AFC Liverpool 1-3 Ashton Athletic

After beating Winsford United at home 4-0 almost a month ago to the day, I wrote of seasonal change, of AFC Liverpool resisting the natural order and that the warmth of late summer would, as ever, come to an end.

Winsford was also our league game to be played at home. So what’s changed? As mentioned, those halcyon days were a mere 4 weeks ago and have been punctuated by a mini cup run and a string of tough away fixtures and therein lies the absurdity of reacting too negatively to the current run of form. This is, for the most part, the same group of lads who this season have thrashed sides, who have ground out wins away from home and who have greedily snatched points from losing positions.

We appear to be our own worst enemy at times and the element of creating our own problems is there and yet that is also the silver lining among it all – these lads have it in them to be the solution.

The Reds kicked off toward the main stand and it became immediately clear that both sides would have to adapt quickly to conditions as the ball sprayed jets of water away from it with every pass before it slowed to a stop – often a yard nearer than intended.

The opening 5 minutes were scrappy with neither side able to get a hold of the ball for any period of time. 7 minutes in, AFC full back Danny Cattlin was caught the wrong side of his opposite number in the box and challenged clumsily, a foul anywhere else on the pitch and so the referee pointed to the spot.

Joel Brownhill stepped up and struck low and to the right, Dom Garner managed to get a hand to the ball but not enough to keep it out, 1-0 Ashton Athletic.

AFC Liverpool responded extremely well to going a goal down and pressed the Ashton back line effectively. Forward Kevin Edgar closed the space quickly and tackled hard to win the ball back and put in a dangerous cross, then did the same again to prevent a clearance but this time going alone, he drilled his effort wide.

Minutes later, midfielder Oscar Billington fizzed a decent ball across the 6 yard box but Boden and Edgar were just unable to connect in the middle. The Reds kept up the pressure with a lovely move started by Adam Weston, a great touch, an even better pass out wide to Jack Fleming and a cross from Fleming was put in towards Edgar. The ball appeared to just get a bit behind the big striker however and his header on goal lacked the necessary power to trouble the keeper.

Again though, The Reds lack of ruthlessness in front of goal would prove costly. At the other end, Ashton midfielder Daniel Regan crafted something from absolutely nothing. Allowed to jog from a deep position, Regan struck a hard dipping shot towards Garner’s far post and the bounce just beat the AFC keeper. A great goal and a complete sucker punch for The Reds as Ashton doubled their lead with only their second shot on target.

The goal heralded a spell of dominance for Ashton Athletic. While The Reds midfield struggled and stuttered in possession, Ashton’s ebbed and flowed and began to exploit weaknesses in the AFC backline. The visitors good play almost returned a third goal shortly before half time. A cross into the area was met with a thunderous effort kept out only by the crossbar.

This scare awoke something in The Reds as Edgar and Boden linked up well to try and fashion AFC a way back into the game. Their direct play saw the AFC Liverpool corner count rise but unfortunately little else as shots were saved and blocked behind.

2-0 at half time felt harsh due to nature of the goals conceded. AFC had their chances but again that ruthless edge was just lacking.

The weather was somehow worse than in the opening 45 as Ashton got the second half under way. Whereas the story of the first half was very much that of a fairly even game with one side taking their chances, the second half was made all too easy for the visitors.

Save for a couple of half chances for The Reds, with a notable effort for skipper Joe Whittington, Ashton were able to dictate the tempo of much of the second 45 and didn’t have to work particularly hard to play through the AFC Liverpool lines. The visitors won many of their aerial duels, responded faster to loose passes and were first to most second balls and it is in these areas that the game got away from AFC.

A very good Ashton move containing neat one and two touch passes combined with fluid movement was capped off with an instinctive finish from Dale Korie-Butler. The striker turned a cross smartly on the half volley just beyond Garner to put the visitors 3-0 up with 12 or so minutes left to play.

In the closing minutes of the game as Ashton looked toward home, The Reds pushed for a consolation goal to give the supporters something to cheer about. The consolation did come and in an unlikely form, Ashton’s failure to clear their lines and AFC’s continued pressure led to a scrappy goal mouth scramble. Defender Chris Anderson was the liveliest to it and poked the ball beyond the keeper to make the final score 3-1.

Another disappointing result and a second half performance to forget. Yet as I said at the beginning, many of our problems are our own doing. I believe the key differences between us and our opposition at the moment are being played out between the ears, not on the pitch. The cogs are visibly turning, there are split seconds of doubt and these are ultimately proving costly.

Individually, there have been improvements to personnel. The first bout of comings and goings has taken place in this current dry patch into what was already a brand new team. The players added have performed well since coming in and the collective has taken a momentary step back but nothing lasts forever.

Saturday is Non League Day, a day without Premier League distractions as we host Maine Road at 3pm. These Reds will now look to Saturday and with key players due to return, have wrongs to right.

Match attendance: 126

AFC Liverpool Line-up: 

Dominic Garner, Daniel Cattlin, Jack Fleming, Chris Anderson, Lee McConchie, Jamie Howell, Adam Weston, Oscar Billington, Joseph Whittington (c), Daniel Boden, Kevin Edgar. Subs: Deklan Hill, Stephen Wilson (Used), Jamie Heron, Andrew Lewis (Used), John Holmes.

Ashton Athletic Line-up:

Martin Pearson, Aaron Cringle, Bram Johnstone, Callum Wilson, Ben Cartwright, Christopher Webster, Daniel Regan, Charlie Monro, Joel Brownhill, Dale Korie-Butler, Joshua Nicholson. Subs: Marcus Cusani, Daniel Smith, Jacob Jones, Samuel Bailey (Used), Jamie Harrison (Used).

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