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Play Off Final Report: FC Isle of Man (4) vs New Mills (2)

The grand finale. After a long season, with many ups and downs, it all came down to this. The Bowl was sold out, the sun was shining, the team were ready, and FCIOM knew that one more win would see them secure promotion that the club so badly craved.

Manager Chris Bass was undoubtedly facing his hardest task of the year: picking a team to see things over the line. With that in mind he chose a 16-man squad that featured plenty of experienced figures in it, with the odd youngster in there to provide that youthful energy.

In goal Bass stuck with Matt Quirk, as has been the case for most of this season, especially since the turn of the year. The back four had plenty of big game knowhow, Sam Caine would start at right back, with Chris Cannel at left back. The centre halve partnership saw Sean Quaye partner Alex Maitland, with this pair seeming to have struck up a strong relationship in recent weeks.

In midfield, Bass went with Lee Gale on the right wing, with the speedy Dan Simpson starting on the left. In the middle would see that blend of youth and experience, as the wise figure of Chriss Bass Jnr would play alongside youngster Jack Camarda.

That meant Luke Murray would play just off captain Sean Doyle in the front third of the pitch. Bass was able to boast a strong bench too naming Ste Whitley, Charlie Higgins, Ryan Burns, Jack McVey and Michael Williams.

The two teams came out to a roaring reception from the huge crowd of 3230. The game was cagey at first, but that was to be expected with so much at stake. New Mills tried to play the ball around the back where possible but often resorted to going long. FCIOM adopted their usual style of playing direct unless the option was there to get the ball wide and allow their wingers to deliver crosses into the box or play for set pieces.

The first real action of the game came for the away side. Following some intricate play down the left, they managed to work their way into the Ravens defensive third. A well weighted through ball saw a New Mills player through one vs one with Quirk but the Ravens shot-stopper made himself big and denied the striker low down to his right.

From an attacking point of view, FCIOM had most of their joy in the early stages through Simpson on the left flank. His energy and set piece deliveries were proving to be a problem for the New Mills defenders. His first dangerous corner of the game was glanced across goal by a towering Murray but unfortunately none of his teammates anticipated the knock down and the far post was left unoccupied.

Moments later, Simpson again sent in a wicked delivery which forced a New Mills defender to make a heroic clearance from inside his own six-yard box.

As the momentum seemed to be swinging in FCIOM’s favour, they were able to capitalise and there would be no medals awarded for guessing how the goal would come about. Simpson sent a monster long throw deep into the New Mills box from the right-hand side, and Murray was there to win the initial flick on which saw the ball go through a crowd of players. Eventually, the ball made its way into the centre of the six-yard box and there was Bass Jnr to capitalise to knock the ball home via a deflection on 27 minutes.

The home crowd had barely sat down from celebrating before they saw their side relinquish the lead. After a mix up in the Ravens penalty area which involved a few poor clearances and a few stabs at goal, the ball fell to Kyle Oakes who was able to sweep home at the second attempt to level the score. This sparked wild scenes in the away dugout and seemed to give the visitors real belief that they could spoil the party.

FCIOM managed to steady the ship and began to cause problems again themselves. Another wicked Simpson delivery saw Murray come close to restoring the home side’s lead. Simpson sent the ball deep into the back post and Murray met the ball well with his head and sent it back across the keeper, but luck wasn’t on his side this time as his header came bouncing off the crossbar.

New Mills would then go on to have the better of things before half time and they created two big chances. The first would be the easier of the two, as the New Mills left winger flashed a dangerous ball across the FCIOM six-yard box, the number nine found himself unmarked but just wasn’t able to get a clean connection on the ball and sent it wide.

Barely a minute later the away side forced a corner. FCIOM have made a name for themselves this season for being set piece experts, but they were about to taste a piece of their own medicine.

