AFC Liverpool 3-2 AFC Darwen | Match Report

Tell you what, don’t half love putting on a show these lads. Don’t half see to it that the neutral enjoys themselves. The neutral is well and truly looked after through the abundance of attacking talent at their disposal and the moments of calamity at the back that are never too far away.

AFC Liverpool players observe the minute’s silence.

Firstly, before kick off both sets of supporters, players and staff observed a minute’s silence ahead of Sunday’s 100-year anniversary of The Armistice in honour and remembrance of all those who’ve served and given their lives.

The Reds started quickly in complete contrast to the Ashton Town game 9 days earlier. That match was characterised by slow movement, players that took a couple of touches too many and a propensity to play themselves into trouble. This time around though AFC were fluid, moved the ball with purpose and for the first time this season had a wholly balanced midfield, the foundation of which was provided by debutant Marc Stephens.

Stephens, signed just this week, went straight into the starting 11 and as a specialist holding midfielder who clearly knows his role, he looked after his own game and released others, in particular our two most creative midfielders, to play their natural games. Jay Howell, now unshackled, was able to occupy space 10 yards further up the pitch without having to check over his shoulder. Josh Hamilton was also given license to just play facing the Darwen goal and the diminutive playmaker was a thorn in the visitors side all night. It may only be one game but Stephens has already had a significant impact on how this side plays and will want to play in future and the highest compliment I have for him is that I didn’t notice him at all. Received it, turned, moved it on. Received it, turned, moved it on and when called upon was capable of snapping in and recovering the ball with minimal fuss.

Despite The Reds positive start it was the visitors who took the lead against the run of play after a moment of madness from wing back Chris Brady. Brady lost his man just outside the box then in attempt to recover cleaned the same player out inside the area and gave the referee an easy decision to make. Elliot Pond stood over the ball and sent Lee Carr the wrong way to put his side ahead after 14 minutes.

Elliot Pond from the spot.

AFC Liverpool struggled in the next 10 minutes, knocked by starting well and still finding themselves a goal down. Fortunately however, Darwen lacked the requisite quality to go and make it two in this period and The Reds slowly regained the upper hand.

What was effectively a front 4/5 with a lot of fluid movement proved difficult for the Darwen back line to deal with and AFC began to create quality chances. Callum Schorah in particular was able to get a couple of shots away in quick succession. Schorah slipped his marker, dribbled into the box and played a dangerous ball across the face of goal but Drew Lewis and Josh Hamilton were just a few yards behind play.

The Reds drew level soon after following a brilliant run from Jay McGrane. Ben Lightfoot started the move with a cracking diagonal ball over the top, McGrane latched on to it, cut inside and jinked his way past two players leaving them in heap. As keeper Jordan Gidley committed himself, McGrane dribbled around him too and finished into an empty net to put AFC level in the 35th minute. It also put McGrane on double figures in the league with 12 goals now in all competitions, a remarkable return from a wide forward at this stage in the season.

Jay McGrane’s equaliser & 10th league goal.

The Reds went up another gear after the goal and did what Darwen could not and quickly turned one goal into two. Drew Lewis fizzed the ball at pace to the feet of Callum Schorah, Schorah trapped the ball, rode a heavy challenge and placed his shot neatly beyond Gidley from the edge of the area to put AFC in front after 38 minutes.

Callum Schorah makes it 2-1.

The rest of the half played out in the same vein as AFC continued to create chances but lacked the killer instinct to really put the game out of Darwen’s reach and the visitors punished them for it on the stroke of half time.

A good ball into the box created chaos for a moment in the area and Jon Croasdale cleared well but the warning wasn’t heeded. Leon Creech was then given time and space to get into the box and despite Lee McConchie’s best efforts, Creed had two attempts and he fired his second shot into the roof of the net to put make it 2-2.

Leon Creech puts Darwen level.

Another body blow then but nobody to blame but themselves after so much good work going forward and in a half AFC had undoubtedly* won, they had somehow conspired to draw it.

*considerable doubts actually as the half time score was definitely 2-2.

The Reds emerged for the second half a few minutes later than the visitors and the extra time to reflect on just how the game wasn’t yet out of sight served them well as they flew out the blocks. After banging on the door for 10 minutes after the restart, AFC re-established the lead through Drew Lewis.

An apparent harmless free kick on the half way line was delivered perfectly by Lee McConchie deep into the box towards towering centre half Jon Croasdale. Croasdale nodded the ball into the danger area and Lewis, with a poacher’s finish turned it in from close range.

Drew Lewis’ 57th minute winner.

The match then had a stoppage in play for a few minutes after a late challenge on Callum Schorah resulted in the AFC forward receiving treatment and Anthony Hodges receiving a yellow card. Schorah was able to bounce back after returning to play though and came close to grabbing his second but was only able to roll the ball past the post.

As the half wore on and legs tired The Reds introduced Anthony Lyons, Bakare Aliu and Mike Jones to shore things up and see the game out. Again, Marc Stephens held at the base of the midfield and allowed Aliu and Jones the freedom to play as he had done for Hamilton and Howell. Aliu and Jones, who have both struggled at times in the deeper role this season, impressed in their cameos further forward and with fresh legs were able to press the Darwen defence and stop the visitors attacks at their source.

Aliu was also involved in the dismissal of Anthony Hodges for a second yellow card 10 minutes from time. Aliu beat his man on the outside and as he rushed towards the byline Hodges attempted to hook the ball away but caught The Reds midfielder in the face with his boot.

Now down to 10 men and chasing an equaliser, the visitors were limited to long balls to catch out the AFC back line but the defence and keeper Lee Carr managed the closing minutes well to ensure a hard fought 3 points.

The win moved The Reds back up to fourth then, kept from third by Avro’s impressive goal difference. With Garstang, Holker and Cleator Moor up next for AFC Liverpool, there’s the opportunity to put another run together and close the gap on the league leader’s but it won’t be easy. Like at Chadderton, like against Darwen, The Reds will have to fight for every ball but with this attack and the new found midfield balance, if defensive errors are cut out then these lads will be difficult to stop.

Lineup vs AFC Darwen

Attendance: 116

Alan Williams Man of the Match: Callum Schorah

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