FC Isle of Man crest

Match Report: FC Isle of Man (4) vs West Didsbury & Chorlton (3)

The one we’d all been waiting for. The Bowl played host to a top of the table clash as FC Isle of Man welcomed table toppers West Didsbury & Chorlton AFC.

As the season gets down to crunch time, this would be a huge game in deciding the Ravens fate this year. The atmosphere was electric pre-game, with the away fans proving to be a noisy bunch in the corner of the Bowl. The Ravens faithful turned out in fantastic numbers themselves, with a whopping 2,395 fans coming down to support the side in their attempt to reach the summit of the table.

Chris Bass went with the following line up in his biggest game of the season so far. Matt Quirk started in goal, keeping his place in the side after returning from his suspension a few games ago. Right back would be Ryan Burns, the centre halves would be Alex Maitland and the experienced Sean Quaye. The back line would be completed with Chris Cannell at left back. In the midfield, Bass started with Lee Gale on the right flank and on the opposite side would be the tricky Dan Simpson. In the middle would be the dynamic Mike Williams and accompanying him would be the wise figure of Chris Bass Jnr. That would mean captain Sean Doyle starting up front and off him would be Ste Whitley acting as the side’s number ten.

The teams walked out to a huge roar from both sets of fans and that would set the tone for what was to come. A passionate, entertaining, and electric 90 minutes jam packed with goals, twists & turns, and drama right until the full-time whistle.

In blustery conditions, FCIOM played against the wind in the first half which made for some tricky situations. Quirk had to be alert early on as he had to tip an effort over the bar from his opposing goalkeeper that had be launched from way inside his own half. Quirk’s kicks were hanging up in the wind too meaning that the Ravens backline had to be super switched on to deal with any floating high balls.

West Didsbury & Chorlton started well and already looked by far the best away side to come to the Bowl this season. Their two centre backs looked dominating, full backs assured, two tricky wingers with great feet, tough tackling midfielders and some quality up front too. It was no surprise that this side found themselves top of the league coming into the fixture.

After fifteen minutes they nearly broke the deadlock and had it not been for a fantastic save from Quirk it could have been 1-0 but thankfully the Ravens shot stopper got his frame in the way of the striker’s poke following a nice through ball.

It wouldn’t take long for the away side to get their reward for their assured start though. As a deep free kick was sent in all the way to the back post, the WDC striker was there to nod the ball in, just squeezing it inside the post. There was a real feeling in the celebration, as the whole side ran together to congratulate their goal scorer, proving how much this fixture meant to the away side as well. 1-0 to the visitors.

Soon after, Quirk would be required again as he pulled off another strong save, this time diving down low to his right to keep another stinging effort out. FCIOM grew into the game a little more after this and began to ask a few questions of their own.

As the game became a little more even with both sides showing some good quality football, FCIOM got their break. Whitley played a cracking through ball to Simpson who raced through and just nicked the ball past the onrushing keeper who then clipped the Ravens winger which gave the referee no choice but to point to the spot. A chance for the home side to get back in the match. There was no doubt who would take the penalty. Up stepped Doyle and he made no mistake, emphatically converting his penalty into the top left corner, game on at 1-1.

The atmosphere inside the ground at this point was buzzing, by far the best we have had at the Bowl so far this season. But just as the fans thought they could make the run for the half time tea and coffee queue, WDC proved to have other ideas.

With three minutes of added time played, the away side fired another cross in from the right and the ball managed to find its way through the box to the WDS winger who bundled the ball over the line and celebrated by running over to the traveling away fans who went crazy. That would bring an end to the half, sending the away side in at the break 2-1 up.

The second half started with the same intensity that the first half ended with. FCIOM won a few corners and the first card of the game after a WDC player chopped down a Ravens runner. West Didsbury & Chorlton had quality all over the pitch, with their wingers standing out especially, and it would be one of their wide men who would send the away side two goals clear.

A mistake in the Ravens backline meant that the right sided winger was able to dink the ball over Quirk and into the goal, sparking scenes in the away end and their team and fans celebrated what they thought would be a job well done. 3-1 up and looking good to see it out.

This prompted Bass to shuffle his pack and make an important change. Luke Murray came on the replace Gale, meaning that Whitley would be put out onto the right-hand side, where we’ve often seen him look so dangerous at times this year.

It would be the left-hand side that would give the home team a route back into the match though. Cannell, who had barely put a foot wrong in the match, found himself in the opposition half and decided to have a strike at goal. He produced a sizzling effort which was too hot for the keeper to handle, and he could only spill it into the path of that man Doyle, who just has that sense of being in the right place at the right time, making a tricky finish look simple, as he guided the ball home to make it 3-2. This gave the home fans something to get behind and the volume inside the stadium just crept up a notch again.

Williams has been outstanding for the Ravens this season so it was bitterly disappointing to see him forced off through injury, but it did mean Furo Davies could come on. Davies had provided the Bowl with one of the most memorable moments so far this season, with his last-minute equaliser against Maine Road before Christmas. He couldn’t do it again, could he?

He made a bright start after his introduction, beating his man and firing high and wide, and then having a few swipes at goal when the ball looked beyond him after the away side failed to clear a corner properly. By this point in the match the wind had died down and as we approached the 90th minute the game seemed poised for one final moment of magic.

Simpson lined up another of his deadly long throws and launched it into the box, and there was Davies lurking near the back stick to steer the ball home and spark exuberant scenes in the capital. The players gathered around Davies but soon realised the match was still there to be won, so they grabbed the ball and headed back into their half as they signalled their intent. With five minutes added time to go the Bowl sensed there might be one final chance.

In the last minute of added time, with the game on a knife edge, Cannell played a beautiful crossfield ball to Whitley, who expertly took the ball down. He lined up his full back and drove at him. He sold the defender with a step over and then beat him for pace but found the ball on his weaker right foot. Many would have expected him to chop back inside but instead he dug out a brilliant cross which hung up in the air as it headed towards the six-yard box.

Time seemed the stand still as the whole stadium waited to see where his sumptuous delivery would land. It landed in the one place you want it to land if you’re a Ravens fan, bang on Sean Doyle’s head. He rose high and crashed the ball home to complete his hattrick, sending the home fans into absolute pandemonium. The Bowl has never heard a noise like that before, any everyone who was inside the stadium to experience that moment will never forget it.

The home side defended brilliantly late on with a few important headers to make sure that when the referee blew the full time whistle the Ravens would claim all three points and go top of the league.

So, an enthralling night that will live long in the memory of everyone associated with FCIOM. The home fans stuck around long after the final whistle to show the players their appreciation for their never say die attitude.

You could not have dreamt of a better ending than this if you tried.