A game that was seemingly progressing to a comfortable Ramsbottom United victory suddenly exploded with controversy as the final few minutes were played with a series of decisions that had the home crowd mystified and the away supporters wondering if a miraculous escape was on the cards.
The Rams had controlled the match and were looking good value for their three goal lead when the deserved three points were almost snatched away in a bizarre display of officiating. Fortunately, the whistle finally blew with the three points still intact, but questions were raised afterwards as the fans streamed out with a certain amount of anger.
Both sides settled down early, with Cedric Krou going close for the home side after a penalty area scramble, before Andy Fowler saw his shot on the turn fly past the far post for the Merseysiders.
The Rams took the lead in the ninth minute after some terrific work from Dominic Smalley. He gathered the ball just outside his own area before setting off down the right. He played a one-two before sending Jordan Hulme through, and the youngster held off a challenge from a defender to fight his way into the area and flick the ball neatly past the advancing keeper.
The home side were seeing more of the ball although Karl Clair and James Foley both went close for the visitors. The home side looked menacing, though, and Phil Dean from fully 30 yards, and Hulme from close range, were both denied by Matthew Cooper in the Marine goal.
The Rams took a firm grip on the game within three minutes of the restart.
Malachi Slaven gathered the ball out on the left before skipping past a couple of defenders as he raced across the pitch to create the space to fire home an unstoppable volley from just inside the box. A superb solo effort.
Tom Owens shot straight at Shenton as the visitors looked for a response, but it was the home side that was to grab the next goal.
On 56 minutes, a shout for a penalty for hand ball was ignored by the referee, who otherwise pointed for a corner. From the kick, Steve Howson jumped highest to power a header into the back of the net to render the penalty claim irrelevant.
The bar came to the Rams rescue as the three goal cushion remained in tact, and as the minutes ticked down, a well-deserved three points looked like a fair reward for a good night’s work.
Then the entertainment began.
On 87 minutes, a loose ball in the area was desperately cleared off the home side’s goal-line. The players looked on aghast as the linesman raised his flag to indicate a goal, despite the lack of appeals from the visitors. After much heated debate and a couple of yellow cards, the “goal” was given, and Marine sensed an opportunity for an unlikely comeback.
As the game entered stoppage time, the referee pointed for a corner despite the assistant flagging for a goal-kick. From the corner John Shaw headed the ball in, and suddenly it was panic stations in the home defence and optimism on the visitors’ bench. Five minutes of added time were announced as the home side pushed forward to attempt to keep hold of the points. Cedric Krou went on a solo run where he was brought down with a bump in the area. Again, despite confident appeals for a penalty, the referee pointed for a corner.
Then to the relief of the home fans, Jon Robinson gathered the ball, strode forward before hitting the back of the net. The joy was amazingly curtailed when, for some inexplicable reason, the linesman on the far side decided to raise his flag for offside, which had everyone on the ground scratching their heads in disbelief.
The final whistle finally blew on a game that for 87 minutes had proceeded with no controversy, but one which will long be remembered for a bizarre last eight minutes.
As it was, the Rams gained their first home points of the season, and despite the scoreline, it was a comfortable and well-deserved victory.
RAMSBOTTOM UNITED: Shenton, Smalley(Cook 67mins), Pilkington, Spencer, Howson, Krou, Abadaki, Burton(Robinson 65mins), Slaven, Hulme, Dean(Williams 69mins), Subs not used: Morley, Johnson