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Opposition Winsford United
Venue Gigg Lane, Bury
Competition Moore & Co Construction Solicitors sponsored North West Counties Football League Division 2
Date 02-01-2006
Time 15:00
Attendance 4328
2 (0) - 1 (0)
Carden 64
Patterson 83
  Arnold 51
1 Barrie George
2 Robert Nugent
3 Kevin Elvin
4 Steven Spencer
5 Billy McCartney
6 Dave Brown (capt)
7 Joshua Howard
8 Simon Carden
9 Leon Mike
10 Steve Torpey
11 Adie Orr Yellow card

12 Chris Simms (for 11)
14 William Ahern (for 10)
15 Rory Patterson (for 9) Yellow card
1. Craig Clare
2. Nigel Booth
3. Stuart Wellstead
4. Dave Chambers
5. Neil Marsh
6. Lee Hughes
7. Chris Melia
8. Mark Quinn (capt)
9. Rick Arnold
10. Rob Hopley
11. Rob Hanley

12. Leon Sturridge (for 9, 69 mins)
14. Danny Topping (for 2, 76 mins)
15. Tim Drohan (for 3, 80 mins)
Match Report
This eagerly awaited top of the table clash was played out in front of yet another record crowd at Gigg Lane. The Northwest Counties League can well and truly throw away the chapter in their record book relating to attendances because it has been utterly rewritten by the followers of FC United. This first fixture of the New Year was watched by more people than any other non-league match played on the same day. Several league sides will be looking at our attendances with more than a hint of jealousy as we consistently draw more support than half a dozen league two teams.

The huge crowd, or at least the vast majority of them, will have gone home more than happy as the league leaders consolidated their position by coming from a goal down to overcome their nearest challengers. Despite going a goal down FC United never looked second best in this match and thoroughly deserved the victory.

There were only 2 changes to the starting eleven versus the line-up on Boxing Day. David Chadwick missed out again as his toe injury has now been diagnosed as a fracture. This injury caused the captain to sit out the Holker game but he returned for Flixton but by the end of that match it was clear that the original diagnosis of bruising was probably not telling the whole story. Chaddy might be back in time for Nelson away. Also missing for this one was Joz Mitten who was replaced by debutant Leon Mike. Leon has been on the books for a little while but this would be his first chance to pull on the United shirt in anger. Steve Torpey was ok after the battering he received on Boxing Day.

In further injury news it was heartening to see Gareth Ormes involved in the pre-match warm up routines, hopefully this signals that he is nearing fitness after his long absence with a hernia. Likewise Tony Cullen must be very near to a return as he has been working his way back from injury, he also was seen on the pitch before kick off doing sprints etc.

The emergence of the teams from the changing rooms was preceded by a continuous 10 minute rendition of �€�bring on United!�€trade; Stirring stuff indeed. When the teams did emerge they will have seen (and heard) both the Manchester Road End and the Main stand populated close to capacity with several hundred others in the Cemetery End stand. Great to see the ground occupied on 3 sides, I wonder where the banners will go when it is necessary to open up the South stand to spectators?

United laid down a marker straight from the first kick off. Torpey played the ball nicely in for Adie Orr who showed total commitment in contesting a 50:50 challenge on the edge of the Winsford box. The ball broke kindly for Orr who pulled back a low cross from the bye line that was just too far ahead of Simon Carden. In the 3rd minute Torpey also got in behind the Winsford right back area. The United number 10 chipped over a cross that touched off of the face of the crossbar before being received by Josh Howard beyond the far post, Josh crossed low in towards the near post and Leon Mike saw his first chance as an FC United player evaporate as he lifted his shot over the bar from 8 yards out.

Winsford then had a couple of interesting moments themselves, Chris Melia latched onto a flick on after a long throw in but his shot, from a tight angle, was comfortably gathered by Barrie George. George then experienced a less comfortable moment as Rick Arnold pulled a ball back to the edge of the area for strike partner Rob Hopley. Hopley took his shot and it somehow was deflected over the bar by Barrie George. This was one of those moments where a goalkeeper instinctively reacts to a shot and sometimes the deflection goes safe other times it doesn�€trade;t.

Leon Mike worked a little bit of space and fashioned another shooting opportunity for himself, this effort with his left foot looked to be well struck and goal bound but it struck a covering defender on the back and then careered agonisingly beyond the right hand post with Clare, in the Winsford goal, stranded. All of this occurred within a breathless opening 10 minutes. Phew!

On the quarter hour mark a Winsford corner from the left was headed wide from close range by Neil Marsh. The Winsford centre-back was under pressure but still would have hoped to have hit the target from only 5 yards out. Winsford captain Mark Quinn then saw a well struck shot fizz beyond the junction of right hand post and cross bar after a loose ball fell to him on the edge of the box, this after Dave Brown did well to tackle Melia mid-dribble.

In the 26th minute Josh Howard showed great acceleration to get beyond his marker and into the penalty area. Howard tried to pick out a team-mate but Craig Clare did superbly well to cut out the low cross, a stunning save as he dived out to grab the low cross cleanly under significant pressure.

United did have the ball in the net in the 30th minute but the �€�goal�€trade; was disallowed because the linesman deemed the scorer, Adie Orr, had been in an offside position. This must have been a very tight decision. The move was well constructed involving Torpey, Carden and Howard before Orr finished neatly from close range with is right foot.

