The Ravens’ whirlwind start to the new North West Counties Football League season continued with a pulsating 2-2 draw at Hollyhedge Park against the unbeaten Wythenshawe Amateurs.
After winning their opening two games from losing positions, the Ammies are making a habit of coming from behind to get a result, and on Saturday, unfortunately for us, they were at it again as they hit back twice to rob us of our first victory.
Ahead of the game, manager, Chris Bass, was forced into four changes, following last week’s fixture at Maine Road. 18-year-old Adam Cooil came in for his debut at Right Back, which meant that Ash Higginbotham switched to the opposite full back position. Further up the pitch, veteran winger Chris Bass jr was back in the fold and made his club debut, as did midfielder Jack Camarda.
In a mirror of last week’s opening exchanges at Maine Road, the Ravens attacked the South Manchester side with some gusto and took an early lead. An early chance for Ste Whitley was repelled before Luke Murray latched on to a Whitley through ball and slid the ball expertly past the on-rushing goalkeeper. Bass jr rushed in to apply the coup de grace, but the ball was already over the line.
Within minutes however, Wythenshawe were level, but the goal was somewhat disputed as Ash Higginbotham was clearly pushed while defending a corner and the loose ball was bundled into the Ravens’ net.
Unlike last week when we dropped deeper after conceding, we stayed on the front foot and Lee Gale was presented with what looked like a simple chance to put the Ravens back in front, but the ball inexplicably spun off the outside of his right foot and wide. “I just don’t know what happened,” said an exasperated Gale post game. Next, Bass burst clear down the left but his cute shot to the near post was saved sharply by the Ammie’s keeper, Winston-Morley.
However, on 26 minutes the Ravens took the lead again. Lee Gale whipped in a pacey corner and Alex Maitland’s excellent header was saved by the goalkeeper, but Whitley, sharp as a tack, acrobatically put the looping rebound into the net to put us back in front.
Wythenshawe now gradually began to exert better control of possession, led by former Republic of Ireland international, Glenn Whelan who was marshalling the Ammies defence with the authority you would expect from such an experienced player. Despite this, the remainder of the half was devoid of any real action, apart from one excellent save from Ravens’ keeper Dean Kearns as Ed Brown drove inside and hit a fantastic shot which was seemingly bound for the top right corner before Kearns came to the rescue.
We began the second half with some zest and again we were taking the game to Wythenshawe. Another fantastic front to back passing move nearly resulted in the Ravens extending the lead as Murray’s header was saved on the near post by Morley-Winston. Almost immediately Gale expertly played Murray through on goal before a last-ditch tackle from an Ammies defender saved the day.
Just after the hour, and against the run of play, Wythenshawe equalised completely out of the blue. A quick short corner caught us off guard and as the ball found Dominic Lille 25 yards from goal, the Ammie’s substitute proceeded to whip in a fantastic shot that dipped viciously under the bar and into Kearn’s net.
By now Bass snr had used two players from the bench as Dan Simpson replaced Bass jr and Furo Davies came on for his debut in place of Gale. Davies first touch was to smash a 30-yard free kick ‘just’ over the bar. The game was now becoming more open, and Kearns had to make his second decent save of the match from Brown’s low goal bound shot. Then it was the Ravens turn to attack, and another lovely flowing move resulted in Davies forcing Morley-Winston into another great save.
With ten minutes to go the Ravens had their best chance to win the game as Simpson raced through one on one with Morley-Winston. Dan did everything correctly, created an angle to move the ‘keeper but his subsequent shot was agonisingly the wrong side of the post. There was still time for Whitley to find Sean Doyle (now on for Murray) free in the box, but the soaking wet ball spun off the big striker’s left foot. And right on full time there was some tension as the Ammies were awarded a free kick some 25 yards from goal, but Whelan fired over the bar.
So ended another tense and exciting encounter. A game we could arguably have won on another day and Bass, who was a little frustrated following last week’s encounter, was a lot more upbeat following this particular clash.
“I think today was an exceptional draw, especially considering the team we played today,” he said. “I was very impressed with Wythenshawe Amateurs. We’re still at a bit of a disadvantage because of our lack of pre-season (friendlies) and now teams are playing mid-week games we are having to play catch up somewhat (in terms of playing matches as a team). Upon saying that, I thought our team, to a man, worked extremely hard today and we created so many good chances. Lee, Dan, Furo and Sean Doyle all had good opportunities.”
What pleased Chris more though was the improvement in the organisation of the team compared to the previous fixture. “We worked so much better as a unit,” he explained. “We moved up and down the pitch as a group much better. We were superb in defence and our pressing of the ball higher up the pitch was much improved too. We stole the ball off them so many times, but perhaps we didn’t capitalise enough when we regained possession. But that can only improve as we play more games.”
And so, another week in the NWCFL comes to an end. Two games, two draws, in what we are quickly finding out is a very competitive league, but we remain unbeaten, and we have been very close to winning both of these opening games. Now attentions change to week three, and our grand tour of the North West continues next Saturday at Alsager Town.
Ravens Line up:
Kearns – Cooil, Maitland, Burns, Higginbotham – Whitley, Camarda, Baines, Bass (Simpson) – Gale (Davies), Murray (Doyle). Unused Subs: Avery, McVey.