Nelson 0-2 AFC Liverpool

What about that then?

Since the insanity of last Saturday’s 4-3 comeback to claim the points against Ashton Town, The Reds have played two, won two and scored eight, conceded zero and after a few shaky defensive performances a corner does now appear to have been turned. Monday night’s 6-0 demolition away at Daisy Hill was impressive in it’s own right don’t get me wrong but there were elements of this performance that made this result all the more satisfying. The team spirit was palpable, there were several stars on display and yet none – nobody was too good to work for their mate, to run behind to cover and to bail out if needed. It was a proper team performance from front to back.

The highest compliment I can pay is that from the first whistle the game was made to look routine. Routine, not because this was easy, in fact the complete opposite, wins like this only get to be routine through graft, through putting in the hard yards in training and then in executing the game plan from minute one. Routine does not mean ordinary. Routine should be celebrated, Lord knows this Club has had few routine wins away from home against tough opposition in recent times. Long may it continue.

The opening 10 minutes were a fairly even contest with both sides feeling each other out and looking to probe for space in the final third. AFC Liverpool had a slight edge on the early exchanges with Jordan Foster inches away from latching on to a searching ball from Callum Schorah and Jay McGrane should have opened the scoring just a minute later after pressing his full back into ceding possession before forcing a decent stop from the Nelson keeper. The home side at this time played percentages balls in behind and managed to win a series of corners but keeper George Harris and his defence dealt with them comfortably.

The Reds grew in confidence as the half wore on and continued to push and after 20 minutes got their reward. A series of quick, incisive passes moved AFC through the thirds and a failed clearance landed perfectly for Harry Avis just inside the box who converted calmly to open the scoring.

With their tails now up, the lads began to express themselves more and this was epitomised by a move started and finished by Callum Ruttledge. He began at full back, 10 yards inside his own half, dribbled past several players during a 40 yard run, laid the ball off to Jay Howell and then somehow managed to get to the other side of the pitch, into the box and forced a corner with a strong header from Howell’s brilliant subsequent cross. If you think it’s hard to understand what happened there from reading that, you should have tried watching it happen, my head was gone and I’m not still not sure how he ended up where he did without the ability to teleport. If he can teleport I definitely feel like he’s being underutilised by the way.

Mad rips in the space-time continuum behind us then, The Reds kept the pressure on and doubled their lead in the 26th minute. Callum Schorah dropped deep to receive the ball and in one movement turned his man and sprayed a perfect ball over the top for Jay McGrane. McGrane still had a lot to do and with a great first touch brought the ball down with his chest, opened his body and curled the ball into the far corner.

Nelson continued to try and use their width to get in behind, switching the play and overlapping with full backs but The Reds back line, Ben Lightfoot particularly, were equal to anything the home side attempted and never really looked in any trouble.

A clinical opening 45 minutes for AFC Liverpool then confirmed they went in at the break two goals ahead while Nelson had some tactical decisions to make before the restart.

The key tactical decision taken by the home side appeared to be to make the game a far more physical contest and a few early challenges marked a clear change in tone from the home side. For a time The Reds’ natural game was upset as they were drawn into making fouls in dangerous areas but Nelson lacked the requisite quality to make them pay.

Nelson’s best chance of the game came following a scrappy bit of play on The Reds left flank and a scuffed clearance fell to a blue shirt out wide. A deep cross-turned-shot spun in the air and caught George Harris on his heels but could only rattle the bar.

AFC reasserted their dominance following that scare and over the next 35 minutes or so just appeared to sap Nelson’s will to compete and The Reds just continued to create chances.

Callum Ruttledge popped up with another moment of magic from full back as he slid in to win the ball off the Nelson lads toe, regained his footing and sent an inch perfect through ball down the line to put Rhys Hardacre in one-on-one. Hardacre’s first touch took him clear of his marker but his lobbed shot could only roll painfully wide of the post.

Minutes later Jay McGrane was in behind again but his hard, low shot was blocked and cleared by Marcel Wusciewicz in the Nelson net. The Reds had further chances to improve their goal difference in the final 10 minutes as Callum Schorah stayed hungry for a goal and had two gilt edged chances but his finishing uncharacteristically let him down. Substitute Anthony Lyons didn’t have to wait long to get his chance but again Wusciewicz pulled off a great stop to spare his teammates blushes.

So there it was then, a routine AFC Liverpool victory. A professional away performance. Whatever you choose to call it, it feels like a massive win for all involved. For the management team it’s a vindication following a disappointing start to the season. For the players it’s a reward for their hard work after tough results. For the supporters it’s a restoration of pride after what must have felt like the foundations were being built for another one of those seasons.

There was an additional aspect of that performance that flowed out of the players to supporters and back again that I’ve touched upon throughout without naming it, partly because I was struggling to know what to call it. What I’ve settled on calling it is unity, unity that penetrates and permeates the whole Club. The kind that grows organically in the background while nobody is looking and then suddenly, before you know it, there it is.

The return of Vice-Chairman Alan Harrison played no small part in that I’ve no doubt and he retains the extraordinary ability to give all others a lift just by turning up. I would say it’s something else too though. I feel that people; supporters, managers and players who have come through the pain of relegation together, emerge the other side of it closer together.

The cost of that is visible when performances are not good enough and the fear that losing matches has become the new normal but then the payoff of winning is that much greater too. The supporters have arguably never yearned more for a team that they can be proud of and when the team deliver we get days and nights like these and from that the sense of unity will only grow and grow.

To Monday then. We face Bacup Borough at home, together. This and 33 more, together.

Man of the Match: Jon Croasdale

Lineup vs Nelson

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