Orr then had the best chance so far in the 40th minute as a perfect Carden through ball put Adie in behind the Winsford left back. Adie carried the ball on a little way before firing his shot wide of the near post with just Clare to beat. There was just time before half-time for Melia to earn a caution after entering the field of play without permission after having received treatment.

United thought that they�€trade;d opened the scoring a couple of minutes into the second period as a Steve Torpey corner kick from the right was headed out by the Winsford defence to Josh Howard. Josh headed the ball back into the six yard area where Leon Mike nodded it on towards goal. There was some confusion as the ball was eventually hacked away as to whether it had already crossed the goal-line before the clearance. The officials decided that it hadn�€trade;t so we remained without a goal despite numerous scoring opportunities.

In the 51st minute the opening goal was scored and it was the visitors that got it. A speculative through ball was slightly deflected, the deflection wrong-footed Dave Brown and fell nicely for Rob Hopley. Barrie George was alert to the danger and dashed from goal to challenge at Hopley�€trade;s feet. As mentioned earlier in this report, sometimes, as a goalkeeper, the ball breaks favourably for you and other times it does not �€“ this was definitely one of the latter occasions as the rebound from Barrie�€trade;s intervention fell straight to Rick Arnold. The Winsfordian took a touch and then calmly placed the ball into the unattended net from 22 yards out. 0-1.

Two minutes after falling behind United very nearly drew level. Carden again made the chance with an exquisite through ball, the beneficiary this time was Steve Torpey steaming forward in the inside left channel. Torpey�€trade;s left-footed shot angled across and beyond Clare�€trade;s reach but also, agonisingly, wide of the right hand post.

We were forced to wait a while to see the equaliser. Winsford were defending their lead well and United seemed to be running out of ideas but in the 65th minute the breakthrough arrived via Simon Carden, who else? Torpey was the inspiration as he looked to have been fouled but he persevered before sliding through a ball to Adie Orr in the inside right channel. Adie had to use all of his acceleration and speed to keep the ball in but he did better than that, he delivered a precise chipped cross, very reminiscent of Torpeys�€trade; in the first half, just beyond the far post. Leon Mike came thundering in and deftly turned the ball back inside with a gentle left foot volley on the stretch. Carden had the relatively straightforward task of finishing the move off by despatching the ball into the net from merely a yard or two out with his right foot. 1-1.

Both teams swapped strikers within a minute or two of the equaliser going in. Winsford brought on their new signing, Leon Sturridge, younger brother of Dean Sturridge and uncle of Manchester City prospect Daniel Sturridge to replace their scorer Arnold whilst FC United brought on Rory Patterson in the place of Leon Mike.

Patterson nearly made an immediate contribution as he nodded on a Nugent throw in to Torpey. Torpey flicked it on again to Simon Carden who lobbed a volley up and over Clare but onto the roof of the net. Lee Hughes had a shot from the edge of the area for Winsford but it went harmlessly over the bar and then Sturridge cut inside of Nugent but his right footed shot was gathered by Barrie George at his near post.

One of the substitutes was to have the last word and happily for the home supporters it was Mr. Mystery who scored the final goal. Perversely the chance resulted after Rory spurned a great chance. He was played in by Steve Spencer but Rory took his eye off of the ball at the critical moment and it ran away for a Winsford goal kick. The resulting goal kick was not well struck as the unfortunate Clare�€trade;s standing foot slipped as he took the kick, the result was weak and directly to Adie Orr. Adie nodded the ball forward into Patterson�€trade;s path and this time the Irishman made no mistake as he lashed the ball into the net from the edge of the box. This was clearly an important goal; it might well be the defining moment of this inaugural season. We may well look back upon it as the moment when the title was secured. The emotional release from the 4,000+ in the crowd was immense and immediate. I doubt that a louder noise has been heard at Gigg Lane for some time. Rory and Adie were so impressed by the noise that they decided to join in with the crowd celebrations in the Manchester Road End. Some chaotic scenes ensued, happily no-one was hurt, and the game resumed after Patterson and Orr were shown yellow cards for their exuberance. 2-1.

Straight from the restart Rory slid into a tackle, arrived late and received a lecture from Mr. Birch. It might so easily have been a second yellow card, credit to Mr. Birch for using his discretion in this case. No further noteworthy incidents apart from the final yellow card of the day to Winsford captain Quinn after a heated conversation with the referee. Karl Marginson used both of his remaining substitutes in the final few minutes sending on Chris Simms and William Ahern for Adie Orr and Steve Torpey.

Match sponsors Matrix Software gave their man of the match award to Josh Howard. He was exceptional, for me he just edged out Steve Torpey and Kev Elvin as the star man. FC United look so well balanced with Howard on the right flank and Torpey on the left, both are quick and more than capable of beating a man. More often than not they deliver quality balls in from these wide areas causing problems for any defence that they face. Kev Elvin has been a versatile and consistent performer in the FC United defence this season, he has played both full back positions and even as centre-back at Leek. This seemed, to me, to have been his best performance to date. He won everything in the air from his left back position and made a few important tackles too. His distribution was excellent, an all around very solid performance.

This result sees United pull out a 14 point lead at the top of the table. Winsford do have 3 games in hand so that margin is not as comfortable as it first seems. Let�€trade;s not forget about Norton either, they are 27 points behind United but have a huge 8 games in hand, in the unlikely event that they were to win all of those matches they�€trade;d be only 3 points in arrears. I think it might be prudent to keep the champagne on ice for a while yet but let�€trade;s be sure that we do enjoy this one. It was special. Memories are made of this.
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