Hanley Town FC 1-0 AFC Liverpool

 

These Reds will find no teacher more sage than defeat. The lessons today were harsh and if they did not know it before then they surely know it now – first and foremost, football at this level is a battle. If you win the battle, you win the right to play your natural game and if you win enough battles you can then start to express yourself. Hanley made every passage of play and every 50/50 a battle. They looked to set up individual battles in every space on the pitch – doing so to great effective and AFC just lost too many of their individual battles.

The second lesson is one that players at all levels learn again and again the hard way – victory belongs to the side that take their chances. This is what makes the result so difficult to take on the one hand and simultaneously gives you heart, without having the best day the lads create more than enough clear cut chances that on another day would earn at least a point.

A biblical, pre-match downpour made a challenging playing surface even worse. The pitch was slick in parts and boggy in others, through balls would sometimes stop dead and sometimes zip out of play. These conditions would serve whichever side adapted best and while it can certainly not be used as an excuse, Hanley undoubtedly coped better.

AFC Liverpool’s early success came from runs in behind the Hanley defence with Danny Boden and Kevin Edgar unlucky not to give The Reds an early lead. At the other end keeper Dom Garner was called into action, a powerful driven shot tipped over the bar to keep the score level. Hanley continued to press for an opener as Theo Stair’s smart free kick bent round the wall and struck the post.

The first half was end to end, both sides neglected the defensive side of the game in favour of grabbing an early goal. Stair was again unlucky not to put Hanley Town in front. For The Reds, Edgar and Boden again had excellent chances that they would be disappointed not to score. Boden’s one on one effort forced a good reaction save from Hanley keeper Hemmings.

Given the parity between the sides, the match looked destined to be 0-0 at half time but Hanley had other ideas. Brilliant double saves from Dom Garner first from Sheldon and then Thorpe were not enough to prevent a goal. The parried shot from Thorpe’s long range effort found its way to Cope who tapped in from close range, 1-0 to Hanley Town just before half time.

Players on both sides limped off at the half time whistle, indicative of the war they’d been through a war in the opening 45. AFC debutant centre back John Holmes looked the worst of the walking wounded and it was unclear whether he would run out for the second half.

Holmes was among The Reds 11 as AFC got the second half underway, though he looked to be struggling. The conditions had disrupted The Reds usual style of play and they looked to play direct, into Edgar or over the top for a runner. Oscar Billington’s tricky run from deep tested the keeper early in the second half. His low driven effort just inside the area was well held considering the surface and The Reds search for an equaliser continued.

Danny Cattlin, another AFC debutant, replaced the struggling Holmes at centre half after being unable to run off his first half knock. Not the debut he would have wanted but he looked comfortable and slotted in well in the back line. The third of AFC Liverpool’s new signings, Danny Flood also impressed in spells with his pace and wicked delivery.

Just before the hour mark AFC created their best chance of the match out of nothing. A clever ball over the top was brought down well by Boden who did all the hard work dribbling his way into the box but his effort was too tame and Hemmings collected gratefully.

A spell of pressure from AFC followed and for 5 minutes Hanley struggled to clear their lines. The Reds forced corner after corner but again failed to make their pressure count, the equaliser remained elusive.

Much of the second half played out as a series of pitched battles in various thirds. Players scrapped for square metres and the foul count rose accordingly. A notable half chance late on in the half fell to Stair after excellent hold up play by Thompson. A low, powerful effort from Stair was saved decisively by Garner’s legs and just crept wide.

A scrappy half wore on and on deep into added time. 6 additional minutes were played after a series of off the ball incidents involving substitute Dek Hill and Theo Stair disrupted the remaining flow of the game – to Hanley’s benefit.

The final whistle. Elation for Hanley Town and frustration for AFC Liverpool, one goal enough to decide the match. While a draw wouldn’t have been undeserved, victory belongs to the side that take their chances.

Congratulations to Hanley Town, an incredibly difficult side to play who will trouble many more sides this season.

These Reds then, the positives? Firstly, well done to Joe Whittington who captained the side tonight and led by example. A calm, assured performance from midfield, Joe was involved in several physical battles but kept his head and always looked to influence the game positively. The three new lads, Holmes, Flood and Cattlin all gave an impressive debut performance but there is much more to come from the trio.

To Ashton Athletic then. Wednesday 4th October under the lights at Marine, the lads will look to put tonight’s lessons into practice. The manager has looked ahead to the next two home games as massive fixtures with a target of 6 points. Let’s come out the other side with all 6. Let’s win our battles. Let’s win the right to play and let’s impose ourselves again because when we do, great things happen.

Match Attendance: 50

Hanley Town Line-up:

Joseph Hemmings, Mackenzie Faulkner, Joshua Bristow, Douglas Price, Joshua Thorpe, Benjamin Blowers, Jonathan Sheldon, Oliver Mellor, Daniel Cope, Theo Stair (c), Neville Thompson. Subs: Thomas Ashton (Used), Joe Donaldson, Jamie Skellern, Charles Goldstraw, Nathan Grice (Used).

AFC Liverpool Line-up:

Dominic Garner, Daniel Flood, Chris Anderson, John Holmes, Jack Fleming, Adam Weston, Oscar Billington, James Howell, Joe Whittington (c), Danny Boden, Kevin Edgar. Subs: Jamie Heron (Used), Stephen Wilson, Deklan Hill (Used), Daniel Cattlin (Used).

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