After Saturday’s underwhelming display the Ravens looked to bounce back quickly with an improved performance from a much-changed team.
FC Isle of Man still sat in second place in the table but with teams hot on their heels behind them, and with them having some games in hand, it was vital that that they took maximum points today. It’s no secret that coming second in the league would give the side a home advantage in the semi-final playoff, so every fixture is vitally important now.
Chris Bass Snr was able to put his large squad to use this weekend and field a whole new eleven to face today’s opponents. Matt Quirk returned between the sticks after serving his suspension. Today’s back four would see Adam Cooil at right back, Ryan Burns at left back and then the centre halves would be Chris Cannell and the experienced Sean Quaye. Lee Gale would return to the side on the right wing and on the opposite side would see exciting youngster Charlie Higgins. In the middle of the park today would be captain Chris Bass Jnr and Sam Baines. That would leave Luke Murray to play off fan favourite Furo Davies.
The only survivors from yesterday’s draw were Dan Simpson, Ste Whitley, Michael Williams and Alex Maitland who would all find themselves on the bench. Ash Higginbotham would complete the Ravens matchday squad and highlight the strength in depth Bass has at his disposal.
FCIOM started quicker than they did yesterday and nearly got off to the perfect start. Early appeals for a penalty were waved away after the Ravens players were adamant that the ball struck a hand in the box, but the referee was having none of it. Moments later Bass sent a deep free kick in which fizzed just wide of the post after skimming a few players heads on the way. It was certainly a brighter start than the evening before, with Higgins looking lively in particular.
The big talking point of the half then came. After tidy play from the Ravens in the final third, the referee got in the way of a pass so rightly blew his whistle for an uncontested drop ball. After the referee dropped the ball at Murray’s feet there was moment of hesitation as players seemed unsure what the protocol was. Murray then took matters into his own hands, took a touch round a defender and the drove the ball with his left foot across the keeper and into the bottom corner to seemingly give the Ravens the lead. Initially the referee seemed fine with the outcome, but his assistant flagged and made the referee aware that the ball must be touched by another player before a goal can be awarded. Although a little confusing, the right decision was made and the goal was chalked off.
This knocked the flow out of the Ravens a little and for the next period of the game the home side struggled to find the right final pass or cross. Murray had another stinging drive which was saved and Davies put a good cross in which was just inches above the head of his supporting attacker. After more direct running from Higgins, Gale forced a good save from the opposition goalkeeper after his free kick looked to be heading in.
Eccleshall’s only real chance came after a ball squeezed through the Ravens backline. Thankfully for FCIOM the opposition striker took a few heavy touches and couldn’t quite get his shot off when things looked to have really opened up for him. This seemed to wake the Ravens up, as then before half time they had a few good chances. Murray went closest as he glanced a header onto the crossbar from Bass’s corner. It seems the Ravens have a bit of a curse this weekend with headers hitting the bar! And then the final action of the half saw Davies send a blaster at goal which again was well saved the Eccleshall stop-stopper.
Half time brought one change for FCIOM as Dan Simpson replaced Higgins. The Ravens had an early chance with a break away: Gale drove at the opposition backline and then released Simpson, but his heavy touch meant the ball just ran away from him. Following this there was a big break in play after the Eccleshall GK was forced off with what seemed like an arm injury. Immediately after this pause the Ravens opened the scoring from the awaited corner. Gale clipped his corner into the near post and there was Luke Murray who crashed his header into the top corner and give the Ravens the lead.
From here on the Ravens would defend well and would often find themselves breaking into space, and had it not been for a few inches here and there they might have found themselves on the scoresheet again. Michael Williams would come on to replace Davies, as the home side looked to see out what would be an important three points. The home crowd of 1,068 were still to see some action yet though.
Simpson had put some good deliveries into the box since his introduction and one of these landed at the feet of Gale, who took one touch to set himself and then fired a shot in which was blocked at the last moment. The final sub for the home side saw Ste Whitley replace captain Bass.
In the closing moments of the game there would be a few more breaks for FCIOM. Williams won the ball with a fantastic tackle which set Murray away, he picked the perfect moment to square the ball to Whitley who saw his effort well saved and then the rebound fell to Gale who had his drive spectacularly cleared off the line.
Then with the last action of the game Whitley broke away again and his pass was inches from finding an onrushing Cooil, which would have put the cherry on top of an improved performance from the home team.