While it wasn’t quite snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, in the aftermath of our clash with Cheadle Heath Nomads yesterday, it certainly felt that we’d lost two points rather than gaining one.
A thoroughly dominant second half performance went unrewarded as what seemed like a secure back-to-back win was snatched away from us after Nomads’ William Shawcross’ 93rd minute, 25-yard wonder strike screamed into Dean Kearn’s top left hand corner.
The Ravens are quickly finding out that huge lessons are being learnt in this division and yesterday’s match was just another one of those educational experiences.
In the build up to the game, what looked to be a relatively simple squad selection following last week’s triumph at Alsager, turned into a mini crisis, as first, Jack Camarda had to withdraw from the squad after Thursday’s training session, to be replaced by Ryan Burns. Then more dramatically, the in-form Ste Whitley had to pull out of the squad just an hour before the Manannan itself, pulled out of Douglas harbour. Our most recent signing, Scott Horne replaced Whitley.
From kick-off the home side were on the front foot. After surviving an opening minute scare the Ravens were lucky not to fall behind as the hosts caused confusion in our defence with some quick inter-passing in and around the box, culminating in a low cross that hit the inside of the post before being cleared.
The Cheshire side had some skilful, and clever, players who were adept at finding plenty of room in the midfield areas and they were able to split open our defence on a number of occasions. The Nomads also looked very dangerous on the counter during the opening exchanges, but without really creating any clear-cut chances.
In fact, while we may not have been at our best during the opening ten minutes, we probably created the better opportunities. One glorious cross from Gale was seemingly bound for the onrushing Bass to score, but a brilliant last-ditch header from a Nomad defender kept the scores level.
After 12 minutes, Cheadle Heath did take the lead their early pressure probably deserved. There appeared to be no danger as the ball found itself at the feet of William Shawcross. The Nomads midfielder was able to turn easily, and his subsequent lofted shot drifted over Kearns’ head and into the net. It was the first time the Ravens had been behind this season.
The goal seemed to unsettle the visitors, and we became very disjointed and a little sloppy in possession. We were lucky to escape going two down as another through ball was latched onto by a Nomads striker, who thankfully scuffed his shot and Kearns was able to make an easy save.
However, as the half wore on, we started to take more control of the game, passing the ball with more fluency and accuracy. While we were not creating chances, we were moving the Cheadle defence around and making things uneasy for them.
On 37 minutes the Ravens forced a corner. Lee Gale, hitherto quite quiet compared to his recent performances, delivered a superb ball to the back post and centre back Cameron Avery rose above everyone to head home into the bottom right-hand corner.
The momentum of the game now began to change. In the minutes before the break, Gale, was unlucky to have a ‘goal’ chalked off for offside and the same player tried an audacious chip which drifted just wide.
At half time Bass, and Assistant Lee Dixon, made a key adjustment to the positioning of the two strikers, Sean Doyle and Luke Murray, and the change immediately caused difficulties for the hosts. Within minutes Jack McVey, making his full debut, hit a piledriver of a shot which the Nomads keeper somehow pushed round the post. Moments later Sam Baines cut in from the left and fired just over the bar.
It was now all FC Isle of Man and on 56 minutes, we took the lead. Gale – now rampant – robbed the ball off a Cheadle Heath midfielder and played a lovely ball through to Murray who raced through on goal to score with aplomb.
The Ravens were now dominant. On the hour, a great combination down the left between Jacob Crook and Chris Bass jr fashioned a chance for Gale who fired over the bar.
It was Bass again, a different player in the second half, who was continually causing the Nomads problems and he played Gale in, only for the Cheadle keeper to make yet another brilliant save.
It wasn’t just down the left-hand side that we were causing the opposition problems. Now it was Baines and Gale’s turn to link up down the right, and the latter neatly played in the over-lapping full back Adam Cooil, whose subsequent shot hit the side netting.
Cheadle Heath retaliated briefly with their first attempt of the half on 70 minutes, forcing Kearns to push a long shot onto the bar before recovering the rebound. The Ravens were mostly content to control possession but continued to push and always look dangerous as Bass, Murray and Gale consistently harried the opposition defence.
As the game entered injury time, the victory looked certain. There was still time for a Bass corner to find the head of substitute, Furo Davies, at the back post, only for the striker’s header to flash wide of the post.
And that seemed that.
However, from the resulting goal kick, the ball was flicked on to Kyle Foley, who found himself in all manner of space and time and he proceeded to fire home spectacularly.
It was a gut-wrenching moment as Ravens players fell to the ground in disbelief. Manager, Chris Bass, was obviously disappointed that a back-to-back win had been snatched away so late, but he was also philosophical and accepted that the Ravens players are still learning so much at this level.
“In the first half, I thought we surrendered too much cheap possession,” reflected Bass. “In the second half we were so much better and created three or four good chances that could have put the game out of sight. But while there’s only one goal in it your always prone to a mistake and that’s what happened.”
“It’s a little bit disappointing, but it goes back to everything (I’ve said) about this league, any team can beat any team on any given week. We’ve got to remain switched on right to the end.”
“It’s a tough pill to swallow today because we’d fought back from being a goal behind, and we were so dominant in the second half. Upon saying that I am very happy with the work rate and attitude of the players, and we can’t ask any more from them on that front.”
“It’s a long, long season and we’ve got 34 league games to play. We’re continuing to learn what it takes to play in this league and we’re making big improvements week on week. We’re only going to get better.”
Ravens Centre Back, and scorer of our opening goal, Cameron Avery shared echoed the thoughts of his manager.
“We’re all pretty gutted and devastated to concede an equaliser so late in the day,” said Avery. “We did so well in the second half, and it’s been a tough lesson to learn today. We were seemingly in control of the game, but as we unfortunately found out it only takes one moment for things to change.”
“It’s been something the management team have been trying to drill into us in terms of concentration and communication. Unfortunately, we switched off in the last minute and its cost us two points today. Upon saying that, the beauty of this league is that we’ve got a whole host of games coming up that we’ll continue to learn from, and we’re only going to get better at eradicating some of these small mistakes as the season continues.”
By Steve Burns