|1. David Stevenson
2. Mike Braebaum
3. Andrew McKenna
4. Jon Simmons
5. Mark Moretti (capt)
6. Kevan Ford
7. Stuart Booth
8. Paul Paynter
9. Chris Wilding
10. Steven Hibbert
11. Matthew Muscroft
12. Gordon Thompson (for 3, 85 mins)
14. David Hankin (for 8, 75 mins)
15. Daniel Sutton (for 10, 72 mins)
|1 Barrie George
2 Robert Nugent
3 Gareth Ormes
4 Chris Simms
5 Billy McCartney
6 David Chadwick (capt)
7 Joshua Howard
8 William Ahern
9 Simon Band
10 Steve Torpey
11 Rory Patterson
12 Darren Lyons (for 7)
14 Dave Brown (for 10)
15 Phil Power (for 9)
|From the very earliest moments of this inaugural season the second weekend in February had been earmarked as our Euro away trip. The venue almost selected itself as soon as you listed the destinations to be visited during this North West Counties League season, no disrespect meant to the likes of Leek, Winsford or Eccleshall but Blackpool really is in a different league. Don�€trade;t get me wrong, it�€trade;s not Prague but this weekend was as eagerly anticipated as any �€�big�€trade; United Euro trip that I can recall since the final in 1999.
The masses gathered there at the home of the �€�Big One�€trade; in anticipation of a double celebration. Unfortunately, events in the early afternoon some 45 miles south of Blackpool denied us that double but few amongst the 4,000 or so travelling fans allowed the FA Cup knockout to dampen their spirits once inside Bloomfield Road.
Margy and his management team still had a few players unavailable for selection for this first venture into Europe! Joz Mitten missed out through suspension whilst, on the flipside of that particular coin, one Rory Patterson had completed his 5 week ban and was included from the start. Kev Elvin still struggles with his ankle although reports suggest that he was spotted in full voice in one or two Blackpool pubs over the course of the weekend and now knows the words to the full library of FC United anthems. Simon Carden is still nursing his sore knee and suffered a slight reaction to overuse last week as he tried to step up the rehabilitation. Midfield partner Steve Spencer is hoping to resume training in the coming week as he rests a sore hamstring. Steve actually first suffered this problem on Boxing Day in the pre-match warm-up at Flixton and had managed to play through it until the Nelson cup tie when 2 hours of non-stop running on the soggy Bury pitch finally took it�€trade;s toll. Mark Rawlinson is the only long term absentee who likely will be missing for at least another month.
Steve Torpey passed a fitness test before kick off on his hamstring so he came back into the side on the left. Patterson resumed striking duties alongside Simon Band who retained his place after a decent debut versus Daisy Hill. Phil Power and Darren Lyons were both presented with relatively rare places in the 15 as both were named amongst the substitutes, with Dave Brown.
Mechanics, for their part, were in a decent run of form having started 2006 without defeat in half a dozen matches including a hard earned victory away at Winsford. They have quietly pushed their way up into promotion contention as they sat 5th in the table before proceedings commenced at Bloomfield Road. As we have already seen this season, most teams up their game when they play FC United so I�€trade;m sure none of the United players or management team were expecting anything other than a tough 90 minutes.
The home side started the match kicking towards the Bloomfield Road.�€��€�.. I hesitate to say end, let�€trade;s call it the open end, the end nearest to Bloomfield Road but it�€trade;s an end without a stand, in reality it looked like a bit of a building site behind the goal. At the other end, the North Stand was just about full to capacity. The match started 10 minutes late as many late arrivals were forced to queue at the turnstiles as most United fans had watched the FA Cup match on various TV screens in various pubs within walking distance of the ground and then strolled to the main event.
United dominated possession but had some difficulty in fashioning any clear cut opportunities as Blackpool seemed content to allow the visitors to make the running. The Mechanics looked to have a solid defensive game plan with a potent counter attacking force in their numbers 9 & 10, Chris Wilding, the speedster, and Steven Hibbert, the big guy.
Despite lots of possession for United the first time that David Stevenson, in the Mechanics�€trade; goal, was called to make a noteworthy save was in the 14th minute as a freekick on the left flank was hit in by Josh Howard. Stevenson was happy to push the ball behind as he saved low to his right. A couple of minutes later there was a goalmouth scramble after a United corner form the left side. The melee in the 6 yard box seemed to go on for some while with the best opportunity falling to Rob Nugent who, despite a mighty swipe with his right foot, barely made contact with the ball at all from about 5 yards out.
