AFC Liverpool 3-2 Athersley Recreation – FA Vase 1st Qualifying Round

Sunday, Rain and Football. Name a more iconic trio, I’ll wait.

Luke, Han and Leia?

Harry, Ron and Hermione?

Buffy, Willow and Xander?

They’re the first lot that came to my mind there, I’m not a sad and lonely virgin, honest.

Anyway, there felt something uncanny about a 3pm Sunday kick-off, a cup tie at that. The feeling it was a normal Saturday match day kept being interrupted by the nagging reality that tomorrow would indeed be Monday.

A heavy downfall pre-match made for a slick playing surface. Howling winds added an extra risk to any direct play and nobody could be sure that passes would reach their intended target. One thing was for certain though – the AFC ball boys knocked on a few doors that afternoon.

AFC Liverpool got the game underway and looked to impose their typical fast start on Athersley. A low effort just wide from Oscar Billington not long after kick off gave the visitors an early scare.

Following the warning shot Athersley livened up and the match became a midfield battle as both sides sounded each other out and looked for openings. The visitors just about had the better of the early possession and began to express themselves.

A slightly over hit through ball to Athersley striker Lee Garside saw the first of the matches many full blooded challenges rightly punished by the referee. Garside slid in with studs showing, caught AFC keeper Jack Cookson and was rightly booked.

Athersley continued to press for a goal and capitalised on The Reds lethargy. Neat one and two touch passes created space for the visitors in the final third. Winger Jamie Moxon was put through on goal and cut across well but the shot in the middle was well blocked and Cookson claimed comfortably.

Athersley switched the play quickly and caught the AFC defence sleeping. An accurate pass deep toward Garside beat The Reds backline as he rose above his marker but was unable to direct the ball goal ward.

The Reds were able to break against the run of play through an excellent clearance by Allen Weston towards  Joe Whittington. Whittington took a good first touch that sent him through on goal. He struck the ball well across goal but the Jordan Greaves in the Athersley net was equal to it and tipped wide. The hope that the turning of the tide had been signalled for AFC Liverpool after Whittington’s effort was short lived.

Soon after, the best move of the game was justly rewarded with the opening goal. A wonderful cross field ball to Moxon was brought down well and an inch perfect pass across the AFC box found Garside in the middle. An unfortunate Chris Anderson just lost his footing and allowed the Athersley striker enough space to poke the ball beyond Cookson, 1-0 to the away side.

Garside’s goal lit a fire under The Reds as they looked for an immediate response. They won a foul in a dangerous position almost from the kick-off as striker Kevin Edgar stood over the ball to take the free kick. Edgar struck the ball well around the wall and forced Greaves into a decent save. The ball was parried into the path of Reds captain Michael Boyle who tested the keeper again before Edgar had his effort cleared behind for a corner.

AFC Liverpool began to find joy out wide as Boyle and Fleming linked up well on the left and overlapped to good effect. A nice cross from Boyle saw Whittington outjump his man but was just unable to keep his effort below the crossbar. Within 90 seconds a carbon copy of that move occurred once more – this time with full back Jack Fleming the provider. The result was also the same, unfortunately for The Reds, as Whittington headed wide again.

The second yellow of the game was earned by AFC midfielder Calum Woods and on another day could have been costly for The Reds. Woods won the ball but the challenge looked two footed and for a moment the home crowd expected the worst.

In football though, the only constant is change and Woods redeemed himself almost instantly. The midfielder picked an Athersley pocket on the half way line, turned well and set Kev Edgar through on goal. With a clever touch, the big forward took it skilfully around the onrushing Greaves and finished emphatically to put The Reds level.

Again AFC Liverpool exploited the left hand side. Again Boyle and Fleming linked up well and again great delivery into the box was met by Joe Whittington. This time though the deftest of touches glanced the ball into the bottom corner beyond the Athersley keeper.

Although they battled and played some good football in the opening 45, the visitors were undone by two moments of real quality and went into half time 2-1 down.

The second half started out with AFC Liverpool exploiting the flanks – Fleming and Boyle again caused Athersley problems. A dangerous ball in towards Edgar just got away from him and the visitors were let off.

So began a dominant spell for The Reds as they made probing runs and played neat balls in behind the besieged Athersley backline.

