The Bowl played host to another huge game in which both sides would be aiming to set the tone for their end of season run-ins.
FC IOM knew that a win would see them consolidate their grip on second place, whilst the opposition could pile the pressure on the Ravens if they were to win by closing the gap between the side to two points.
After a much-changed side in the week, Manager Bass Snr returned to a more familiar line-up for this game. Matt Quirk returned between the sticks and in front of him we would see an experienced back four. Sam Caine would start at right back and on the opposite side would see Ryan Burns occupy the left back spot. The two centre halves would be Alex Maitland and Sean Quaye. Adam Mealin would play on the right wing with Dan Simpson on the left. Jack McVey and Chris Bass Jnr started in the centre of the park. That would leave Luke Murray to play in behind captain Sean Doyle. On the bench would be Furo Davies, Jack Camarda, Jacob Crook, Ste Whitley and Jamie Corlett.
The game took a while to get into any real flow, with the early exchanges quite cagey. Despite that, Simpson did have the ball in the net but the linesman had his flag up, unfortunately for the Ravens winger.
Abbey Hey FC (AHFC) then began to grow into the game and started to show some class. At the Bowl this season we’ve seen a wide array of teams come to town and there have been a few sides which have looked a real handful, and AHFC were certainly one of them. A mix up in the Ravens backline saw AHFC presented the chance to shoot but luckily their effort was wayward and the score line remained goalless.
We would see some great defending on show on the night, with Burns the first to throw in a vital block as he managed to get in the way of another AHFC goal bound effort. As the Ravens struggled to put any real patterns of play together, their only real moment of optimism came when Doyle appeared to be hauled down in the box, but the referee waved away strong protests from the home side. Doyle, often an isolated figure up front, was up against two particularly physical centre halves who often went right to the limit with their attempts to nullify Doyle’s ariel ability, which the referee seemed to allow all night long, much to the annoyance of the home fans.
The wind picked up during the match meaning that both goalkeepers’ kicking was playing a big part in the way their teams could play. After AHFC had just flashed a brilliant ball across the face on the goal, the Ravens then marched up the other end of the pitch and fashioned a good chance of their own. A few player’s passed up the opportunity to shoot and the ball eventually came out to Mealin on the right who sent in a lovely delivery to Doyle who saw his header fall straight into the keepers hands.
Quirk has been in good form recently and he would be needed again before the half was out. AHFC seemed to favour the low cross across goal and Quirk had to be alert to dive out and smother another dangerous ball as there was an AHFC player lurking at the back stick ready for a tap in. It was a disappointing half from the home side, but we’ve often seen from this team that they play better in the second half of games, so the 1,740 fans inside The Bowl knew things would likely get better after the break.
It only took five minutes for FCIOM to prove those fans right. As Murray charged his way through the opposition he was brought down just inside the box and the referee pointed to the spot. As many Ravens fans shouted words of encouragement to Doyle, it was although they’d forgotten that McVey was the regular penalty taker, and he went on the prove why. After being made to wait for a few minutes, McVey kept his cool and even though the keeper went the right way, his spot kick was right in the corner which meant the Ravens took the lead.
This seemed to anger AHFC and moments later this anger boiled over. Burns was on the end of a naughty tackle which eventually saw four yellow cards brandished – three for Abbey Hey, one for Doyle.
FCIOM went on to create a few chances after this, the first coming as Doyle headed over from a corner. Whitley came on the replace Mealin just before the next opportunity. McVey swung in a deep free kick and after the keeper unexpectedly spilled the ball, Maitland was there to fire at goal and force a superb reflex save from the keeper, keeping the score line at 1-0.
There would be one final chance for the home side before the momentum in the game would swing the other way. After a great interception from Bass Jnr, he broke away and played a great one two with Murray, but Bass’ shot eventually sailed harmlessly over the bar.
With fifteen minutes to go the wind was blowing strongly in the face of Quirk and his goal which made life very tricky for the Ravens as any lofted clearance was just coming straight back to them. Quirk had to be alert to tip a powerful long-range drive round the post and then moments later had to show great bravery to dive out and stop another of those low crosses. Bass Snr saw the need for fresh legs and decided to replace Burns with Crook, with the former struggling with injury following the earlier tackle. As AHFC continued to bombard the FCIOM penalty area, a deep cross was headed just wide after it evaded the Ravens backline.
At this point it felt like the Ravens were living life dangerously and that if they were to hang on for all three points it would be quite the steal. Quirk pulled off an unbelievable save after the ball was smashed at him from 8 yards out and he somehow managed to get his body in the way of the AHFC rocket.
Recognising that his team were under threat, Bass Snr brought on Davies for Bass Jnr in the hope that this would give his side more of an out ball but AHFC just kept coming and coming. Another free kick was floated in and an AHFC head rose highest but could only manage to guide the ball wide of the post when really he should have scored.
Maitland would be the next Ravens defender to show his quality as he produced a colossal block when again, the ball looked destined for end up in the back of the net. In added time it would then be Crook’s turn to put in another goal-line block which would keep the Ravens ahead and left AHFC thinking it just wasn’t going to be their night.
As the game entered the final few minutes, Davies managed to get his body in front of the AHFC attacker and win the ball back, but the referee surprisingly deemed this to be a foul which presented the away side with a final chance to grab a point. With the wind behind him, Jordan Lazenbury exquisitely whipped the ball into the top corner and finally they got the goal that their performance deserved.
This was a real kick in the teeth for the home side who had defended well and rode their luck at times, but to concede so late on and it that fashion was tough to take.
That means the Ravens now have three home league games left to finish the season as strong as they can, plus the cup tie against AFC Liverpool in midweek which also provides an opportunity to build momentum heading into the final part of the season.