AFC Liverpool 2-0 Hanley Town

After Friday’s hugely frustrating defeat away at Barnton, a response was essential for AFC Liverpool’s survival and these lads delivered that response. With 3 wins from the last 5 games, with a relatively healthy goal difference and with the spirit shown in recent matches The Reds’ survival is firmly in their own hands. The recent upturn in home form has also come at the right time with all four of the remaining games being at the Marine Travel Arena.

Line-up vs Hanley Town

AFC Liverpool came flying out the blocks and set the pace at a level that Hanley struggled to live with at times in the first half. A high energy forward line containing Zach Hardacre and Callum Schorah terrorised the Hanley defence with their constant pressing and smart runs throughout but particularly in the opening half an hour.

Schorah broke the deadlock after just 8 minutes after a quick counter attack saw the striker put in on goal and slot a confident finish beyond the Hanley keeper.

The visitors responded by keeping the ball better and moving it quicker through the thirds but the AFC backline had height and physicality to spare and dealt well with any Hanley threat. On the brief moments he was called upon to act in the first half, keeper Jack Ferguson was decisive and commanded his box brilliantly to snuff out the away side.

The Reds continued to play a high energy game, always looking to break at pace and run at the Hanley back four. This persistence paid off just after the half hour mark as AFC won the ball back deep into the opposition half and Schorah was put through again. A great first touch and clever movement saw Schorah beat his man and run through on goal. Zach Hardacre was in space in the middle but Schorah went alone and placed the ball neatly into the corner beyond the onrushing keeper to double the lead.

Between the second goal and half time The Reds put their foot on the visitor’s throat and should have been out of sight by the break. Hardacre used his pace to get in behind but couldn’t convert his one-on-one, the keeper making a good stop. Hardacre then hit the post soon after and Callum Schorah passed up a golden opportunity for a hat-trick as he nodded the ball wide from a few yards out.

AFC Liverpool led 2-0 at half time but that was all. A slender lead when an ample one would have been deserved and so Hanley believed the game to be very much alive.

The renewed sense of belief in the visitors was clear as they looked a different side from the opening 45. Neville Thompson and Michael Conlon in particular impressed for Hanley, Thompson strong and balanced, difficult to dispossess and Conlon with quick, skilful feet were a challenge for The Reds back line all through the second half.

The increased pressure meant AFC had to defend for their lives at times – Hanley corners in double figures by the end but again they dealt with any and all threats. Ferguson communicated well and continued to make correct decisions, stay or come, punch or catch and he was assisted by the lads in front of him. Dylan Fitzsimmons who replaced the injured John Beattie and Chris Brady dealt with anything long and high towards the flanks while Callum Edgar and Jon Croasdale won it everywhere else.

Hanley never gave up creating good opportunities for each other and kept The Reds penned in for much of the second half. Though the goals were scored in the first half, it was in these key moments under sustained pressure the game was won.

AFC Liverpool remained a threat on the break however and Zach Hardacre again blazed in on the Hanley goal after beating his marker and running clear. With Schorah unmarked in the middle, Hardacre attempted to finish from a difficult angle but just ended up wide of the post.

The introduction of Anthony Lyons for The Reds kept up the season long tradition of putting the AFC Liverpool supporters through an emotional ringer. Minutes after coming on, Lyons was through on goal after a good first touch. A heavy second touch took him wide of the goal and his final touch caused keeper Michael Morton to bring the striker down inside the box. Lyons lined up the penalty but could only place it tamely at Morton – The Reds couldn’t relax yet and the relief for those in the stand would have to wait.

A final late surge from the visitors made the last minutes of the game uncomfortable with a series of late corners and half chances to handle. The Reds stayed resolute though, they took the best that Hanley could manage and came away with 3 points and a clean sheet against a top 6 side.

Irlam, 1874 Northwich, Runcorn Linnets and Charnock Richard.

A difficult enough run in on paper will be no easier on the pitch I’m sure but in recent matches, Barnton aside, these lads have displayed all the qualities necessary for survival. The management team deserve massive credit for this of course, a side once bereft of self-belief will now go into each and every one of the remaining games believing they are good enough to get a result and will scrap for each other til the end to do so.

Irlam next. Up the fighting for our lives Reds.

Match attendance: 95

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