2-2 Draw Forces A replay At Brocstedes.
Match report: St Helens Town 2-2 Ashton Athletic – Date: 17th August 2013 – Kick off: 15:00 – Competition: FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round
St Helens were to play Ashton Athletic in the Extra Preliminary Round of The FA Cup this afternoon in what was set to be a close encounter. I predicted that Ashton would come away as 2-1 winners in my match preview, but a late St Helens equaliser proved me wrong. The sides were drawn to play each other in the FA Cup, with Ashton Athletic having to travel a large distance to get to the ground. The late goal they conceded could have been due to jet lag… (The clubs have a groundshare agreement, where St Helens play their home games at Ashton Athletic’s ground).
The Saints lined up in a 4-4-2 formation, whilst the ‘visitors’ appeared to shape up in an unorthodox 4-2-3-1 formation.
The game looked set to be entertaining when, in the first 15 seconds, a misplaced pass from the St Helens captain, Chris Williams, gave Ashton a chance on goal. However, St Helens got back quickly, removing any danger. The first 15 seconds were very misleading as both sides failed to entertain in the first half. For the first 15 minutes, the ball was tossed about in the air like a lengthy game of ‘hot potato’. Both sides refused to play on the ground. I was surprised Tony Pulis didn’t turn up to witness what he would call ‘beautiful football’. With both number fours, in particular the Ashton centre-half Ian Rowlands, dominant in the air, the teams decided that they would be better off playing on the floor (finally). Luke Holden’s missed interception on 20 minutes almost allowed St Heles’ Ste Milne through on goal, only for his teammate Adam Howard to halt the attack with a fine slide tackle. Ashton controlled the first half pretty much from the 1st minute to the 45th, limiting St Helens to use most of their possession across the back line. The first real eye-opener of the game was on 26 minutes, just as I was about to fall asleep, when Richard Livingston hit the post after hitting a thunderous shot across goal. This was the first clear cut chance after a series of attempts wide of goal from Ashton, and you could be forgiven if you thought it just wasn’t going to be Ashton’s day. They were dominating but couldn’t get the ball in the back of the net. They received a wake-up call, though, when Ben Etchells dragged a volley wide just a minute later. Ashton cranked up the pressure around the half an hour mark, pressing higher up and recycling possession further up the pitch. The game started to open up, albeit for a brief spell. St Helens had a chance to take the lead after a free-kick was whipped into the box, just missing the head of the consistently vocal Lewis Coyle. The referee eventually blew for half-time after what seemed like an eternity with both sides not doing much with the ball.
The game had brightened up slightly after the first 15 minutes, but the weather did not; downpour welcomed the two sides for the second half. Ashton had been restricted due to St Helens’ compact defence in what had been a fairly solid defensive display by the ‘home’ side. It became apparent that Ashton were in control just a few minutes into the 2nd half, with The Saints not offering much when in possession. Ben Graham and Adam Gilchrist took the places of Lee Green and Richard Livingston for Ashton just before the hour mark. Striker Joe Hull came close with a header in the 66th minute, and under 18s midfielder Ben Graham shot wide from a free kick a minute later. It wasn’t Ashton’s day. Or was it? Gilchrist made his impact in the 70th minute when superb play from Joe Hull, who dragged a defender out wide to create space and lay the ball off, resulted in the substitute slotting the ball into the bottom left corner. Gilchrist, who had come on for Athletic, had already made his impact with a goal, but also offered the ‘away’ side more creativity in midfield. Athletic had finally took the lead, forcing St Helens to play forwards as opposed to sideways. It was St Helens’ turn to make two substitutions, with Neil Weaver and Stephen Edwards replacing Kenny Cooper and Paul Cook-Hannah. It was also turn for a player off the St Helens bench to make an impact. Neil Weaver clearly give The Saints a more direct style of play, mixed with flair and trickery. However, Gilchrist had an appeal for a penalty turned down when a tackle bounced the ball up and appeared to hit right-back Andrew Mawdsley on the arm in his own penalty area. The referee disagreed and play continued, this time at a higher tempo. St Helens went up the other end of the pitch, and against the run of play, equalised through a slightly deflected shot from the youthful looking Neil Weaver. The game was really starting to open up and there was certainly going to be more goals. Just 5 minutes after The Saints had pulled it back, Gilchrist popped up again, this time with a half volley from outside the box. St Helens attacked from the off and almost scored their 2nd when Weaver turned his defender and dragged his shot wide of goal. They didn’t run out ideas, though, when in the 85th minute, the best goal of the game was scored. A perfect through ball from Shaun Judge allowed Greg Harrison to rifle a shot into the roof of the net after an intelligent run in behind the defence. Ashton’s defending couldn’t be forgiven as a lapse of concentration had undone all of their hard work throughout the game. They had controlled the game for so long, but fell short when it mattered most. Athletic had a late chance to take the lead, and nearly did so, when a back-post Gilchrist header hit the woodwork and almost crossed the line. It wasn’t to be, and St Helens had done well to earn a replay.
The game, at first, was a cagey affair and lacked any spark until the substitutes came on. St Helens’ Weaver and Ashton’s Gilchrist played excellent after taking to the field, both of them giving their teams a new dimension. Other players who impressed were Ashton’s fleet-footed winger James Lawrence-Forbes and solid left-back Adam Howard. St Helens’ forward Paul Cook-Hannah also made for some good link-up play when called upon. Despite some impressive performances from both sets of players, I feel that St Helens’ left-back Greg Harrison deserved the Man of the Match award. He was solid from the first minute to the last, defending well and supporting attacks. He capped his display with the final equalising goal, and the St Helens coaching staff and fans alike will be delighted with his performance. The second half made for much better viewing than the first as both sides managed to keep the ball on the ground. However, in all fairness, both teams were trying to adapt to the tough, wet conditions.
The winners of the replay will be rewarded with an away trip to Curzon Ashton in the Preliminary Round. If St Helens are to go through, they will more than likely need an early goal. If Ashton are to progress, the will need to be a lot more efficient in front of goal. Good luck to both teams.