As homecomings go that was some welcome!
A pulsating, tense, nervous, exciting game and the story ultimately ended as we hoped it would. A first Ravens victory on ‘home soil’.
If you follow these pages and our social media outlets, you’ll know that this game meant just a little bit more to our club, being our inaugural North West Counties Football League game at the Bowl. With the double disappointment of going out of the FA Vase last week, followed quickly by a first league defeat in eight games in mid-week we JUST had to win this one. And although, as usual, we made it hard for ourselves by, yet again, coming from a goal down; win we did.
Manager, Chris Bass was able to call on a few returning players, following the Cheadle Town mishap earlier in the week. Ryan Burns and Chris Cannell joined captain Jack McVey in the back three, while Luke Murray was back in business, this time in a midfield three alongside Sam Baines and Lee Gale. The express train that is Ste Whitley also returned on the right-hand side of the midfield, with Locomotive Dan Simpson on the opposite flank. Sean Doyle and Furo Davies continued up front.
From the kick off, the Badgers of Brocton made it known that they weren’t here to be bit part guests at this particular Ravens House Party. They were immediately on the front foot and forced a corner in the opening minute. As has been the case on a number of occasions this season, our set piece organisation wasn’t at its best and a low sluggish paced kick found its way, slow motion like, into a melee of legs and boots. Brocton’s Ben Haddaway recognised the apparent stoppage of time and tapped the ball into the gaping net.
While this was not the start we envisaged, going a goal down has become a bit of a habit of late. However, what we’ve also shown in these circumstances so far this season is character and resilience, and this is what ultimately ensued. Albeit slowly.
For much of the first half Brocton were happy to surrender possession and the Ravens back three happily played the ball easily amongst themselves, probing, waiting for opportunities to break open the fortress that was the Badger’s defence. For half an hour in the aftermath of the Brocton goal, we controlled possession fairly easily, but rarely troubled Brocton’s ‘keeper, Tony Allsopp, and were limited to long range efforts from Whitley, Davies and Baines in particular. Too, Whitley and Simpson found themselves in good areas in the flanks behind the opponent defence, but the quality of the end cross was always dealt with by the resolute Badger’s defenders.
With ten minutes to go before the break, despite the Ravens control of possession, we nearly found ourselves two down. Murray lost the ball in the midfield and Brocton’s forwards pounced quickly, playing a quick one two between themselves that seemingly had Connor Haddaway in on goal but Quirk, called seriously into action for the first time, pulled off an amazing finger tip save to divert the ball away.
Quirk’s save seemed to add an extra gear to the speed of the Ravens attacking play and Ryan Burns very nearly equalised with a near post flick on header from a Whitley corner, but the ball nestled on the roof of Allsopp’s net. A minute later the express train Whitley left the station for the first time and his amazing run and shot cannoned off the bar.
It was now game on, and Brocton countered quickly forcing Quirk to rush from goal to save bravely at the feet of an onrushing attacker. Then Simpson revved up the Loco and went on a mazy run, that matched Whitleys’ earlier effort, and forced Allsopp into his first real save of the game on his near post. Then, just as the game had burst into life, the referee blew for half time.
The Ravens started the second half like a runaway train and Simpson had kept the loco warmed up during the break. Almost immediately the winger’s powerful run was finished with an equally powerful drive that Allsopp pushed away round the far post. Then Luke Murray, hitherto rather quiet in his much deeper role, decided to get in on the act. A quick burst of pace preceded a lightening drive which Allsopp turned expertly round the post.
The pressure became relentless, and, on the hour, it finally paid off. Whitley whipped in another great set piece that invited captain McVey to rise majestically above the Brocton defence to power the ball home with a bullet header. Queue scenes of pandemonium amongst the Ravens players and the 2,012 strong fanbase. It was a magic moment that didn’t allow the normally placid McVey to contain his delight.
At this point Bass, made his first change of the game. Chris Cannell had played ever so well in what was his first game for six weeks and he was replaced by the reliable Ash Higginbotham. For the next ten minutes Whitley and Simpson then proceeded to cause havoc down the Brocton flanks, getting in behind the Badger’s defence on several occasions only for the final ball or cross to be intercepted.
While the wide areas looked like the best points of attack, it was through the centre that the Raven’s winning goal was finally to come. Shortly after Michael Williams had replaced Lee Gale in the midfield, Luke Murray again took up the cudgel. Following another one of his mini-driving runs, “Lurch” unleashed an equally trademark fierce driving shot, which took a slight deflection, before hammering against Allsopp’s right hand post and into the net. Time for even more pandemonium.
As Bass made his final change on 78 minutes bringing on Bass jr for Furo, the Ravens looked to get the third goal that would finish the game off and save us all from a nervy last ten minutes. Whitley, quite unplayable at times in the second half, decided the turn up the turbo on the express and steamed past three players before smashing a left foot drive goal bound. It was in, or so we thought, because quite sensationally Allsopp got his finger tips to the ball (must have lost a couple of nails at least) and sent it flying over the bar. So, a nervy ten minutes it had to be.
Brocton looked through their attacking options and found a kitchen sink, which they now proceeded to throw at the Ravens penalty area. Quirk was forced into two decent saves in those last few minutes, although he did not help his manager’s nerves when he thought, in the 88th minute, that it would be a good idea to try and dribble out of his penalty area while being pressed by two Brocton forwards. Thankfully he had the skill to deal with it, but Matthew, don’t you dare do that again!
And so, after four minutes of stoppage time, expertly illustrated to the crowd by the club’s Head of Football, and Assistant for the day, Paul Jones, the referee blew time on an amazing and fitting game for the Ravens first home game of the season. Brocton certainly played their part causing major problems upfront in the first half and stoically defending for much of the second. Their performance belied their current league placing.
At games’ end, Bass was on cloud nine (he’d been so excited about this game that he’d been at the stadium three and half hours before kick-off).
“What a way to win our first game here at the Bowl”, he exclaimed.
“To come from behind and to give all these fans such an exciting game is more than we could have asked for. The players can be proud of what they’ve done today, they’ve showed great determination to get the right result in front of our own fans. It’s been an incredible experience, the whole week, not just today. I want to thank Brocton for the part they have played on this occasion too. They gave us a challenge right from the off and their players can also be proud to have performed so well in front of a such a partisan crowd.”
Quirk – Burns, McVey, Cannell (Higginbotham) – Baines – Whitely, Gale (Williams), Murray, Simpson – Davies (Bass jr) Doyle.
Unused subs: Kearns, Batty