AFC Liverpool 2-1 St Helens Town | Match Report

Another win, less emphatic than some, less routine than others, but a win is a win is a win and that’s five on the bounce in the league now for The Reds. Winning, just like losing, is a habit and the shift from one mindset to the other is beginning to take root. This is most apparent in the narrow victories with fine margins as earlier versions of what this side is now and what it is still becoming may well have wilted and dropped points in those situations.

They didn’t though and with 3 points from the games against Ashton Town, Bacup Borough and St Helens Town, these lads are scrapping, grasping and dragging themselves up the league table and these are the fruits of their labour.

League Table As Of 7th September

We are in this position now because of the unity and team spirit that has been built brick by brick over the last 18 months but we are still able to celebrate the achievements of the individual. Jon Croasdale had a phenomenal August, picking up three man of the match awards, scoring three goals from centre half and should have been four but for the harsh reality that the first day in September doesn’t in fact count as August. Jon then was rightly recognised as North West Counties First Division North Player of the Month. 

Jon Croasdale – Macron Player of the Month

The Reds started well, moved the ball quickly and pressed the visitors with purpose off the ball which almost forced the opening goal after just 3 minutes. The front three of McGrane, Lewis and Schorah blocked off passing lanes for Town keeper Zak Kechil which led to Schorah intercepting a wayward goal kick. His pass was laid off to Drew Lewis on the edge of the area but his first time effort sailed just wide.

AFC Liverpool kept up the tempo and controlled the ball throughout much of the opening half and continued to craft chances. Some quick one and two touch passing through the thirds dragged St Helens all over the pitch to leave space for a midfield runner. The runner this time, Mike Jones, picked the ball up 25 yards out, took a good first touch but could only fizz his effort narrowly wide.

Jay McGrane created something out of nothing 20 minutes in with a brilliant run down the left flank turning his man inside out. The threat from wide left space for Callum Schorah in the middle as he received the ball and had two attempts at goal. The first was well blocked by Dominic Whelan as the ball bounced back to Schorah’s feet he was unable to keep the follow up on target.

Chances for the visitors were limited this half and came exclusively through indecision, or poor decisions, from The Reds back line. Striker Liam Diggle was put in a couple of times in as many minutes after AFC lost the ball in dangerous areas but Diggle was unable to punish those mistakes. Midfielder Thomas Grimshaw would also profit from his team winning the ball back deep in The Reds half. Grimshaw drove into the box but the excellent Ben Lightfoot stayed with him shoulder to shoulder all the way and ensured he could only lift the ball over the crossbar.

AFC Liverpool kept on though, continued to control the ball and control space and were rewarded after 36 minutes. Another good passage of play pulled the visitors back line out of position and Drew Lewis popped up just inside the area, set himself with a nice touch and smashed the ball beyond Kechil to open the scoring.

St Helens Town dropped considerably deeper after conceding which allowed The Reds to push on for a second goal. Jon Croasdale came the closest to doubling the lead just before half time as his towering header was just cleared off the line and the referee blew up shortly after.

A solid half then for AFC Liverpool and by the end in complete control but still room for improvement at both ends of the pitch.

The Reds picked up very much where they left off in the second half as they controlled the ball, controlled the space and pushed on for another goal. The visitors continued to play much more reactive football but they played it much better than in the opening 45.

A decent break from midfield put Town winger Sean Richards through on goal but he was marshalled far enough wide that he had a limited shooting angle and his attempt could only roll wide.

Despite that flicker of hope for St Helens, The Reds reasserted their dominance and kept pushing for another goal. McGrane came close just before the hour mark after another direct run at his full back. He created half a yard for himself at a tight angle but his effort only stung Zak Kechil’s palms.

As the half wore on, the quality of chances improved for AFC, most notably during a wild 10 seconds in the visitors box following a dangerous Drew Lewis corner kick. Town failed to clear the ball convincingly and it landed to the feet of Jay McGrane who snatched at his shot that rebounded off the post. The ball then fell to Callum Schorah who also didn’t have time to correct his position before shooting as his powerful effort was blocked on to the post and then the crossbar before somehow being cleared behind for another AFC corner.

The Reds finally doubled their lead 10 minutes from time through substitute Jordan Foster. Drew Lewis was charged down 20 yards from goal and Callum Schorah stepped over the subsequent free kick. The shot curled over the wall and straight at the keeper but Kechil fumbled his catch and Foster steamed in to follow up and bury his chance.

Jordan Foster Scoring The Reds Second Goal

St Helens grabbed one late on through substitute Neil Weaver as The Reds failed to deal with a ball into the box but it came too late for the visitors, and AFC Liverpool, despite how it may have felt to some supporters, managed the rest of the game effectively to take all three points.

A soft goal conceded so late took some of the gloss off the result as it would have been nice to keep the clean sheet that The Reds back line arguably deserved.

Croasdale was again at the heart of things but he had considerable support. Chris Brady is the personification of consistency, the kind of reliable player that exudes calm to the extent that it spreads and takes hold in others. Ben Lightfoot was brilliant, as he has been since signing. His ability to receive the ball under pressure, to beat a man from centre half and drive 30 yards up the pitch is extremely rare at this level and it gives this side such a unique dimension. The wing backs Harry Avis, Callum Ruttledge and the returning Bradley Owens have perhaps the hardest job of all. They covered every blade of grass and the tactical discipline required to execute their attacking and defensive instructions, particularly when in transition is astonishing.

A special mention is also warranted for new goalkeeper Joao Mendes. It’s difficult to overstate how impressive it is to put such a confident and assured debut like that in with all the context of a new league and new teammates to consider. Despite some minor communication issues, his performance was excellent and his strong distribution, decision making and power when coming for the ball were all on display. He absolutely hates using his hands though, sees it as some sort of personal defeat if he has to pick it up and I suspect some in the stands won’t thank him for it. Jokes aside of course he looks a serious goalkeeper.

The defensive praise isn’t just reserved for defenders however. Mike Jones got over an early wobble to put in a great performance in midfield. He was everywhere, carried water for everyone and allowed the man next to him to play his natural game and shine the way he did. Skipper Jay Howell looks to be right back up to his level now, his ability to turn in no space whatsoever, surrounded by bodies, to then open the game up with his vision and passing range are vital to how this side plays football.

Finally, this front three who press and harass and niggle and scrap for 90 minutes must be an absolute nightmare for any defence to come up against. All of this and there are some serious goals between them as well, those scored and those still to come.

That’s a thought to end on I think, what is still to come. It’s something we can reflect on as we endure a two week break until Shelley away on the 22nd September. The potential of this side is genuinely exciting, five wins on the spin and yet there’s still so much more to come from all of them. You get the sense nobody in this side has quite peaked. Whatever happens this season, that’s something to rally behind, to turn up for and ultimately to enjoy. After all, that’s what we’re in it for, isn’t it?

Up The Five On The Bounce Reds.

Attendance: 169

Alan Williams Man of the Match: Callum Schorah

Lineup vs St Helens Town

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