Irlam FC 0-2 AFC Liverpool

Saturday’s emphatic victory over Barnton was characterised by skill, freedom and flair – Irlam away would require a very different skillset altogether.

Patience, grit and overall gnarliness were the orders of the day and make no mistake; The Reds have these in abundance.

From the kick-off AFC Liverpool’s forward line looked to chase down the ball, close channels to disrupt Irlam and their ability to play into midfield. When the first wave of the press was beaten, Deklan Hill and Calum Woods were just as quick to limit space – with Woods in particular winning possession well and looked to put the forwards through.

The Reds were quick in the transition and moved the ball from keeper Dom Garner through defence, midfield and on to the front 3 with purpose – all 3 looked a threat from the first whistle. The constant pressing and fluid passing play gave AFC Liverpool a few early half chances, with Danny Boden, Ste Milne and Kev Edgar all coming close.

The final touch and final ball were just missing but it was only a matter of time until the work was rewarded. A perfectly weighted through ball from Adam Weston put Milne through one-on-one 15 minutes in when Irlam captain Ryan Ledson slid in and got nowhere near the ball. The referee drew red without hesitation and left Irlam with 10 men and a free kick on the edge of the area to defend. Striker Kevin Edgar took responsibility and curled his effort smartly around the wall and into the bottom right corner. Lee White in goal had no chance, 1-0.

To Irlam’s credit they responded well to losing a man and going a goal down, winning a free kick in a dangerous area soon after the restart. The ball whipped in at pace forced a good stop from Garner and the follow up rebounded clear off the post – AFC survived the scare.

The Reds looked to wrestle back control of the game and kept the ball much better. Woods challenged hard to snuff out any momentum Irlam tried to gather while Boden linked up excellently again with Edgar and Milne – Milne just unable to keep a low effort on target. Soon after Dek Hill intercepted Ryan Hughes’ misplaced pass and ran through on goal but was unable to extend AFC’s lead.

Chances for Milne after a mazy solo run and Edgar following an inch perfect Adam Weston pass from deep should really have put the game out of reach for Irlam however the score remained 1-0.

Momentum built against Irlam and it felt like a matter of when, not if the second goal would come. Then darkness…

A faulty floodlight tripped and caused a total blackout at the Ambitek Stadium and stopped play for around 15 minutes. Murmurs of suspicion began to circulate among the travelling AFC contingent of the timing of the blackout. All in jest, of course.

Although the match had been put on hold, the time between play told its own story and had a demonstrable influence on the outcome of the game. Stay with me.

All of the potential excuses for capitulation were laid out one by one for AFC Liverpool:

Take an early lead: Check
Opposition down to 10 men: Check
Floodlight fault stopping play: Strange one, but check

And yet while their opponents used the intervening time to recover from and reflect on the opening half an hour – The Reds didn’t knock off. They ran drills, worked with the ball and kept body and mind active with no guarantee that play would even resume. Graft and grit abound.

Thankfully the game resumed and the first incident of note contrasted the fortunes of either side. Full back Lee McConchie sharper in body and mind than his marker just nipped to the ball ahead of Jacob Holt. Holt fully committed and with both feet off the ground completely wiped McConchie out who landed awkwardly on his neck. Foul and yellow card – Holt lucky to still be on the pitch and McConchie to not be seriously injured.

Irlam had one more attack in them before the break as a misunderstanding among the AFC backline allowed Timothy Kinsella time and space to turn in the area, his shot pushed wide by Dom Garner.

Kev Edgar started the second half still full of confidence from his early goal – a dummy, spin and great movement put him through on goal but White was equal to the low driven effort.

Irlam jolted into life and began to set traps for the AFC Liverpool defence who were all too willing to be caught out. Jordan Icely gambled well and picked the ball up in a dangerous position but his effort was too tame to beat Garner. Irlam were through again quickly after and only an excellent tackle from captain Allen Weston denied the equalizer.

Club captain Michael Boyle then replaced Dek Hill and looked to get involved quickly and before long created two chances for his team mates. Boyle dribbled through a congested midfield and released Edgar wide left of the penalty area whose powerful strike was well saved. Milne then benefitted from Boyle’s good work and was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet after a vital block denied The Reds their second goal.

Irlam continued to ride their luck as clear cut chances from Boden, who fired just over and Milne who struck the bar could have put the result beyond any doubt. Tensions grew among the away fans that missed chances would be grieved over on the drive home.

The introduction of Joe Whittington 15 minutes from the end soothed those fears but was the last thing Irlam needed after defending much of the game with 10 men. With fresh legs and clarity of thought Whittington began to find space to hurt Irlam as he occupied several players and dragged them with him across the final third.

After being hacked down 30 yards out, Whittington stepped over the free kick and curled the ball just wide of White’s top right corner.

AFC Liverpool had one final panic to inflict on their supporters. Unable to clear their lines, the ball landed some 20 yards out in Irlam’s possession and only an unconventional chest save from Dom Garner and his quick recovery protected The Reds clean sheet.

Moments later – at the other end of the pitch a cross into a dangerous area was fumbled straight to the feet of Joe Whittington who tapped the ball beyond White. 3 points for AFC Liverpool, 2 goals on the night and 1 collective heave of relief from the supporters after the fear it was going to be one of those games.

Commiserations to Irlam. They played with great heart for the majority of the game with 10 men and will be a handful for many sides this season and the best of luck to them.

As for AFC, well we all love winning 5-0 don’t we? But a win like that in my opinion is infinitely more satisfying and tells us so much more about this group of lads. The grind, the physicality, the struggle and at the end of it all 3 vital points at a ground where all too often we have been forced to share them or leave empty handed. 5-0’s are great obviously but I’ll let you in on something – that was better.

Match attendance: 122

Irlam FC Line-up:

Lee White, Charlie Doyle, Jacob Holt, Ryan Hughes, Ryan Ledson (c), Alex Barlow, Macaulay Harewood, Daniel Eyres, Timothy Kinsella, Jordan Icely, Marcus Perry. Subs: Jason Fowles, Karl Cassell (Used), Issac Illidge, Matthew Boland (Used), Gareth Meredith (Used).

AFC Liverpool Line-up:

Dominic Garner, Lee McConchie, Allen Weston (c), Christopher Anderson, Daniel Hughes, Adam Weston, Calum Woods, Deklan Hill, Danny Boden, Stephen Milne, Kevin Edgar. Subs: Jack Cookson, Dylan Sweeney, Michael Boyle (Used), Joseph Whittington (Used), Charlie Middlemore (Used).

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