|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 Rory Patterson
10 Steve Torpey
11 Adie Orr
12 William Ahern (for 10)
14 Chris Simms (for 8)
15 Phil Power (for 9)
|1. Andrew Morris
2. Steve Pickup
3. Luke Hargreaves
4. Cliff Power
5. Matthew Woods (capt)
6. Brian Fogarty
7. Gordon Moore
8. Leigh Smith
9. Neil Zarac
10. Jeff Moulton
11. Patrick Lauber
12. Charles Moss (for 4, 59 mins)
14. Lee Turner (for 11, 68 mins)
16. Denny Khan (for 9, 72 mins)
|The win over Winsford 5 days previously was a tremendous result but it would seem somewhat tarnished if Darwen were not also put to the sword. Darwen arrived on the back of a poor run of form having lost their last 2 matches whilst the leaders must have been feeling confident of extending their 100% home match run which stretches back to September when Norton inflicted their only league defeat at Gigg Lane.
The only change to the United line-up saw the soon to be suspended Rory Patterson starting for the first time since Holker Old Boys instead of new boy Leon Mike. The assistant manager Phil Power made a rare appearance on the bench for this one alongside William Ahern and Chris Simms. The Darwen side showed 4 changes from the eleven that started in the November fixture at the Anchor Ground, including both fullbacks being replaced. The newly signed Denny Khan would be making his 3rd appearance against United this season. His first was somewhat eventful as he had fearful collisions with David Chadwick and then a brick wall in very close succession at Radcliffe Borough in the away Castleton fixture. His second appearance was as a substitute as United demolished Gabriels 10-2. One would have been excused in thinking that he might be happy to never see FC United of Manchester again after those 2 experiences but there he was named amongst the Darwen substitutes. He was probably relieved to note that Chaddy was still on the sidelines sporting his parka rather than United�€trade;s red.
United started very brightly and might have gone into the interval with a very, very comfortable lead. Multiple chances were spurned in a very busy 45 minutes for the visiting goalkeeper, Andrew Morris, who excelled. United might have opened the scoring in the first minute following an exquisite through ball threaded to Josh Howard by Steve Spencer. Howard cut inside with no little skill onto his left foot but at the critical moment a Darwen defender blocked the shot. At the other end Barrie George had to be alert as a speculative ball was launched in behind the United back line. The speedy Jeff Moulton looked to latch on but George kicked the ball clear from well outside of his box.
On 6 minutes George was again called into action, this time a Darwen corner was cleared out to the left flank by Rob Nugent. Leigh Smith brought it forward but his left footed shot was easily gathered by George. Two minutes later and another superb ball was delivered in from Spencer, this time picking out Adie Orr. Orr acrobatically knocked the high ball down to Simon Carden who was supporting the attack, as always. Carden met Adie�€trade;s lay-off with a right foot volley from only 10 yards or so that struck the left hand post and rebounded straight back to Carden. United�€trade;s number 8 instinctively stabbed the rebound back towards goal but it went narrowly past the left post with Morris stranded. A real let off for Darwen.
On 15 minutes the tall, slightly awkward looking Neil Zarac won a high ball into the United box after a freekick had been launched in from near to halfway. Zarac, who had scored for Darwen in the November fixture, rose well but could not keep his header down and it soared over the bar from 10 yards out.
In the 21st minute United enjoyed the first of 3 one on ones against Morris. Adie Orr collected a neat Patterson pass in the inside left channel and made directly for goal. Morris expertly closed down the angles and made things as difficult as he could for Adie. Orr, for his part, never really looked full of conviction that he would score and so it proved. The shot, when it came, was too close to the �€�keeper who turned the ball behind at the cost of a United corner kick.
One minute later, half way through the first half, United broke through. Howard powered up the right flank leaving the defensive cover in his wake. The ex-Mossley winger had time to look up to admire the support arriving in the centre before picking his pass. He might have crossed towards the far post where Steve Torpey was in loads of space ready to apply a finish but Josh chose the slightly easier option and angled in a low cross towards the centre of goal where Simon Carden was galloping forward. The prolific Carden had little difficulty in side-footing beyond Morris from 6 or 7 yards out for his 18th goal of the season, not a bad return from a midfielder who�€trade;s season did not start properly until mid-September after recovering from injury. 1-0.
The 5 minutes immediately following the opening goal saw an almost non stop bombardment of the Darwen goal but nothing came of the pressure. Firstly Adie Orr tried a cute lob after a Patterson flick on picked him out. Adie has scored more than one lobbed volley this season but this effort was mistimed and thus turned out to be nothing more than a lobbed back pass that Morris caught with little difficulty. Next and Patterson again played the role of provider, this time he ran down the United right and just as most in the ground probably expected a shot from an acute angle so Mr. Mystery confounded us by selflessly pulling back for the supporting Carden. Carden did nothing wrong but a desperate flying block from a defender was enough to keep out his shot.
