Maine Road 0-1 AFC Liverpool

AFC Liverpool traveled to Maine Road for their first game in two weeks after clashes with both Northwich sides had been postponed due to waterlogged pitches.

The Reds showed little sign of any ring rust and had clearly used the break to put work in on the training ground as Stuart Keir and Ben Williams took charge of their first game since being announced as first team managers on a full time basis.

The surface at Brantingham Road was boggy but it didn’t prevent the teams playing on the floor and both sets of players coped well with the conditions.

AFC Liverpool lined up with a strong defensive foundation as skipper Lee McConchie returned to the side and was bolstered by Callum Edgar and Chris Brady who both made impressive debuts. Jack Cookson kept the gloves and was vocal, organised his defence well and made some vital saves while Chris Anderson slotted in comfortably and put in a commanding performance at left back.

With Deklan Hill reintroduced to his more natural position and with James Howell and Andrew Lewis around him the AFC midfield had a good balance between grit and guile. So too did the front three of Kevin Edgar, Callum Schorah and Leon Arnasalam who harried and threatened from the off.

The Reds started well and just had the better of the early engagements, the movement of the fluid front three caused Maine Road problems and Callum Schorah was unlucky not to convert Kev Edgar’s cross after just 10 mintes.

AFC first tested keeper Hayden Buckley-Smith around the 20 minute mark as Leon Arnasalam whipped in a dangerous corner toward Callum Edgar at the back post. Edgar out muscled his marker and directed the header goal ward but the keeper held well.

Maine Road contributed to a fairly even first half but The Reds defensive solidity ensured that keeper Jack Cookson had little to do in the opening 45.

AFC Liverpool pressed as a unit and were able to keep the ball in their opponents third for much of the half and created plenty of half chances this way. When Maine Road did beat the press, The Reds kept a good shape and were able to snuff out any threat.

Half-chances were created for Kevin Edgar and Callum Schorah through winning the ball back high and breaking quickly on the Maine Road back line. The efforts didn’t have enough to beat Buckley-Smith though who made good stops throughout and the score remained level at the break.

AFC Liverpool kicked off the second half and continued to play with urgency, moving the ball quickly between the thirds and stretching the defence out wide.

A few minutes after the restart, Arnasalam picked the ball up on the left flank and dribbled his way inside the area. With a drop of the shoulder he opened up space for a shot and curled a lovely effort towards the top right corner but was denied by the crossbar.

Maine Road pushed back though and began putting The Reds back line under sustained pressure. The home side struck the bar themselves setting off a scramble to get the ball clear and started a run of set pieces for AFC to defend.

Corners were whipped in to dangerous areas consistently by Maine Road but time and again The Reds defence were equal to it. The aerial threats were managed and the second balls became goal mouth scrambles but they were dealt with as well, bodies were thrown at shots to prevent cheap goals and when that didn’t work, Cookson was called upon and brilliantly turned the ball around the post.

One fairly obvious benefit of defending so resolutely for the often free scoring Reds is that they don’t actually need their usual two or three to be in with a shout. One goal will sometimes be enough and today it was and came in a moment of wild, ugly brilliance.

Kevin Edgar pulled out wide and delivered a first time cross, low between the keeper and Leon Arnasalam. Buckley-Smith fumbled the cross and the ball ricocheted in to Arnasalam who just managed to connect and slice the ball looping over the heads of the defenders and into the open net.

The game came alive and was a bit of a scrap for a spell as both sides made fouls both tactical and through fatigue. Dek Hill took a booking for the team and was replaced by the returning Jack Leamey who put in a great cameo performance, causing panic in the opposition and drawing countless fouls.

Leon Arnasalam and Andrew Lewis made way after fine contributions and were replaced by the returning Calum Woods and another debutant in Harry Cannon-Noren.

The fresh legs made an impact as The Reds forced Maine Road into costly mistakes near their own goal and led to three clear cut chances in the closing minutes of the game. Callum Schorah and Kevin Edgar both forced brilliant one-on-one saves from Buckley-Smith right at the death but the home side were unable to make AFC rue their missed chances.

The referee blew up and AFC players and supporters alike were elated and relieved to be going home with all three points as The Reds limped off to chants and applause from the traveling fans.

AFC Liverpool’s first league win since beating Bootle back in December lifted them out of the bottom four and arguably supplied the blueprint for survival. A complete team performance with no passengers and everyone committed to the cause. Bodies on the line, bodies in the way of absolutely everything and when the moment came to turn 1 point into 3 it was snatched and not let go.

18 games remain to make this season about more than just survival. Who among us is in this just for that? 18 games to be written into club and league history, to be a part of something greater than yourself or any self for that matter. 18 games to put it right. 18 games…

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