In the 19th minute the home side almost converted a quick break as Hibbert broke onto a long clearance. Billy McCartney looked to have done his job as he forced Hibbert to cut back inside at the edge of the area but the Mechanics number 10 struck a right-footed shot that Barrie George did very well to parry with an outstretched right hand. United�€trade;s number 1 then gathered the loose ball as Rob Nugent lent cover.
On 27 minutes FC United actually managed to turn the ball into the net but the referee, Mr. Evans, ruled the �€�goal�€trade; out. The chance resulted after a deep freekick from Torpey picked out David Chadwick beyond the far post. United�€trade;s captain headed the ball back into the goalmouth area where a couple of players from each side tussled for a touch. I believe that the final touch before the ball found its way into the net was from Will Ahern but it may well have been the midfielder�€trade;s arm that diverted the ball beyond Stevenson.
The first goal was scored in the 38th minute and was very nicely worked too. Unfortunately, for most of those present, it came against the run of play and was scored by the home side. A freekick was taken from just inside the United half near the Mechanics�€trade; right touchline by Simmons. Mike Braebaum, the right back, arrived late and deftly nodded the ball beyond George into the bottom left of goal from 15 yards out for his first goal since arriving at the Jepson Way club in November. 1-0.
The home side went from strength to strength after taking a shock lead. They might have further extended the lead one minute later but for an unfortunate intervention by Mr. Evans who failed to play an advantage when Hibbert powered past McCartney. The United number 5 was impeding, or at least trying to impede, Hibbert but as the blue-shirted attacker had broken free and threatened to run in on goal so the shrill whistle of Evans sounded. Paul Paynter was beside himself with frustration and his overt demonstration of that frustration served only to earn himself a yellow card. Likewise McCartney also saw yellow for the original foul. The resulting freekick from Muscroft from 30 yards out was well tipped over the bar by George.
The final significant act of the first half saw a clumsy challenge from McCartney, on Wilding, earn the United centre-back a lengthy admonishment from Evans when he might easily have seen a second yellow card. The ex-Rochdale man would need to be extremely careful in the second period.
As the teams emerged for the second half the familiar face of Phil Power was seen to be ready to join the fray. Simon Band made way for the United assistant manager; the unlucky Band had been hampered after a combination of 2 Blackpool players had left him nursing a very sore shoulder in the first period. The United newcomer was seen with his arm in a sling as he emerged from the dressing room later on.
The wily old campaigner Power made an impact straight away as United�€trade;s attacks finally had a focal point. Power held the ball up well and released it intelligently. His introduction really did change the match. The only surprise was that it took nearly 10 minutes for the equalising goal to be registered. Prior to that Steve Torpey had seen a spectacular attempted scissor-kick shot on the volley easily saved as he mistimed the strike from the edge of the area. Patterson was superbly marshalled by Ford as the returning striker drove into the left side of the Mechanics�€trade; area. Ford simply leaned into and then turned across Patterson and allowed the ball to run harmlessly out of play. There were muted penalty shouts from the massed ranks behind the goal, although little by way of appeal from the players; Mr. Evans was unmoved.
As the pressure continued to build Torpey saw another, stronger shot deflected behind by Blackpool�€trade;s skipper Moretti. The resulting corner kick was headed behind with Nugent threatening at the near post. The next corner kick was headed away but only to the edge of the area where Chris Simms rose earliest and highest to head back into the danger zone. The Blackpool number 7, Stuart Booth, jumped wildly into Simms well after the ball had been headed by the United man and thus conceded the penalty kick that started United�€trade;s revival in fortunes. Patterson strode up and scored from 12 yards with little difficulty; the Derry native celebrated in front of the adoring United faithful as 5 weeks of personal disappointment and frustration were finally put to rest in that moment. 1-1.
A couple of minutes later and Power again made his presence felt as a Josh Howard shot was not gathered cleanly by Stevenson. Power ran in to challenge but arrived just as Stevenson regained possession. Moretti took exception to Power�€trade;s challenge but the referee did not award a freekick, he did stop play to chat to both Power and Stevenson but the restart was via a drop ball that Power returned to the �€�keeper.
