We’ve witnessed many a humdinger of a game at the Bowl these last two seasons, and Saturday’s encounter with Longridge Town must go down as one such experience, unfortunately this one ultimately went against the Ravens as the impressive visitors ran out 5-3 winners.
This wasn’t so much a game of two halves, but a game two thirds. The hosts were dominant for half an hour streaking into a 3-1 lead, but for the last hour, Longridge gave the Ravens a lesson in ruthless passing, moving and finishing and thoroughly deserved their victory.
Despite the travel travails, and late player withdrawals of the previous week, manager Paul Jones had the luxury of picking from a full squad. Ryan Burns came back into the starting XI with Karl Clark reverting to right wing-back, while Ronan McDonnell replaced Frank Jones in the midfield. The skipper reverting to the impact bench along with Tom Shimmin, overwise it was the same team that earned a hard-fought draw at Northwich Victoria the previous week.
Although the hosts would dominate the opening 30 minutes, they were actually a goal behind inside three minutes. A long ball down the Raven’s left flank and a pacey whipped right-wing cross was turned into his own net by a recovering Burns.
The hosts were level within five minutes though. Calm build-up play down “Ridge’s” left found Whitely on the right touchline. The Magician turned inside and found Doyle completely unmarked in the penalty area and the striker nodded home on the front post to equalise.
Just a little over ten minutes later and the Ravens were 3-1 up.
Firstly, after a period of concentrated pressure which saw a neat Higgins finish disallowed for offside, the Ravens kept the ball in the attacking third and a long Whitely cross from the left found Higgins on the far post. The winger neatly played a pass into Doyle’s feet and the striker turned his marker to smash home.
Within minutes the striker had completed his perfect hat trick after a stunning team move involving Sean, Whitley, Higgins and Crook which ended with the latter overlapping inside the 18-yard box to cross for Doyle to tap home.
At this stage, it was one-way traffic, and the Raven’s defence was largely redundant, but just after the half-hour, the mood changed as the visitors found themselves back in the game.
This time it was the “Ridges’” turn to be patient in their build-up and with what seemed like an eternity of time in the midfield a through ball to the edge of the box found the impressive Dean Ing, who skilfully turned his man and swept the ball passed the despairing Kearns.
Longridge were then denied an immediate equaliser as Kearns spilled what looked like a tame effort from the host’s right channel only for McVey to cover and clear the loose ball.
While it was Longridge now in the ascendency, the hosts had a magnificent opportunity to extend their lead just before halftime. A quick free kick from Whitley on the halfway line put Higgins through 1v1 with the visitors ‘keeper, but the latter saved the initial shot and Charlie could only put the rebound wide of the goal. Thus, it remained 3-2 to the Ravens at the break.
The second half was to prove to be a one-way street as right from the off “Ridge” caused confusion in the Raven’s defence with a low whipped right-wing cross that Burns eventually cleared for a corner. It was to be much of the same for the following quarter of an hour as the home defence came under enormous pressure.
Just after the hour, the Raven’s resilience was broken. Again, the visitors found themselves in acres of space in the midfield and a through ball found Ing remarkably unmarked in the centre of the penalty area. The striker ruthlessly smashed the ball past Kearns for the equaliser.
Minutes later they were ahead. The Longridge left wing-back cut in from the left and drove a fierce shot across goal. Kearns was down to save but could only push the ball into the on-rushing Ing who calmly applied the coup de grace for his hat trick.
A multitude of substitutions for the hosts followed as they attempted to get back on the front foot. Crook had a fierce right-wing shot sail just over the bar. The same player was unlucky not to ‘win’ what looked like a stone wall penalty with five minutes to go when his goal-bound shot was ‘saved’ by a “Ridge” defender. Remarkably the referee awarded… nothing.
To rub salt into the Raven’s wounds, the visitors immediately broke down the hosts’ right flank and Ben Finley expertly cut in to fire a neat right foot shot just inside Kearns’ far post to put the gloss on what was a well-deserved victory for the visitors.
Jones was philosophical, if not a little frustrated in his post-game comments. “We were excellent in the first 25-30 minutes and executed our game plan really well. Then we stopped executing the plan, took our foot off the gas and our standards dropped, certainly out of possession. Unfortunately, we didn’t do what we needed to do in the second half and nullify their threats and we made it very difficult for ourselves. It’s disappointing because we shouldn’t lose a game from 3-1 up.“