AFC Darwen 2-0 AFC Liverpool

AFC Liverpool are still searching for their first competitive win this season after failing to take their chances during their trip to Lancashire to visit AFC Darwen.

The early pressure came from the home side. A corner was cleared but Nicholas Hepple teed up Mohammed Nabeel for a shot that forced a great save from Dominic Garner in the 3rd minute, and 5 minutes later the same player had another strike on goal that was blocked by Deklan Hill.

The Reds, playing in their yellow away strip, had their first chance through striker Kevin Edgar who missed a gilt-edged chance on 10 minutes, unable to keep his shot on target during a one on one with Darwen keeper Charlie Whittingham. Less than a minute later Reds’ captain Michael Boyle broke into the box, but the ball was toe-poked away from him as he was about to pull the trigger.

AFC Liverpool were gaining a foothold in the game, and some hard tackles began to fly in from Darwen, with Mark MacKay and Matthew Allen both going into the referee’s notebook for poor challenges, although both those players combined for a chance on 22 minutes which went wide of Garner’s goal.

The visitors went close as they broke forward after a Darwen corner. Boyle made it to the by-line and cut the ball back for Joe Whittington, but the shot was blocked by Whittingham.

Alex Ralph and Nicholas Hepple had proved a tricky pairing for the AFC Liverpool defence with their pace, but Dek Hill and Allen Weston both made vital interceptions to prevent a Darwen breakthrough, and it was the Reds who went close again with Edgar’s looping header going agonisingly wide.

Edgar beat the offside trap once again on 43 minutes, shooting low from a tight angle which was parried by Whittingham, but there was no-one in a yellow shirt there to follow it up, and another chance went begging, so it was 0-0 at the break.

As the 2nd half began, it didn’t take long for the deadlock to be broken, but it was the home side who took the lead. Hepple pushed down the right flank, was able to turn his marker and he whipped in a ball from the by-line. Darwen captain Matthew Allen was on hand to slot the ball into the net, firing low under Garner.

The visitors were still in the match, and had a shout for a penalty turned down in the 50th minute as Boyle looked to have been shoved over in the area, then two minutes later, Lewis saw his long range strike go narrowly wide.

Despite all their chances, frustration was beginning to show in the AFC Liverpool side. A few wayward passes in midfield began to creep in, and Lewis got a yellow card for a rash challenge. Whittington was replaced by Danny Boden, whilst Lewis was replaced by Steven Milne on 58 minutes.

The changes revitalised AFC Liverpool as Boyle went close on the hour mark, forcing a save from Whittingham when a cross may have been the better option. Kev Edgar was controversially flagged offside as he looked to have beaten the Darwen offside trap again.

The returning Oscar Billington was on target on 63 minutes with a powerful shot following a corner that forced a reaction save, and the Reds had another chance blocked in the ensuing goalmouth scramble.

The game was on a knife-edge, but the visitors were also fortunate not to go further behind as they saw the ball bounce back off the inside of their own goalpost from a high looping cross which saw Garner beaten. With twenty minutes left, Nabeel saw no flag as he broke into the penalty area, and should have doubled Darwen’s lead but shot wide. AFC Liverpool immediately counter-attacked and Danny Boden picked up a rebound near the penalty spot but also shot just wide.

Hepple then sealed AFC Darwen’s victory with a superb solo effort on 72 minutes. A clever ball into a wide position saw AFC Liverpool short at the back. He cut in from the flank, rode challenges from both centre-backs, and sent in a shot to sting the palms of Garner, and he had time and space to calmly collect the rebound and shoot low into the net. 2-0.

The end-to-end chances kept coming, a cross from Boyle was just too high for both Edgar and Boden, although Hepple nearly added to his goal tally with another shot that tested Garner, but this time the shot from the rebound went wide.

In the latter stages AFC Liverpool kept searching for a way back into the match, and on another day they might have managed it after creating a series of chances. Dylan Sweeney had replaced Boyle, and he turned his man to send in a dangerous cross that was inches too far ahead of Allen Weston’s attacking header. Danny Boden also beat the Darwen keeper only to fire inches wide.

Kev Edgar put a header just over the bar, but the offside flag had already been raised. Boden’s shot from a wide position was saved, and then Callum Woods forced a late reaction save from Whittingham, but although there was no lack of effort right up to the whistle, the Reds were made to rue their missed chances.

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