United finally edged in front just before the hour mark through David Chadwick�€trade;s second goal in as many games. A United throw in on the right was taken by Rob Nugent, the right-back received the return ball and fired in a cross that was headed weakly away; this was again headed further away but only as far as Steve Torpey who quickly looked up before chipping in a perfectly weighted cross that Chaddy controlled on his chest near the penalty spot before lashing in the final shot with his left foot. A covering defender desperately tried to intervene but his attempted block only succeeded in diverting the ball further beyond Stevenson�€trade;s despairing grasp. 1-2.
Further United pressure then followed as Power crossed for Ahern who headed narrowly past the near post. Then Howard stepped in off of his right wing station before passing further inside to Patterson who neatly turned inside again before firing a left-footed drive that Stevenson saved well low down near his left post at the cost of a corner kick. Torpey took the corner which was punched clear by Stevenson.
In the 66th minute the home side levelled the scores as a speculative long ball in nearly cleared David Chadwick. Chaddy could only head the ball weakly forward and Kevan Ford emulated his United opposite number by controlling on his chest before lashing a shot into the net. Ford�€trade;s shot was with is right foot and was very nearly saved by Barrie George but it crept beyond him and into the net via the post. 2-2.
Just one minute after equalising the home side found themselves trailing again as Will Ahern scored his first goal for United. Torpey supplied another cross, this with is right foot and the unfortunate Booth could only flick the ball on with his head to Ahern who controlled well before hitting a left foot shot from 8 yards that beat Stevenson at his near post. 2-3.
United might have further extended the lead soon after as Patterson beat his man around the outside on the left before pulling back an inviting low cross to the supporting Simms. Simms somehow side-footed wide of his target but picked out Phil Power who was only 4 yards from goal. Unfortunately the defence reacted quickly enough to ensure that the threat from the United substitute was thwarted. Power then controlled well with is back to goal on halfway before playing an intelligent through ball over his shoulder for Patterson running outside of him. Rory carried the ball forwards but his final shot was directed wide of goal with the outside of his right foot.
The final 20 minutes of the match was somewhat disjointed as both sides made their remaining allowed substitutions and Mr. Evans found cause to book another couple of Blackpool players. Firstly Muscroft was cautioned for a late tackle and then Wilding needlessly drew a yellow card as he raised his foot in front of Barrie George as the United �€�keeper was kicking the ball out of hand.
A further lifeline might have been offered to the Mechanics with just over 10 minutes remaining as Ford went to ground under challenge in the United area. Again Mr. Evans was unmoved by appeals for a penalty but just as the match moved into stoppage time he did see cause to award another spot kick at the other end of the ground as Phil Power was summarily brought down as he attempted to shield a bouncing ball. Power required some treatment to a head injury before Patterson again took the penalty kick. He scored but this effort was far less convincing than the first. Stevenson seemed to get across and down to the shot but he failed to keep it out. 2 -4.
The final score duplicated the score from the Gigg Lane encounter in September and was probably a fair reflection of the balance of the 90 minutes. A couple of refereeing decisions that seemed to go United�€trade;s way might have had a bearing but I had the impression that United always had another gear that they could have selected had Blackpool further threatened to capture a point or even more.
My man of the match plaudits would have to go to Rory Patterson who seemed a much more relaxed player than the sometimes tortured looking soul who entertained us earlier this season. There was far less shrugging, little or no chatting back to the officials. I hope that this is indicative of lessons learned during his suspension because Rory is undoubtedly a talented player who is a firm favourite of the fans.
It was difficult to separate Patterson from Power in my assessment. Power certainly transformed the game when he came on and still has plenty to offer at this level even at 39 years of age. In the end the assistant manager was just edged out, in my mind anyway, because Rory played the full 90 minutes and, after 5 weeks out, looked as though he�€trade;d never been away. Both of the central midfield pairing looked the part too. Simms and Ahern seem to be deputising very, very capably for the injured duo, Spencer and Carden. Margy may soon have an embarrassment of riches when the early season �€�owners�€trade; of the 4 & 8 shirts return to full fitness.
(with thanks to FC United supporter Wayne Clark for his match report)