FC Isle of Man crest

Match Report: Stafford Town FC (1) vs FC Isle of Man (5)

Following a shaky start, FC Isle of Man kept their unbeaten form going by eventually running out convincing 1-5 winners away to Stafford Town FC on Saturday afternoon.

The journey to Evans Park was an uncertain one for the Ravens, with heavy sleet and strong winds threatening to create difficult match conditions. As it turned out, the sun was shining on arrival setting the scene for a great game of football.

Despite two games in two days last weekend manager Chris Bass was able to pick a strong squad. The starting eleven saw Matt Quirk retain the gloves, Adam Cooil and Ryan Burns at right and left full-back respectively with Alex Maitland and Sean Quaye shoring up central defence. Ahead them in centre midfield was the familiar pairing of Jack Camarda and Michael Williams, while Lee Gale and Dan Simpson occupied the wings. The forward line was led by captain Sean Doyle, with Luke Murray sitting just behind in the number 10 role.

The game itself started with a scare for the Ravens, as within the first five minutes Stafford were charging into the box, out came Quirk to meet the forward who fell under the challenge to raucous claims for a penalty from the home team and fans alike. Thankfully the referee waved them away.

Almost immediately FCIOM were staging their own attack. A neat clipped free-kick from Burns was met by Doyle in the box who couldn’t get a shot off but the ball bounced out to Camarda to strike an accurate half-volley towards goal but the Stafford keeper was able to catch well.

After an encouraging start for the Ravens, passes started to go astray and ideas were in short supply. This allowed Stafford to gain confidence and before long the hosts were bossing possession and causing all kinds of problems down our left.

It was during this period that Stafford opened the scoring, netting on 27 minutes. The ball was not cleared from a probing attack and was allowed to be played to the feet of Stafford’s number eight inside the area who smashed it hard and high past Quirk, with the keeper having no chance.

The next ten minutes was hard to watch, as the goal had obviously drained the Ravens of confidence. Stafford continued to bombard the Raven’s box and another goal for the home team seemed, at least, inevitable.

However, cometh the hour (well the 42nd minute), cometh the man. As the ball came to Murray in the middle of the pitch, he held it up well to feed Simpson who kicked and ran past his man and swung in an inch perfect cross for Doyle to head home from the penalty spot bringing the Ravens level.

And it would only be moments later, on 46 minutes, that FCIOM were ahead. Simpson was again the provider, as he played a corner long to the back post where Sean Quaye had made a clever run to head home unmarked into the top corner.

Half-time and the Ravens were all of sudden ahead at the break.

The second period began with Chris Bass Jnr replacing Jack Camarda in the centre and it was immediately obvious that FC Isle of Man were determined to press harder and higher. The latter became increasingly aided by the strong headwind now facing the Stafford Town goalkeeper who was struggling to get the ball over halfway.

The second goal before the break for the Ravens must have boosted confidence too, as passes were now meeting their mark and space was being found more consistently. The danger from the hosts was not over however, as Quirk was sharply reminded he was in a game when a daisy-cutter from their forward flashed just past his post. After 48 minutes an injury to Ryan Burns saw him replaced by Jacob Crook in the left-back position.

Then on 63 minutes FCIOM bagged their third goal and captain Sean Doyle’s second of the game. The goal itself was almost a replica of his first, heading home expertly from inside the box, although this time assist came from Gale on the right-flank.

Ravens tails were definitely up now and at one point Murray, Simpson and Doyle found themselves three vs two – Doyle brought the ball under control, strolled into the box with plenty of time and let fly but the goalkeeper was a match for it and palmed the ball wide well.

By this stage is was more or less all FCIOM, as we got in behind the hosts again and again only for crosses to be well cut out or shots closed down.

With ten minutes remaining, Bass made his final change of the game with Ste Whitley coming off the bench to replace Lee Gale.

What followed next was the Luke Murray Show, as the big forward bagged himself a brace in under five minutes – his first on 85 minutes being the pick of the two. Winning the ball from the centre back he beat his man to get into the box, fired powerfully at goal and the ball cannoned off the left-hand post and nestled into the bottom right-hand corner.

Just four minutes later Murray got his second. A deft control inside the box from a Whitley pull-back, he sorted his feet out well and calmly stroked the ball past the hapless keeper into the right-hand corner.

If the game wasn’t over at 1-3 it was now, indeed moments later the referee blew his whistle to confirm the Ravens as 1-5 winners and with it three more vital points were heading back to the Bowl.

Special mention goes to the travelling FC Isle of Man supporters who were in fine voice all match, complemented with drum, horn and chants of “We love you Ravens, we do!”

Our next match is perhaps the biggest of the season yet, as we take on league leaders West Didsbury & Chortlon at home on 26 February.