FC Isle of Man retook top spot in the league again last night with another comeback victory, this time against a Cheadle Heath Nomads who sat tenth in the table.
Going into this game Manager Chris Bass had a few headaches when it came to squad selection, as several senior players including Michael Williams, Ste Whitley, Chris Cannell, Lee Gale and Jack Camarda were all missing due to injury.
Despite this, the starting XI was still strong – with Matt Quirk keeping his spot in goal behind Sam Caine, Sean Quaye, Alex Maitland and Ryan Burns at the back. Alex Holden and Dan Simpson occupied the right and left flanks respectively, with Chris Bass Jnr and Sam Baines partnering in centre-midfield. Up top was the dependable pairing of Luke Murray and captain Sean Doyle.
As the match kicked off, it was Cheadle Heath Nomads who started by far the brighter side. The visitors were much sharper in the challenge and energetic in the press than the Ravens who really struggled to get out of their half.
The Nomads’ fast forward line was causing all sorts of problems on the counter and it was from one of these breaks that the first goal of the game came. A long ball over the top after breaking up a Ravens attack got Jordan Milne in behind who brought the ball down well, took a touch and smashed the it into the top corner past a helpless Quirk after just eight minutes.
This knocked the wind out of the sails of the Ravens who were already struggling to cope with the visitors. However, the team kept trying and slowly but surely began to find their rhythm and feel their way back into the game.
Ten minutes before half time, a quick one-two between Bass and Doyle saw the former haring into the box and going to ground, seemingly held back from behind. Despite loud claims from FCIOM players and crowd alike, the referee emphatically waved the penalty appeals away. This wouldn’t be the only penalty drama to occur in the game.
Cheadle Heath’s high press and pacey pair of Kieran Alley and Kyle Foley were a constant danger on the counter but despite many ‘nearly moments’ the Ravens stayed strong and kept the score line to 0-1 at half time.
After the break Adam Mealin came on to replace Alex Holden and his pace and directness immediately gave the visitors something different to think about. The Ravens started the half much more aggressively and working hard to press higher and in unison.
This had the desired impact, as the visitor’s threat on the counter was dampened and, despite a couple of dangerous crosses and balls between the lines from the Nomads, FCIOM were slowly beginning to get a foothold.
Still no goal though for the home side, so on 54 minutes Bass and Dixon decided to make a change, with Furo Davies coming on to replace Sam Baines. As Furo joined Doyle up top, Luke Murray dropped back into midfield to add some physicality.
Almost immediately on 55 minutes, FC Isle of Man were level. A corner from the right was swung in by Dan Simpson and it was Murray who was there at the front post to guide a header into the net to make it 1-1.
This seemed to light a touch paper under both sides as the remainder of the game was played at a ferocious pace.
Within seconds of the restart Cheadle Heath nearly retook the lead after Kyle Foley found himself in space in the box, but his powerful low drive flew past Quirk’s left-hand post.
After a double effort from Bass was blocked and some fantastic closing down from the entire FCIOM frontline, Doyle had the ball at his feet in front of goal but his shot was deflected and bounced back off the post into the goalkeeper’s grateful arms.
The Ravens high press then got the result it deserved on 61 minutes. Davies and Bass combined to pressure the goalkeeper into a weak pass, which Dan Simpson seized upon – racing into the box and firing low and hard with his left foot into the bottom-right corner to make it 2-1.
A familiar back and forth resumed, as both sides took turns to probe, but then on 76 minutes the pivotal moment of the game occurred. Murray was adjudged to have bundled a Nomads player over in the box and the referee blew for a penalty to the visitors.
Up stepped Daniel McLaughlin who chose to shoot to his right but Matt Quirk got across and down incredibly well with a strong hand to palm it away – cue huge cheers from the crowd and bear hugs from his team mates.
Then followed another period of dangerous possession and attacking from both sides and on 85 minutes the tireless Bass Jnr, who had been everywhere, was replaced by Adam Cooil to try and close the game out.
Cheadle Heath had other ideas though and continued to counter strongly in search of an equaliser. Had it not been for a couple of vital interceptions from Sam Caine late on the visitors would have been in on goal.
However, it was the Ravens who got the game’s fourth goal on 89 minutes. Another Simpson corner from the right was bent in and Luke Murray was there again at the front post to head home – almost a carbon copy of his first, to make it 3-1.
And after only a handful of stoppage time minutes, the game would end 3-1 extending the Raven’s unbeaten run to eleven games and returning them to the top of the league table.