Despite another good performance full of promise, the Ravens ultimately came up short once more against AFC Liverpool inside a cold and wet Bowl.
After being unavailable last weekend, goalkeeper James Rice returned to the starting XI with the centre-back pairing of Alex Maitland and Jack McVey ahead of him. The full-back positions were the responsibility of Karl Clark on the left and Tom Shimmin on the right.
Kyle Watson and Tiernan Garvey had formed an impressive partnership in the middle in recent games and so was this duo who maintained their places, with flying wingers Lee Gale and Charlie Higgins creating the width.
Captaining the side tonight as usual was Ste Whitley who started in the number ten role, with young striker Tom Creer up top. On the bench from the outset were last week’s MOTM Jamie Corlett, Furo Davies, Dominic McHarrie-Brennan, Sam Baines and Ben Wilkinson.
The Ravens started the game brightly, as a quick break from Whitley created space for Gale to receive and with one touch play in Creer on goal but the young striker was just beaten to the ball by the goalkeeper.
AFC Liverpool almost immediately showed their own threat moments later, having a goal-bound effort saved by Rice and cleared well just yards out by Shimmin.
Yet again Tom Creer was full of running, epitomising the Raven’s high press and work ethic under Jones’ management. The team’s solid early shape, both on and off the ball, prevented AFC Liverpool from getting any traction and frustrated their attempts.
At this early stage, FC Isle of Man were well on top, looking to hit the pace on the wings. And they nearly got their opening, as Garvey clipped a perfectly weighted ball over the backline for Gale to run on to, only for his advances to be snuffed out. However, the Ravens kept the ball alive in the AFC Liverpool final third and as Creer stole in and looked to round the goalkeeper he was brought down for a penalty.
Up stepped Jack McVey, and with the home crowd expecting the net to bulge, his placed effort struck the left upright and cannoned back into play where it was hoofed clear.
The missed chance to take a deserved lead, seemed to play on the minds of the FC IOM players as the visitors began to assert more pressure. A concession of the ball in midfield led to an AFC Liverpool cross wide on the right, which the Ravens backline couldn’t deal with and Tom Croughan arrived at the back post to steer the ball past Rice making it 0-1 to the visitors.
As the first half continued, despite still trying to play through the opposition, FC IOM’s early brightness began to fade. When the Ravens looked to equalise, a quick AFC Liverpool counter led to an overload on the edge of the box, which was only stopped when Alex Maitland collided with their man for a free-kick in a dangerous position.
Rice set his wall and the got into position, but could do nothing for the precise curling shot from William McCarthy nestling into the top corner to double AFC Liverpool’s lead, 0-2.
As rain started to drive down the referee blew his whistle to bring the first half to a close, with the Ravens feeling slightly hard done by to be two down at this stage.
The second period began with an early scare, as Maitland was caught in possession bringing the ball out from the back, allowing the visitors to run at goal. However, their shot was well blocked for a corner, from which Maitland atoned for his error by heading clear.
After this however, the Ravens began to get into a rhythm again. The now familiar press from the front, lead to Whitley winning the ball back high up the pitch and feeding Gale but his shot was ultimately cut out.
Karl Clark, who had been impressive in the game to this point, appeared to be struggling with a knock and was replaced by Jamie Corlett, who moved into a central three at the back alongside Maitland and McVey.
Another tactical tweak by Jones almost paid instant dividends, as Lee Gale was asked to move inside momentarily, with Tom Shimmin moving higher into that space. Shimmins’ wasn’t picked up and got to the by-line, his fantastic cross found Lee Gale at the back post but he lost the flight of the ball and miscued his effort wide. Another agonising chance missed.
FC IOM were nearly in again though, as a quick play from the back from McVey and Gale got the ball to Garvey’s feet, the young man slotted an eye-of-the-needle ball through the lines to Creer only for the offside flag to go up.
That would be Creer’s last action, as the tireless forward was replaced by Dominic McHarrie-Brennan.
AFC Liverpool seemed content at this stage to sit back and look after their lead, keeping FC IOM at arms length as they struggled to find a cutting edge.
The Ravens did not give up trying however, as first McHarrie-Brennan sees a shot blocked after a neat turn, then Gale’s shot from the edge beats the goalkeeper but also the right-hand post.
With twenty minutes to go, Ste Whitley, who was not quite at his magical best today, was replaced by Furo Davies.
Through Davies, FC IOM begun to retain possession more, as the big man did well to keep the ball up top. It was his holding play that provided the lay off for a wicked Gale turn and shot that was heading towards the bottom corner but for the fingertips of the goalkeeper.
Moments later, Jones made his final substitution as Kyle Watson came off for Sam Baines, making his return to the field for some months.
Having plenty of ball but no breakthrough was beginning to frustrate some Ravens players, as Charlie Higgins was booked for a wild challenge, the aftermath of which threated to boil over. Almost immediately, it was AFC Liverpool’s turn to see yellow after a sly trip on Higgins.
Inside the final ten minutes, the visitors worked the ball cleverly across the box to eek out a shooting angle, which forced Rice into a good save with his legs. Then as the Ravens break, Tom Shimmin is brought down in the box, leaving the crowd and FC IOM players incensed but referee waved away all the appeals.
As the home side looked to push ever more forward in search of a goal, they were left vulnerable to AFC Liverpool breaks, which resulted in several last ditch challenges from the Ravens backline.
Despite an added-time half-volley from Higgins forcing the goalkeeper into a smart save, it was ultimately another frustrating result, in a game where the difference once again was taking chances when on top.