FC Isle of Man crest

REPORT: FC Isle of Man 4 vs 1 Irlam FC

A hardworking and decisive performance under the floodlights at the Bowl secured the Ravens their much-needed first three points of the year against Irlam FC on Saturday evening.

The team lined up with Ben Wilkinson once again in goal then a back three of Ryan Burns, Alex Maitland and Jack McVey ahead of him. This meant Eoghain Sherrard and Jacob Crook would be tasked with the right and left wingback roles respectively. A middle three of Michael Williams, Kyle Watson and Ste Whitley started behind Charlie Higgins and captain Frank Jones who lead the line.

FIRST HALF

It was the visitors who got the game underway and were immediately on the front foot, passing the ball around with purpose. The Ravens managed these attacks well but were dealt an early blow when Frank Jones went down holding the back of his thigh within the first two minutes. Sadly, his game was up and he was replaced by Furo Davies.

This seemed to unsettle FCIOM slightly, as a soft backpass to Wilkinson required the goalkeeper to rush out and head away to safety, getting clattered in the process by the onrushing Irlam forward. Wilkinson again had to be alert moments later to race from his goal and sweep up after a quick break from Irlam.

It wasn’t long however before the Ravens were back to their high pressing best. For anyone watching FCIOM recently, it is noticeable how disciplined the side is without the ball, moving in unison impressively to close down space and apply pressure.

This press would then create the home side’s first attempt at goal, as the ball is won back in midfield and immediately played over the top to release Charlie Higgins. With the goalkeeper coming out to meet him, he turned and shot smartly but was incredibly unlucky to hit the near post.

Just before the 25-minute mark, as Irlam struggled to escape the FC IOM press, Furo Davies was wrestled to the ground for a free kick just outside the area. Ste Whitley swung the set piece perfectly towards the back post where that man Davies arrived to head the ball home and put the Ravens one nil up.

Within minutes of the restart, the Ravens had doubled their lead. Jacob Crook intercepted a cross-field ball from Irlam, drove forward and expertly picked out Whitley who had made a darting run between the lines into the opposition box to calmly slot the ball past the goalkeeper into the corner.

Being two goals up didn’t dampen FC IOM’s press but unfortunately for Charlie Higgins, he was a little too zealous and collected a yellow card for a late stretching challenge.

There followed a period of possession for Irlam, which led to the visitors being awarded a soft free kick 30 yards from goal on their right flank. Although the initial delivery was cleared, the second ball was picked up by Irlam’s Millom Brown on the left-side edge of the box who stepped inside his man and unleashed an unstoppable rocket into the top right corner. Wilkinson had no chance and Irlam had reduced the deficit to just one goal.

This seemed to encourage the visitors who, just before the break, found themselves inside the Ravens area with just the goalkeeper to beat. Wilkinson however was having other ideas and stood his ground, waiting until the perfect moment to go down and palm the ball away.

As the referee’s half-time whistle blew, it was met with loud cheers around the Bowl as the Ravens went in at the break a goal to the good.

SECOND HALF

The game was restarted by the Ravens, who signalled their intent immediately, looking to find Sherrard, who had sprinted down the right wing, almost straight from kick-off. Closing down from Williams then forced the Irlam goalkeeper to play his clearance straight into Davies, whose shot on the turn was rushed and drifted wide.

With less than ten minutes gone in the second period, FC IOM did get their third goal. A lovely backheel flick from Davies on halfway was met by the onrushing Higgins, who took the ball on into the box at pace. As the defender struggled to catch up, he brought Charlie down giving the referee no choice but to point to the spot for a Ravens penalty. Up stepped Jack McVey to slot the spot-kick home with customary poise and calm into the bottom corner and the home side’s two-goal buffer was restored.

Irlam’s frustration was now beginning to show, as Higgins was once again scythed down on the run which caused several scuffles between players with the offending Irlam defender shown a yellow card. With Charlie on a booking and seemingly being targeted by Irlam, he was replaced by Dean Leece at this stage.

At the hour mark Ravens had their fourth goal. A Whitley corner from the right was curled in with trademark precision, as the ball evaded the stretching goalkeeper, steaming in came Michael Williams to power home a header from close range.

Following a challenge by Williams to stop an Irlam breakaway, which led to more handbags and an Irlam yellow card, the goalscorer appeared to pick up a knock and so was replaced by young Tiernan Garvey.

With a three-goal lead, it was the Raven’s turn to enact some game management. First, Kyle Watson took a yellow for pulling back a breaking Irlam forward then Whitley entered the book for a similar offence moments later. Alex Maitland would be next to go into the book for a challenge from behind to disrupt an Irlam counter.

The visitor’s next attack however was more successful, forcing Ryan Burns to manhandle the forward who was shaping to shoot from a dangerous position. With the numerical advantage in that phase, the referee gave the advantage to Irlam who recycled the ball well and looked to capitalise only for Wilkinson to make a sliding tackle outside his box to clear.

As the clock ticked towards 90, the tireless Kyle Watson was replaced by Ronan McDonnell. Raven’s tails were well and truly up for the first time in many games, as Leece whipped a teasing ball towards the back post for Sherrard but he was a hair’s breadth away from getting FC IOM’s fifth goal.

Deep into added time, as Alex Maitland was replaced by Karl Clark, the Ravens were determined to hold onto the lead. This determination ultimately boiled over, however, as Davies tried to stop a quick Irlam counter, cynically bringing his man down right in front of the referee. Cue more pushing and shoving from both sides and, after a few minutes, Furo was shown the red card meaning FC IOM would have to see out the final minutes with ten men.

Thankfully, the full-time whistle came just moments later and was met with a huge roar from the home crowd. Another big performance from minute one from all the players had finally been rewarded with three absolutely vital points.

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