Another minute on and Adie Orr found himself one on one again but again saw his shot expertly saved by Morris. Next we saw a Torpey corner from the left bundled goalwards by Billy McCartney from inside of the 6 yard box but somehow the Darwen defence managed to clear their lines again. The final chance of this torrid spell fell to Rory Patterson after he was played in by Adie Orr. Patterson decided to take his chance early rather than allow Morris to close down the angles as he had to great effect on the previous 2 one on ones. Rory did nothing wrong but his shot was very well saved by Morris with a strong right arm very low down. Not only did he stop the initial shot but he gratefully pounced on the loose ball before any further threat could be mounted. We were witnessing a super goalkeeping display here from Morris rather than a demonstration of poor finishing from the United lads but the effect was the same, a game that ought to have been safe by the half hour mark was still in the balance.
The narrowness of United�€trade;s lead was further accentuated as Darwen threatened to equalise as half time approached. Firstly Rob Nugent was called into action to make a saving tackle as Zarac threatened to break through and then a Barrie George save prevented Moulton from punishing a poor passage of play at the back from United. A short free-kick was taken to Dave Brown who seemed to take a heavy first touch which invited a tackle from Moulton. The Darwen number 10 won the tackle and sprinted goalwards with Brown in pursuit. At the edge of the area Moulton shot but George was equal to the effort, blocking with his legs.
The second half saw United enjoy similar domination in possession and territory but without creating much by way of clear cut chances. Steve Torpey hit a freekick from nearly 30 yards out that Morris was forced to juggle before gathering. Patterson and Howard exchanged passes before Howard laid an inviting ball back to Patterson but the United number 9 saw his shot fly wildly high of its intended target. He could only meekly offer a shrug in reply as the Manchester Road End support asked him �€�what it was that he was trying to do there,�€trade; I may have paraphrased the MRE there in deference to any youngsters reading this.
A minute later, in the 56th, Josh Howard doubled the lead with a stunningly good goal. I�€trade;m struggling to recall a better goal this season which is some endorsement because we have seen some very, very good goals this campaign. This one resulted from an excellent bit of �€�never say die�€trade; play from Adie Orr who continued to chase a long ball that he was always going to be second favourite to reach. The ball was reached by Andrew Morris, dashing from goal again, some 5 yards in from the United right touchline and some 25 yards or so from the goal-line. Morris, on his favoured left foot, tried to fire the ball up the touch line but Orr had closed tremendously well and half blocked Morris�€trade; kick. The ball squirted up the touchline, some 15 yards or so, still with some pace on it, to Josh Howard. Josh expertly controlled the ball before pushing it a couple of yards in, off of the touchline. He then took a pace or two before striking a sweet, sweet driven shot into the centre of the unattended goal. This shot did not bounce 4 times and then gently roll into the net, no, none of that Alonso-esque nonsense for Josh. His shot gently arced from it�€trade;s original trajectory just outside of the farpost into the centre of goal and struck the bottom of the back of the net on the full with a defender desperately trying to intervene. Fully 40 yards distant from the goal line and only 5 yards or so inside of the right touchline, it was, quite simply, a perfectly struck wonder goal. 2-0.
In the 66th minute Darwen again threatened and again found Barrie George equal to the threat. A cross was played in from the right to left winger Patrick Lauber. He took one touch before shooting from close range but a tight angle. George reacted instinctively to stick out his left leg and kick the ball away from danger. One minute later and a bad moment for United as Simon Carden and Darwen�€trade;s Gordon Moore contested a ball near halfway. Moore�€trade;s challenge was poor, it was certainly late and high. Simon Carden went straight to ground and was clearly in some pain. Mark Cooney provided treatment but was quickly signalling to the bench that Simon would not be fit to continue. Meanwhile, Moore received the first caution of the match from referee Mycock. Carden hobbled off under his own steam but was clearly in some distress as he did so; Chris Simms came on.
Little more of consequence occurred as the match was played out at a slightly lower tempo than the earlier stages. Rob Nugent worked a nice one-two with Orr but the fullback�€trade;s shot was too close to Morris who saved, again. The final drama unfolded on 88 minutes as Phil Power, a newly introduced substitute, launched into a challenge before he�€trade;d fully attuned to the pace of the game. He was slightly late on Moore and received a yellow card for his troubles.
One or two United players stood out today. With regard to man of the match honours, I think Josh Howard edged out everyone else, he was a regular threat down the United right, he provided the first goal for Carden and scored the second himself. In addition, I felt that Steve Spencer was exceptional. He ran tirelessly and provided that bit of protection to the back-line. His non-stop running and covering gives Simon Carden the freedom to support the strikers and to get into the advanced positions that he so regularly does. I�€trade;m sure Simon would be one of the first to pay tribute to his midfield colleague�€trade;s contribution.
Another bumper crowd, another 3 points. Job well done. Let�€trade;s all hope that the cost has not been too great as far as Simon Carden�€trade;s injury is concerned.