his team mates, and while the remainder of the half was pretty uneventful, it was the Ravens who largely bossed the play and at half time thoroughly deserved to be a head.
The visitors maintained that confidence during the opening exchanges of the second period and were unfortunate not to be two or three up before the hour mark. Firstly, a goal bound Alex Maitland header was cleared off the line and Dan Simpson’s spectacular follow up scissor kick went wide. Then Michael ‘Rockstar’ Williams went close after Murray set him up a treat on the edge of the box. Camarda then forced the Brocton ‘keeper into a decent save low down, after being nicely teed up by Mr Assist, Lee Gale.
Shortly after Camarda’s effort, Gale was replaced by the Magician, aka Ste Whitley, and shortly after that Brocton managed their first real threat to the Ravens goal. A dangerous deep ball over the top seemed to have caught out the visitor’s defence, but Kearns was on guard and expertly swept up behind to avert the danger. The Ravens remained undeterred, and Williams was unlucky again to see a volley cleared off the line, with the host’s ‘keeper stranded.
As the game entered the last quarter of an hour, Murray forced another good save from the Brocton ‘keeper and the visitors were very much in control of the game. However, with still just the one goal in it, it was impossible for the Ravens faithful to relax. With five minutes to go, Kearns made his first significant save of the day as he pushed out a dangerous cross ball, from which he was largely unsighted.
As the game entered stoppage time, we were reminded of Cheadle Heath Nomads and more recently Rocester, contest where we had conceded last minute equalisers and hearts were in Ravens mouths when a late free kick found its way atop a Brocton players head …. only, and thankfully, for the attempt to sail over Kearn’s bar.
Make no mistake, this was a big three points on the road, and keeps us in second place and closes the gap the league leaders a little. Now Bass and his men must prepare for another new challenge as next week we face a bumper double header weekend with two matches in less than 24 hours. It certainly doesn’t get any easier.
Team: Kearns – Caine, Maitland, McVey, Holden – Gale (Whitley), Williams, Camarda, Simpson – Murray (Bass jr), Doyle.
Unused Subs: Quaye, Crook, Baines