If you were to take away the first 15 minutes and the last ten of this game, it would not be unreasonable to see a Rams performance in which they comfortably matched table-topping Blyth Spartans.
BLYTH SPARTANS 5 RAMSBOTTOM UNITED 0
Evo-Stik Northern Premier League Premier Division
Croft Park, Blyth
Saturday 13 February 2016
In truth though those two fatal sessions reflected the game as a whole and if Blyth had been a bit more ruthless, the score could easily have doubled. The Rams had travelled with no great expectations and came away with them fulfilled.
They were hampered by the unavailability of Alex Meaney through injury but that is no excuse for a midfield selection and set up which offered absolutely no cover or defensive shield to a re-jigged defence following the signings of Andrew Smart at left-back and centre-half Kevin McGrath. Smart, looking less than match fit, was given a torrid time all day too often finding himself out of position when Rams attacks down the left broke down and Blyth countered with attacks down the right which were too rapid for the full-back to react and on at least one, if not two of the occasions, too quick for the linesman’s flag.
The Rams tried to play their normal style of pleasing football with short neat passes to feet. Unfortunately that style does not seem to work at this level and the visitors do not have the quality of players that would be needed if it did. Too often the final pass was either wrongly selected, ill-judged, too slow in its delivery coughing up possession in promising positions, leaving the defence completely exposed to the counter attack.
From this route came the first two goals on six and 13 minutes. Wilson Kneeshaw first converting a pin point cross from Michael Richardson who had galloped forward in acres of space down the right and then latching on to a through ball and neatly slipping the ball past Grant Shenton. Both times Smart had moved forward in support of the attack taking up promising positions and was left floundering.
From there, Blyth were dominant but the Rams could and perhaps should have gone in level – Michael Oates steering a stooping header wide of the post from six yards and then failing agonisingly shortly of getting a foot to a low cross with the goal at his mercy. Even then the ball seemed to be falling neatly to Jake Cliffe at the far post but on the stretch, he sliced wide. But the Blyth keeper was otherwise untroubled and over 90 minutes, the Rams did not have a shot on target.
The second half went much the same way as the first. Blyth slumbered and the Rams were pedestrian in possession. Not much happened until, with seven minutes left, Robert Dale, as good a footballer as there is in this league, turned Robbie Bromley inside and out before setting up Kneeshaw for his hat-trick.
The centre forward then grabbed two more goals that were mirror images of his first two, by which time the Rams were down to ten men after Phil Edghill was sent off for a foul on Kneeshaw in the box that was more clumsy than intentional. Shenton produced a brilliant save to deny Dale from the penalty spot.
That was the highlight of the day for the travelling faithful apart from the introduction on the hour of Rammy-born Tom Coulson, on loan from Fleetwood Town. He looked every bit the part and depending on how long his stay at the HWRS is going to be should be in the starting XI for a while to come.
Weather permitting the Rams now have a run of six home games over the next three weeks which will be a defining period if there is to be an escape from relegation.
Blyth Spartans: Adam McHugh, Alex Nicholson (Dillon Morse 85mins), Jordan Watson, Nathan Buddle, Ryan Hutchinson, Neal Hooks, Michael Richardson, Sean Read (Arran Wearmouth 62mins), Wilson Kneeshaw, Matthew Wade (Paul Robinson 73mins), Robert Dale (capt). Subs not used: Ashley Davis, Danny Parker
Goals: Wilson Kneeshaw (6mins, 13mins, 83mins, 85mins, 90mins)
Ramsbottom United: Grant Shenton, Robbie Bromley, Andrew Smart, Phil Edghill, Kevin McGrath, Jake Cliffe, Luke Heron, David Kuba-Kuba, Michael Oates (Tom Coulson 62mins), Danny Wilkins, Joel Melia. Subs not used: John Pritchard, Cameron Dudley, Rob Black, Sean Williams.
Yellow cards: Andrew Smart, Jake Cliffe
Red card: Phil Edghill (88mins)
Referee: Will Finnie