What a rollercoaster! As games go Saturday night’s encounter with Barnoldswick Town was right up there with some of those memorable heart stopping games we witnessed last season: Maine Road and West Didsbury spring to mind.
Played at a ferocious pace throughout on a wet and slick pitch this game had it all. Spectacular goals, multiple chances, and sheer end to end entertainment for the hardy souls who braved the elements to enjoy.
The Ravens were coming off an awful Bank Holiday weekend following heavy losses at Congelton and AFC Liverpool and manager Chris Bass and Assistant Lee Dixon were determined to get back on track for this our first home game in three weeks.
The return to the Bowl also resulted in a number of changes to the team line up from the previous Monday’s fixture. Veteran Sean Quaye reverted to the bench, allowing Jamie Corlett another opportunity alongside mainstay Al Maitland at centre back. Chris Bass jr replaced the suspended Jack Camarda in the centre of the park, while Ste Whitley moved to the left hand side of the midfield. With Luke Murray returning up front, Jack McVey reverted to a more deep lying midfield pivot role. Sid Batty had been set to continue his role in the midfield alongside Bass, but the youngster unfortunately took a knock in the warm up resulting in a league debut for Shaun Kelly.
The Ravens started with purpose and determination and were ahead inside five minutes. Lee Gale flashed down the right flank and whipped a wicked low ball across the Barnoldswick penalty area and the Magician that is Ste Whitley appeared out of nowhere to poke the ball home. These early minutes were being played almost exclusively in the visitor’s half and Jack McVey driving into what appeared to be acres of space nearly extended the lead with a rasping drive from 20 yards that went just over the bar.
It took the visitors a good ten minute to break out of their own half, but when they did they demonstrated the menace they would subsequently turn out to be. Their first corner caused all sorts of consternation in the home penalty area and after a number of fluffed clearances, a low left footed drive from the edge of the box was saved superbly down to his left by ‘keeper Dean Kearns. The Ravens responded well though and forced Barnoldswick ‘keeper Jordan Gidley into a fine save of his own from Lurch Murray following more powerful work by Gale down the right hand side. Gale then went close himself after a misplaced pass from Gidley fell right at the Ravens wingers feet, but Lee’s subsequent driver sailed over the bar.
On 22 minutes it was all square. Barnoldswick played a ball from inside their own half over the heads of the Ravens defence, who had pushed up quite high, into the left hand channel for Kuda Chingwaro to run onto. Jacob Crook, recovering well from left back, seemed to have the situation under control, but Chingwaro turned him superbly before calmly passing the ball passed Kearns into the net. One-One!
Again the Ravens responded well and it was that man Gale who again forced Gidley into another decent save. It was now becoming more like a basketball game as both sides attacked each other with pace and purpose and just before the half hour Barnoldswick nearly took the lead. A through ball down the left hand side of the Ravens penalty area found a visiting striker on the angle of the eighteen yard box. The striker proceeded to hit a fierce angled drive which beat Kearns all ends up before smashing against the bar. The end-to-end nature of the game continued and on 33 minutes the Ravens were back in front. This time from a set piece, which allowed the Magician Whitley to return the compliment for Gale to score with a stooping header at the far post following a magnificent delivery from Whitley.
Gale’s goal seemed to calm both sets of players down and the next ten minutes leading up to half time were probably the quietest of the match as both sides probed each other’s defences without really endangering either goal, and the half ended with the hosts leading a very entertaining contest 2-1.
It was the visitors who started the second period with a spring in their step. A high looping ball fell to Chingwaro who hit the ball sweetly on the half volley but the shot flashed narrowly wide of Kearns’ left hand post. A few minutes later and there was another close shave as that man Chingwaro embarked on a dangerous run down the Ravens’ left, ultimately finding a team mate at the back post only for the subsequent shot to thunder off the frame of the goal. Within a minute the visitors were at it again as an angled drive from the edge of the box forced Kearns into a parry leaving Al Maitland to do very well to clear the loose ball.
The first 15 minutes of the half had been an onslaught on the hosts’ goal, but they survived and just after the hour that Gale/Whitley partnership were nearly at it again and nearly extended the lead. Lee whipped in a pacey corner, the Magician quicker than anyone to the delivery only to see his flashing header come back off the bar. But the Ravens were struggling to maintain any presence in the visitor’s half and they survived two more close shaves as back to back attempts from Barnoldswick went perilously close.
With 20 minutes to go, Manager Bass made his first change which nearly brought instant dividends. Adam Mealin replaced the Magician and within seconds the former was sent through on goal, one-v-one with Gidley, he seemed certain to score but his attempt went high and wide of the goal.
The change seemed to galvanise the Ravens though and for the first time in the half they exerted a decent amount of pressure on Gidley’s goal and went close through Karl Clark’s diving header. With ten minutes to go Furo Davis replaced the hitherto hard working Luke Murray, but within two minutes the visitors were level. Following a break down the Ravens right flank a seemingly harmless cross caused confusion in the Ravens’ penalty area and Gareth Hill was on hand to force the ball over the line. Two minutes later and Barnoldswick were ahead as that man Chingwaro smashed a ferocious left foot drive passed Kearns. The visitors were in full flow now and a rapid break down the hosts’ right flank forced Kearns into a fine save to keep his side in the game.
The Ravens valiantly fought back but as the game headed into five minutes of injury time, and as those minutes ticked away it looked a lost cause. But, out of the blue Gale found Mr Davies inside the right hand side of the Barnoldswick penalty area. Davies controlled, tried to turn, but a visiting defender came rushing in to challenge. At first glance it seemed the defender had won the ball, but the referee had other ideas and pointed to the spot. With Jack McVey on duty there was only going to be one outcome and he smashed the spot kick high into Gidley’s left hand corner of the net. And thus ended a fantastic contest all square.
This had been a fine and entertaining watch and it was a testament to both sides that they demonstrated so much individual skill, desire and determination for the thoroughly drenched Bowl faithful.
One footnote to observe. The match sponsors’ Man of the Match was deservedly awarded to Barnoldswick’s Kuda Chingwaro who was a arguably one of the best visiting players we have seen at The Bowl over the last 12 months. He was a thorn in our side on this night, but also a privilege to watch.
Team: Kearns – Clark, Maitland, Corlett (Quaye), Crook – McVey – Gale, S Kelly, Bass, Whitley (Mealin) – Murray (Davies).
Sub not used: Higginbotham.