As opposed to the usual pump into the box, New Mills chose to execute a pre-prepared set piece routine. The corner taker drilled the ball low and hard towards the edge of the penalty area. The first attacker dummied the ball for Benito Lowe to take a touch and curl the ball into the far corner to give the away side the lead on 44 minutes.

That meant the two sides went into the break knowing exactly what would be needed to see this tie over the line. New Mills knew they’d come under huge pressure from FCIOM’s set pieces and the ferocious home crowd, whereas the Ravens knew they had to find yet another second half performance to save them from defeat.

Perhaps the biggest thing to come out of half-time interval was Bass’s first substitution of the game. He replaced Gale with Ste Whitley, and Whitley’s introduction was huge for the Ravens. He signalled his intent straight away, showing great work rate to track back and prevent a cross into the box with a fantastically timed slide tackle.

The Ravens seemed to be intent on getting things level as soon as possible, and it didn’t take too long for that to happen. Maitland sprayed a great pass out to Simpson on the left who was able to force a corner after attacking his man. It would be Simpson again to swing the ball in and this time Quaye met it, powering it home to bring the scores level on 53 minutes.

New Mills then had a penalty appeal waved away after an attacker went down under pressure from Maitland, but the referee deemed the striker not strong enough. The New Mills manager sensed the tide was turning and reacted by bringing on one of his tall defenders to try and cope with the ariel bombardment that the Ravens would undoubtedly be sending into the New Mills box.

This decision didn’t work though, as only minutes later, Simpson launched another missile into the box. This time luck would be on Murray’s side, as his header on 58 minutes found the back of the net, putting FCIOM in the lead again sending the Bowl crazy.

Quirk still had to be alert to sweep up a dangerous New Mills through ball, but it seemed the away side had really had the stuffing knocked out of them.

Simpson was having a very good game and it would be him again that would create the next opening. He used to pace to run away from his man and deliver a cross into the box. Whitley was there to meet it but could only send his header over the bar. The momentum was fully in favour of the home side now and it seemed that if they could find one more goal that would be the tie over.

Chris Bass Jnr had been quietly going about his business in the middle of the park. He had won plenty of tackles (and some big ones at that), been a constant nuisance, and obviously had given the Ravens the lead. He was to have one final moment of brilliance though.

I’m sure Jack Camarda will have thought he’d have secured goal of the season with his wonder strike last week, but Bass Jnr seemed to have accepted the challenge from his midfield partner. After a ball made its way to the left edge of the box, Bass Jnr showed unbelievable technique to take a touch and fire the ball back across goal into the top corner to send all the Ravens fans in the Bowl into dreamland.

Things would settle down a little after this as FCIOM showed great maturity in the closing stages. New Mills however, looked frustrated and it showed as a few of their players began to throw in some extra firm tackles and even began to lash out.

Whitley had been impressive since coming on and gave the Ravens that unpredictability they had been missing in the first half. After good work from the winger, he saw his first effort blocked and then flashed another one just wide of goal. Bass Snr used this opportunity to make a smart move and take off the eventual man of the match, Bass Jnr, for the ever-reliable Jack McVey.

With ten minutes remaining, any chance of the game taking another dramatic turn seemed over after the away side were reduced to ten men. Richard Tindall unexplainedly lashed out at Whitley and saw a straight red card after the Ravens man had given away a free kick.

Not long after this, Simpson sent another long throw into the box and this time Murray’s header was tipped onto the bar. Bass then sent on another player with great ariel prowess, as Michael Williams came on to replace Doyle.

The game became a bit gritty towards the end with a few yellow cards being brandished. New Mills’ Harry Norris seemed lucky to escape a straight red card after he appeared to grab Murray by the throat whilst he was on the floor, but the referee decided it was only worthy of a yellow. New Mills were understandably frustrated, and it was showing.

Nevertheless, the Ravens were able to see the remaining minutes out comfortably. And when the referee put his lips to his whistle for the final time the Bowl erupted with players and fans alike celebrating a much-deserved promotion into Step Five.