Another large crowd was in attendance at Gigg Lane as FC United endeavoured to put the mathematicians out of their misery by securing promotion. Nelson FC kept themselves in the fight by twice coming from behind at home versus Darwen on Monday eventually coming out 3-2 victors. The only other theoretical challengers were Flixton FC who also played on Wednesday evening and had to match FC United�€trade;s result to maintain their slim championship chance. With Nelson and Flixton still to play one another, and by necessity one or the other or both would drop points in that match, FC United took to the pitch safe in the knowledge that 3 points would guarantee promotion.
The only change in the United line-up saw Billy McCartney returning to line-up alongside Dave Brown in the United backline as David Chadwick�€trade;s hamstring strain, picked up in the weekend victory versus Norton United, kept the club captain on the sidelines. Apart from that enforced change the squad remained unchanged with Ahern, Mitten and Orr all ready to join from the bench if required.
Chadderton arrived on the back of two home games, one a derby victory versus Oldham Town and the other a draw against Holker Old Boys. The league table shows the Andrew Street side to be having a difficult campaign but no-one at United would be expecting anything other than a tough 90 minutes. Most sides this season have taken inspiration from their trips to play against United in front of a crowd larger than they would normally see in 2 seasons. Very few have frozen on the big occasion and Martin Ivison would surely be aiming to inspire his Chadderton side to spring a surprise and delay the inevitable FC United celebrations.
The sides took to the pitch with United sporting 2 number 11�€trade;s. Somehow George Hayden�€trade;s normally immaculate preparations failed on this occasion allowing Dave Swarbrick to run out with an 11 on his back rather than the 9 that he was allocated on the official team-sheet. His error was quickly noticed and he retreated to the changing room to change into his 9 shirt before proceedings commenced. Perhaps George had taken his �€�eye off of the ball�€trade; as he continues his preparation for the marathon bike ride around the NWCL2 grounds which will raise significant cash for the �€�United for Alex�€trade; fund.
United started the stronger, attacking the Cemetery End which was doing a tremendous impression of the Manchester Road End tonight. Josh Howard and Dave Swarbrick both got into good crossing positions early on but both hit the final balls too strongly allowing Swanson in the Chadderton goal to intervene. In the 7th minute Glyn Billington launched a speculative shot on Phil Melville�€trade;s goal after the United goalkeeper had cleared from a position near the right touchline. The ball came to Billington who fired it to goal as Melville scrambled back to position. The ball landed on the roof of the net with Melville just about regaining his ground in time to intercept had the shot been on target.
On 10 minutes more United pressure saw some desperate defending from the Chadderton backs as first Swarbrick and then Torpey saw shots blocked as a scramble ensued in the Chadderton penalty area. Eventually the ball broke through to Swanson who picked up before clearing his lines.
Tony Cullen was in his normal uncompromising mood and picked up an early caution from Mr. Foster for over-exuberant use of his arm whilst jumping with Carl Taylor near the halfway line. Taylor received attention for a cut but resumed soon enough, he was later to emerge with a number 16 shirt presumably in replacement for his original bloodied number 10.
Patterson was next to try his luck as United continued to pressurise the Chadderton goal. A blast from the right side was blocked at the expense of a corner kick. From the corner the ball came back to Patterson who exchanged a quick one-two before firing another shot, this effort was not blocked but slipped marginally wide of the left post with Swanson well beaten.
On 21 minutes Steve Torpey opened the scoring. The United number 10 had won a freekick, outside of the Chadderton area well to the right of centre, and took the kick himself. Swanson dived to his left and seemed to get across well enough but somehow the dipping effort from Torpey evaded his dive and nestled into the net at the foot of the near post. It had been some while since our freekick expert had scored from a dead ball kick, the last one being the very special effort at Accrington in January versus Nelson that was even featured on Sky Sports Soccer AM show. 1-0.
In the 25th minute a neat piece of play from Patterson nearly opened the door for Simon Carden, still seeking his first goal since returning from injury. Patterson got the ball on halfway but an uncharacteristically heavy touch saw him briefly lose possession. He quickly got back on the ball and deftly delivered a reverse pass for Carden who was running through from midfield. Carden picked up the ball and looked to run at goal but before he could get into shooting range a covering defender eased in to rob Carden.
Coming up to the half hour mark and a speculative Dave Brown punted clearance picked out Josh Howard. Howard cleverly turned in off the right flank onto his left foot before letting loose from 20 yards but Swanson kept the shot out with Swarbrick in close attendance waiting for any rebound.
Carden thought that he�€trade;d rejoined the goal-scoring ranks on 34 minutes as he tapped in a wayward Patterson shot after a neat move from a short corner. Torpey and Howard exchanged passes before Patterson exchanged passes with Steve Spencer. Rory then shot well wide of target but the low drive picked out Carden who calmly side-footed home only for the linesman�€trade;s flag to rule it out for offside.
