After the 38 game season was finalised last week with a 2-1 win against Abbey Hulton which secured second place, FC IOM had the opportunity to entertain their home fans at The Bowl in a play-off semi-final against Wythenshawe Amateurs.
The Ravens went into this fixture on the back of three straight wins and in great form, with Wythenshawe securing the final play off place in 5th position in the league table. It has felt like every game has been massive in FC IOM’s first season in the NWCFL Division One (South) however, this was arguably the most important to date, as a win would secure a place in the play-off final the following week at home once again at The Bowl.
A rearranged kick off time was changed from 6.30pm to 8pm due to a flight delay for the opposition however, this didn’t hamper the atmosphere of an outstanding attendance of 2,758 at The Bowl.
Manager Chris Bass had a full squad to pick from, going with a solid centre half pairing in Sean Quaye and Alex Maitland, with the ever reliable Ryan Burns and Sam Caine at full backs. In form Adam Mealin kept his place after his brace the previous week with Dan Simpson on the other flank. Jack Camarda and the experienced Chris Bass Jnr maintained their place in the centre of midfield with Luke Murray returning to the starting line-up alongside Captain Sean Doyle.
Wythenshawe started with confidence early on hitting the crossbar in the third minute, however The Ravens replied straight away when a stray header from The Ammies centre half found the feet of winger Adam Mealin who narrowly put it wide passed the post. The opening 15 minutes saw the visitors have a very positive start with FC IOM struggling to create chances and this was evident when Wythenshawe had another great chance cleared off the line.
The Ammies playmaker Gabriel Mooney-Munoz was finding a lot of space between the lines with FC IOM playing with some nervousness in the opening 20 minutes. That being said, approaching the half hour mark a free kick on the left hand side from Dan Simpson fizzed low into Alex Maitland whose backheel went narrowly wide of the post, which represented one of FC IOM’s best chances of the half. Wythenshawe replied almost immediately with a great strike from winger William Shawcross but his shot was meet with a great save from Matt Quirk.
FC IOM continuously attempted to play the through ball between The Ammies full back and centre half to set Dan Simpson away, but this was duly cut out on many occasions. This left FC IOM with just five minutes of the half remaining to find some joy down their right hand flank. Sam Caine went on an attacking mazy run and pulled a great ball across the box to find Dan Simpson who duly found the back of the net only for the referee to flag for what seemed to be an offside.
Moments before the half time whistle, an incredible left footed volley from Adam Mealin produced a great save from Keeper Kyle Hallam. The subsequent corner taken by Adam Mealin was only half headed clear by the Ammies into the path of Jack Camarda who, from 25 yards out, hit a blockbuster of a strike to find the top left hand corner and put FC IOM 1-0 up before the half time whistle went. A postage stamp goal if ever you’ve seen one!
Manager Chris Bass used the half time break to make a tactical change by bringing Chris Cannell on for Ryan Burns, who’s early yellow card in the 10th minute was something the opposition were beginning to play on. The Ravens began the second half with a lot more tempo and were using their interplaying passing style that we’ve been accustomed to seeing at The Bowl. Minutes into the half, a long throw in from Dan Simpson found Captain Sean Doyle who controlled on the half turn but his strike was bounced against The Ammies post.
Approaching the hour mark, Adam Mealin won a corner on the right hand side, with fellow winger Dan Simpson to take. His in-swinging cross was met with by head of striker Luke Murray who made it 2-0 to FC IOM sending The Ravens fans wild!
Wythenshawe began the second more cagily of the two teams and brought on their top goal scorer Saul Henderson to try and find a way through the FC IOM defence. The visitors struggled to deal with Dan Simpsons corner’s with our height in the box being utilised as our biggest weapon on the night. With 20 minutes remaining, Adam Mealin was sent off for a late tackle which resulted in an on field melee between both sets of players and resulted in the opposition manager also receiving a straight red card.
With 75 minutes played Manager Chris Bass used his second substitution bringing Michael Williams into midfield for Chris Bass Jnr, whose work rate on the night was sublime.
Another long throw on the right hand side from Dan Simpson was met again by the head of Luke Murray who nestled it into the bottom left hand corner to make it 3-0 to FC IOM who all but sealed their victory.
In the final moments of the game Jack Camarda broke from midfield and squared to Dan Simpson who was in a good position only to have his shot blocked by Wythenshawe’s centre half and keeper combined. FC IOM managed to kill the game off at this point and set their stall up with a 3-0 win to claim their place in the play off final to be played at The Bowl against New Mills on 16 April.
The final whistle blew moments later sending the record breaking attendance on the night into cheers of joy, this really was a game of two halves where ultimately FC IOM deserved their win but Wythenshawe can be proud of their performance.
The MOTM was awarded by matchday sponsors Nedbank to striker Luke Murray for his brace and integral part in the victory.
The way the Manx public and beyond have taken to this team and this club was evidenced tonight in the huge attendance. We thank them unreservedly for their continued loyal support and hope to see them next week as we aim to cap off what’s been an incredible season by achieving promotion.