Ramsbottom United and Salford City dished up the proverbial Christmas cracker on Boxing Day with a high-tempo game and seven goals to keep the large crowd festively entertained.
It all started and ended so well for the home side, but in between they were forced to endure some nervy moments.
The Rams took the game by the scruff of the neck. Three goals in the opening 21 minutes had the home supporters expecting a goal rush, but some sloppy defending allowed the visitors back into the game, after which both sides gave as good as they got. In the end, the Rams finally collected all three points thanks to a comfortable last 25 minutes.
The first chance of the game fell to Salford’s Dan Browne as the Ammies broke the home defence, but Grant Shenton, in the home goal did enough to clear the danger.
Moments later, Darren Green raced down the right wing for the Rams and sent over a perfect cross which Lee Gaskell failed to keep down as he lifted it over the bar.
The home side looked to have taken the lead after only seven minutes when Dominic Smalley slid in at the far post to convert a Gaskell cross, but his joy was short-lived as he turned to see the linesman’s flag aloft.
One minute later, however, the home side did open the scoring.
Gaskell raced down the right before sending over a low drive which eventually fell to Phil Dean, and he made no mistake from six yards out.
Joel Pilkington almost doubled the lead two minutes later when he fired in a half-clearance only to see the ball skim over the bar.
On 13 minutes it was 2-0. A long through ball from Owen Roberts split the Salford defence, and Gaskell outpaced them before calmly lobbing the ball over the advancing keeper and into the empty net.
Another surge from Gaskell saw his shot deflected for a corner from which Billy Priestley nodded inches over, as the Rams continued to press the over-worked City defence.
That defence was breached again on 21 minutes with a “goal-of-the-season” contender from Phil Dean. He raced 50 yards down the left-wing before cutting in by the edge of the penalty area. He beat two defenders before sending in a thundering shot that flew into the top right hand corner of the net, at which stage the home side looked like scoring for fun.
Green and Roberts both tried their luck from 30 yards before the visitors finally grabbed a goal on 27 minutes.
Some slick inter-passing on the edge of the Rams’ box ended with a fine finish from Mark Battersby.
Five minutes later, Kelvin Lomax lost possession in his own half allowing Browne to gain possession, and he played the ball across for Battersby to notch his second in quick succession.
Suddenly what had looked like a one-sided affair had turned into a much more competitive game, as Salford’s comeback inspired them, and they began to match the home side’s commitment.
A cross from the corner flag by Green almost caught out visiting keeper Keiran O’Boyle who managed to flick it over the bar for a corner. From the resultant kick, Billy Priestley was inches away from heading the ball home.
On 39 minutes the game had to be stopped as City full-back James Moss landed awkwardly, and after eight minutes of treatment was taken to hospital with a compound fracture of his left arm.
Both sides continued to press but the half-time whistle sounded with the Rams holding on to their slender lead.
On 55 minutes, Lomax raced down the left and played the ball in for Gaskell, but he couldn’t quite connect in front of goal, whilst minutes later Gaskell did manage to connect with another cross, this time from Smalley, but the ball glanced just wide of the post.
On 67 minutes, the Rams gave themselves breathing space when Gaskell rose highest to nod in a Grant Spencer corner, and a minute later they were denied a fifth by keeper O’Boyle spreading his body to prevent Dean who had raced unmarked into the box.
At the other end, Battersby was denied a hat-trick by a fine save from Shenton after the City forward volleyed the ball goalwards from 20 yards.
On 85 minutes, the hosts made the game safe.
Substitute Jon Robinson was hacked down in the box by City skipper Aaron Walters, and Spencer duly converted the spot-kick to make it 5-2.
Lomax came to the rescue by flicking the ball off an opponent’s toes as an inviting cross looked likely to be converted, but the final whistle sounded on what, on paper, looked a comfortable victory.
In the end it was, but credit to the visitors for not caving in after the initial onslaught, and making it an entertaining afternoon for the supporters.
RAMSBOTTOM UNITED: Shenton, Lomax, Roberts(Spencer 45mins), Stopforth, Warrender, Priestley, Smalley(Robinson 69mins0, Pilkington, Gaskell, Green(Brooks 84mins), Dean. Subs not used: Toth, Edghill