With 5 minutes until the break United finally got the all important second goal. It came about from another United corner on the right side which was worked to Torpey who laid the ball back to Swarbrick. United�€trade;s number 9 struck a killer first time cross from the right flank that Rob Nugent nodded beyond Swanson for his 4th of the year. Rob would probably be the first to offer credit for the cross that came in deep from Swarbrick which made his job relatively easy in applying the final touch. 2-0.
Having gone 2-0 up United may have relaxed a little as a mix-up in the backline nearly let in Gary Wright. Cullen and Brown were not on the same wavelength and Wright was quick to try to capitalise on the opportunity. Happily, from an FC United perspective anyway, Melville was equal to the shot when it came and was happy to put the ball behind for a Chadderton corner kick on their right flank. The corner was fired over beyond the far post where one of the tall Chadderton lads managed to head the ball back across goal. There then ensued a bit of a scramble that almost certainly saw the ball making contact with the right hand post before it was finally claimed by a grateful Phil Melville.
The news from Flixton at halftime suggested that they, like Nelson, were in no mood for lying down. A comfortable 3-0 lead versus lowly Eccleshall almost certainly meant that Flixton�€trade;s remote chances of overtaking FC United would remain alive at least until the weekend.
The second half started much as the first ended with United asking most of the questions and the visitors displaying steel and grit at the back but not threatening the United goal with any real frequency. In the 52nd minute Dave Swarbrick turned a loose ball back to goal after a corner kick had been poorly cleared. The newcomer saw his goal bound effort headed off of the goal-line.
The game fell into a bit of a lull leading up to and after the hour mark. Neither side were creating much as the defences were beginning to dominate proceedings. On 66 minutes a neat �€�dinked�€trade; cross from Swarbrick caused some concern in the Chadderton area before it was headed behind for another United corner. This corner kick eventually came out to Dave Brown who rolled the ball back out to Patterson who thundered in before firing a left-footed drive that cannoned away to safety off of Rob Nugent.
A few minutes later and a really neat bit of work on the right flank by Nugent and Patterson released Dave Swarbrick. Swobba whipped in a dangerous early cross that went just beyond Joz mitten but looked to be falling well for Simon Carden. Unfortunately Carden headed beyond the right hand post from a decent position only 8 yards out. Swarbrick was again involved on 77 minutes as a quickfire shot from 25 yards arrowed narrowly over the crossbar just above the top left corner of the goal.
Finally, in the 81st minute, the third goal arrived to make the game truly safe. It was the best goal of the match and may be as good as any goal that Will Ahern has ever scored in his young life. Rob Nugent started the move with an accurate pass into Joz Mitten just inside the Chadderton area. Big Joz held the ball well before turning inside looking for support, no-one was close at hand but fellow substitute Will Ahern was making up ground left of centre. Mitten�€trade;s lay-off sat up perfectly for Will who struck a sweet, sweet left-footed strike from 20 yards out that fizzed into the top left of goal with Swanson hopelessly beaten by both the power and the placement. 3-0.
A minute later and Adie Orr, on for Carden, cut in from the left flank before firing a right footed effort that again threatened the top left corner but was narrowly too high. That chance for Orr arose after good forward running from Tony Cullen and United�€trade;s reserve team manager in waiting was involved again a few minutes later in the Chadderton half. Another galloping forward run was only halted by an unfair challenge inside the penalty area leaving Mr. Foster with little alternative but to award a penalty kick. Cullen looked keen to take the kick himself but in the end it was left to Rory Patterson to convert the spot kick which he did with some aplomb. A well placed yet powerful kick into the �€��€��€� you guessed it �€��€�. top left corner of goal! 4-0.
Patterson�€trade;s stylish penalty conversion capped off his man of the match performance, in my opinion. He was all action for the whole 90 minutes and thoroughly deserved his goal. Swarbrick was again on great form as was Josh Howard. In fact, none of the red-shirted heroes did much wrong on this night. In addition to the 14 personnel on the pitch the famous �€�15th man�€trade; also played it�€trade;s part. The transplanted Manchester Road End crowd were in fine voice adding a few new songs to the ever increasing repertoire including a couple of very topical efforts �€“ �€�We�€trade;re not a franchise�€trade; and �€�Are you watching David Gill?�€trade;
The remainder of the match ebbed away with everyone in the ground waiting for the long shrill blast of the referee�€trade;s whistle that would signify promotion. Eventually it arrived and there was a tremendous outpouring of emotion from all connected with the club. The supporters, the board, the management and the players were all as one feeling a huge sense of pride in a tremendous achievement. Now for the championship itself. Perhaps that will arrive on Saturday or Monday if Flixton and Nelson drop points or maybe it will be achieved next Wednesday at Boundary Park when United play Chadderton again. It now looks to be a matter of when rather than if. To think, this team didn�€trade;t even exist 12 months ago.
Congratulations to all involved. I�€trade;m hugely proud to have witnessed this season, it will never be forgotten.