AFC Liverpool welcomed Winsford United to the Marine Travel Arena, with Reds manager Kevin Dally handing a debut to Danny Hughes, signed from Warrington Town.
As the match got underway in the sunshine the Reds started brightly, as Francis Smith fired the first shot of the afternoon wide in the third minute. Both teams were quick to close each other down in the midfield in the opening fifteen minutes, but Winsford began to shade possession, with Scott Taylor and Dale Jennings causing the AFC defence a few problems, but neither side were able to settle and find their passing rhythm.
However, in the twenty-eighth minute, AFC Liverpool got their breakthrough. Connor Smith made a driving run into the Winsford half and was brought down on the edge of the box. Both Smiths’ stood over the ball, but it was Connor who then curled the ball beautifully into the net. Winsford keeper Matthew Green managed to leap across to get a slight touch, but couldn’t prevent the Reds taking the lead.
Winsford threatened to equalise straight away firstly with a tame shot from a well worked passing move inside the AFC area, that was gathered by Reds keeper Dominic Garner, and then Blues captain Kyle Riley found himself in a one-on-one but Garner stood tall and blocked the shot with a reflex save.
On thirty-eight minutes the complexion of the match changed completely as Francis Smith was chasing the ball across the edge of the visitors’ 18-yard box. The referee was left with no choice but to produce a straight red card as the Reds midfielder dived in too eagerly to win the ball with a two footed challenge that clipped Scott Taylor. Fortunately, the Blues midfielder was not injured, but the home side were suddenly reduced to ten men. Nevertheless, the Reds didn’t immediately make any tactical changes, and they managed to make it to half-time without United making their numerical advantage count.
Many in the crowd expected a real ‘backs-to-the-wall’ performance from the hosts in the second half but that didn’t turn out to be the case. Winsford started strongly forcing Dom Garner into a save low down at his near post a minute after the restart, but the Reds pressed higher up the pitch and effectively negated the visitors attacking threat.
In the forty-ninth minute, Emini Adegnbenro weaved into the Winsford penalty area but couldn’t quite pick out Jack Leamey at the back post. It signalled the beginning of a good spell for AFC, with Connor Smith testing Green from distance, and Leamey tormenting the visiting defence.
On fifty-nine minutes, Leamey was brought down on the edge of the area and he bent his free kick low around the wall but Green pulled off a great acrobatic save to push the ball off the line at the last moment.
As time ticked on, Kevin Dally introduced Freddy Champion and Jack Hont for Hughes and Leamey, and both substitutes combined for a golden chance with ten minutes left. Hont was played in by Smith and should have shot straight at goal, but instead dragged his shot wide and Champion wasn’t quite able to react in time to convert at the back post.
Smith had a hit and hope chance from distance that sailed into the stand, and a Sean Calvert free kick was put just over the bar, but the visitors found another gear and earned a series of corners, one of which led to a great strike by Taylor that produced an equally great save from Garner.
Sean Calvert was replaced by new signing Gary Whelan in the closing stages, and the Reds continued to frustrate a resurgent Winsford, with Dimitrios Christou putting in a man of the match performance in defence.
As the game entered time added on for stoppages, Hont poked the ball forward to Adegbenro, who took the ball away from William Foster with a burst of pace, and the Reds forward flicked the ball past Green with the outside of his boot to score the second goal, prompting wild celebrations and sealing the victory for AFC Liverpool.
AFC Liverpool 2-0 Winsford United
AFC Liverpool: 1.Dominic Garner 2.Kieron Brislen 3.Daniel Hughes (15. Frederick Champion 71’) 4.Jonathon Swatton (C) 5.Ricky Ager 6.Dimitrios Christou 7.Jack Leamey (14. Jack Hont 78’) 8.Francis Smith 9.Emini Adegbenro 10.Sean Calvert (16.Gary Whelan 86’) 11.Conor Smith
Subs not used: 12.Connor Grainger 13.Ross Dalton
Winsford United: 1.Matthew Green 2.Joshua Perry 3.Lee Duckworth 4.Samuel Parr (12. Samuel Howell 73’) 5.William Foster 6.Christopher Middleton 7.Scott Taylor 8.James Rothwell 9.Kyle Riley(C) 10.Jordan Johnson ((14.Robbie Hatton 66’) 11.Dale Jennings
Subs not used: 15.Elliot Hull
AFC Liverpool Man of the Match : Dimitrios Christou
Photo Courtesy of Dave Williams