Boyle in particular began to pick the ball out wide and cut inside at will to lay the ball off for his teammates. One pass found Billington in space on the edge of the Athersley box as the AFC midfielder’s effort stung Greaves’ hands.

Edgar too looked a threat and was desperate for his second goal of the game. He trapped the ball well and turned into a challenge on the edge of the area as the referee blew for a foul. Another fine set piece from Edgar forced a great save from the keeper who just tipped it wide.

The AFC Liverpool number 9 remained a thorn in the Athersley side. Edgar dribbled through several tackles into the Athersley box before being felled like a mighty oak just outside the 6 yard box. The referee thought about it and then blew his whistle for a penalty.

Up stepped midfielder Adam Weston. After a calm approach Weston buried his penalty right down the middle as AFC planted one foot in the next round of the FA Vase, 3-1 to The Reds.

Athersley would not go quietly home however. A double substitution paid immediate dividends for the Yorkshire side as sustained pressure in the AFC final third resulted in several goal mouth scrambles. Substitute Kyle Wadsworth was in the right place at the right time and coolly took advantage of the chaos all around him to slot the ball home, 3-2.

A fracas followed Athersley’s second goal that left a dark cloud over the remainder of the match but the referee kept his cards in his pocket for now. Each tackle to come though was loaded with that little something extra and there was the sense that another flashpoint was just around the corner.

AFC full back Lee McConchie, unaided by the wet conditions, tackled late and high and the referee was left with little choice but to show him a red card. Although it probably looked worse than it actually was, there could be no complaints.

Athersley sensed blood after AFC went down to 10 men and were clearly the side in the ascendency for the quarter of an hour that followed McConchie’s dismissal. The visitors created chance after chance and won corner after corner in this period but The Reds defended as a unit and made vital blocks to deny a late equaliser.

AFC Liverpool then made their own changes to attempt relieve the pressure. The introduction of Dek Hill and Danny Boden gave The Reds fresh legs on the right side and provided an out ball to combat Athersley’s numerical advantage.

In their final substitution, AFC Liverpool found their way home. Amir Falah replaced Kev Edgar with 5 minutes to go and set about pressing anything that moved in a black and white shirt. His energy disrupted the Athersley build up and helped to push them back on the defensive.

Good pressure from Falah forced Greaves into not one but two mistakes as he was unable to clear his lines, booting the ball straight into the air. Falah ran in behind the last man and the goal keeper but was just unable to catch the ball on the volley and turn it towards goal.

Boden also looked to impact the game as he ran at the leggy Athersley backline. A good run down the right and sharp turn on the edge of box took Boden away from his man. He blasted his effort at the keeper as Falah waited in the middle but was unable to control his effort and saw it sail well over.

AFC Liverpool were relatively comfortable as the match wound down toward a scrappy end. The referee’s assistant signalled 5 added minutes and the longest minutes in temporal history followed. I don’t have an exact number on how many minutes were eventually played but I think if you put The Future by Leonard Cohen on you’d have been half way through side two by the final whistle.

Palpable relief followed the referee’s whistle. Another win for The Reds, another one full of fight and spirit and of course frequent moments of quality. Those moments were enough to see them into the next round. Commiserations to Athersley Recreation, who played their part in a memorable game, best of luck for the rest of the season.

AFC Liverpool are in the hat then, City of Liverpool join them – Reds and Purples will meet at the Marine Travel Arena in two weeks time.

Up the Non-League Cup Run Reds.

Match attendance: 118

AFC Liverpool Line-up:

Jack Cookson, Lee McConchie, Allen Weston, Chris Anderson, Jack Fleming, Adam Weston, Calum Woods, Oscar Billington, Michael Boyle (c), Joe Whittington, Kevin Edgar. Subs: Deklan Hill (Used), Dominc Garner (GK), Danny Boden (Used), Charlie Middlemore, Amir Falah (Used).

Athersley Recreation Line-up:

Jordan Greaves, Connor White, Dan Vintent, Dec Welford, Tom Copping, Ryan White (c), Dave Hodgson, Jamie Moxon, Lee Garside, Macauley Shillito, Tom Almond. Subs: Kyle Wadsworth (Used), Danny Cawley (Used), Billy Rhodes, Adam White.

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