The Ravens fine form continued on Saturday afternoon with a 3-2 victory over Ellesmere Rangers, taking their unbeaten run to five games in all competitions.
Despite having a fairly depleted squad, manager Chris Bass was able to field a strong starting line-up that saw goalkeeper Matt Quirk come in for Dean Kearns, who was recovering from a slight knock.
Speaking before the game Bass was encouraged by our recent good form.
“I think it’s down to hard work and concentration”, he explained. “Discipline has been very good and our effort’s been excellent but we’re still a work in progress.”
In the Shropshire drizzle, the game started somewhat cagily with both sides trying to work each other out during the opening moments. This was until debutant Quirk was called into his first action of the daythe in the fifth minute, getting his fingertips to a dangerous cross from the home side.
After dealing with a series of Ellesmere crosses, the Ravens began to settle into the game. Captain Jack McVey, seemingly with all the time in the world, started to pull the strings from deep in midfield, picking out runners over the top and down the wings with great precision.
And it was Dan Simpson and Ste Whitely on the flanks that really started to cause Ellesmere some difficulty. Two quick fire crosses presented Michael Williams with a duet of chances in the box – the first a speculative bicycle kick that was ultimately cleared out for a corner.
After 21 minutes came a moment of magic that led to FC Isle of Man’s first goal of the day. McVey again found plenty of time in the centre and floated a perfectly weighted ball over the Ellesmere defence and into the path of the onrushing Simpson, who calmly rounded the keeper before tapping into an empty net to make it 1-0.
Frustratingly the fashion of conceding just have taking the lead was still in vogue however as the hosts equalised almost immediately. After breaking the offside trap, the home side had a throw which was tossed into the box and as the ball bounced it was smashed into the roof of the net from close range. Quirk had no chance and it was 1-1.
Despite Ellesmere coming back into the game and constantly harrying the Ravens in possession, the Meresiders always seemed susceptible to the ball in behind. A weakness that was frequently tested by Whitely and Simpson, the latter going down in the area much to the bemusement of the referee who waved away penalty claims.
Simpson wasn’t deterred however, as it was from his searching cross from the left on 37 minutes that set up Luke Murray at the back post to side-foot home a controlled volley back across goal to make it 2-1 and restore the Ravens’ lead.
There was just time before the break for Ellesmere to probe dangerously down the right flanks, but the back three of Burns, Maitland and Higginbotham stood strong to ensure the 2-1 lead at half time.
The second period started much like the first, as both teams tried to find that “something” to unlock the defence. After a scare at the back, when a long pass from Ellesmere looped over Burns’ head, the ball was soon rebounding off the Ellesmere goalpost from a close-range Murray header.
The home side reacted well however, and for short period, long balls and long throws rained in on Quirk’s penalty area. The Ravens keeper wasn’t perturbed though, punching crosses and calmly playing out from the back to relieve the pressure.
With 20 minutes to go Simpson thought he’d won a penalty for the Ravens, as he was seemingly tripped in full flight. However, the referee again had a different opinion, and nothing was given.
On 74 minutes the sun finally made an appearance, as did Lee Gale who replaced Michael Williams. The Ravens’ substitute forward almost made an instant impact when his rasping strike looked to be heading goal bound, but the ball nestled the wrong side of the side netting.
As the game entered the last ten minutes the Ravens backline continued to confidently thwart any Ellesmere threat, while their teammates pushed for the third goal that would provide a two-goal goal cushion.
Subsequent movement on the sidelines suggested a change was imminent and on 82 minutes, with a goal and assist to his name, the impressive Dan Simpson was replaced by Jacob Crook.
With the game seemingly ebbing towards finishing at 2-1, Ellesmere had their biggest chances of the second half yet. A dangerous cross found its way into the Ravens box and the ball would have ended up in the back of the net had it not been for a series of heroic goal line saves from Quirk and last-ditch blocks by Burns and Higginbotham.
With just five minutes remaining however, the tension seemed to be finally over as the Ravens finally scored the third goal they richly deserved.
A through ball from midfield split the home side’s defence open, drawing the Rangers’ keeper out of the goal to save with his feet, but his efforts were in vain as the resulting clearance fell to Sean Doyle who was alert enough to take a touch and calmly slot into an empty goal from 18 yards.
However, that tension wasn’t over. Some tired legs in midfield allowed Ellesmere space around the edge of the Raven’s area and on 90+3 minutes Ellesmere pulled a goal back with an accurate drive low into the bottom of Quirk’s net from 18 yards.
As the game resumed with only seconds remaining FCIOM used all the experience they could muster to keep the ball away from danger and finally, the referee blew his whistle to signal the Raven’s third win in a row.
Afterwards, star man Dan Simpson was pleased with the team’s performance,
“Yeah it was good, it started a bit slow but that’s just a hangover from [the game on] Tuesday,” he said. “I think we did well in the end.”
This latest victory elevates the Ravens to 11th in the table, with two games in hand on our main play-off rivals.
Club of the Month
Within hours of yesterday’s victory at Ellesmere Rangers there was more good news for the club, as we were delighted to learn that we had been awarded the North West Counties Football League Club of the Month for Division One (South).
Our unbeaten run of matches throughout September had impressed the NWCFL panel and it is pleasing to see that the efforts of the club is being noticed throughout the league.
Ellesmere Rangers (2)
- David Howarth (28)
- Callum Leigh (90+3)
FC Isle of Man (3)
- Daniel Simpson, 21′
- Luke Murray, 37′
- Sean Doyle, 86′