BetVictor Northern Premier League North West Division
Match report by Jon Haslam
Saturday 17th August
Ramsbottom United 3 Widnes 2
On a day in the football calendar where there is both hope and expectations Ramsbottom United hosted Widnes in the curtain raiser of the new season at The Riverside on Saturday afternoon.
Both sides lined up with the inevitable array of new faces on opening day and it was Widnes who settled the better in the early minutes of the match with Ben Hodkinson looking particularly lively. Indeed the wide man will be recorded as the first goal scorer of the season at the HWRS when on 11 minutes the flying winger picked up an incisive pass from Hajdari before driving forward and sending a well directed shot past debutant keeper Tom Stewart to give the away side the ideal start to their campaign.
The Rams almost responded after going behind when a free kick was cleared only as far as Daniel Naidole whose well struck attempt brought a fine save from Widnes keeper Wheeler, things would get better for the visitors with almost twenty minutes of the new season played when Widnes doubled their advantage as Hodkinson again found space before playing in Conor Ready whose well struck effort from the edge of the penalty area flew past Stewart as the away side gained a tangible reward for their good strong start to the contest.
Widnes were looking the more cohesive outfit as the hosts toiled to create many clear cut opportunities in the opening third of the contest, indeed Widnes almost increased their lead when good link up play between Hodkinson and Buckley before the latter fired over the bar with the home defence looking flimsy.
As the half wore on the home side began to get a foothold into the match and new addition Daniel Naidole fired inches wide after good work from Evangelinos and the industrious Jamie Rother, then in additional time at the end of the first period the game changing moment arrived when a superb through ball found speedster Irywah Gooden running towards the penalty area before being brought down by the recovering Widnes central defender Danny Shaw, referee Mark Ryder appeared to have no alternative other than to issue a red card, the official duly obliged despite the obligatory protests and the day trippers were two goals to the good but a man light at the interval.
Ramsbottom United replaced full back Kelvin Bleau with Khalil Osi-Efa at half time as the hosts looked to utilise the second forty five minutes to make their man advantage count.
After what could perhaps be described as a disjointed first half performance the Rams began the second period in the perfect manner when skipper Tom Kennedy sent in a deep cross into the penalty area which fell kindly to Nic Evangelinos who converted from close range and the deficit was halved with barely a minute of the half elapsed.
With five minutes of the second half played recently arrived substitute Osi-Efa picked up a yellow card for a mistimed challenge on the Widnes number 9 Lewis Buckley much to the annoyance of the visitors who implored the official to even up the numbers but a booking was the decision.
Ramsbottom United appeared to gain confidence from their early strike and looked the more likely team to grab the next goal, this almost arrived when Gooden sped away from his marker before sending in a low cross which evaded the wingers onrushing team mates.. As the hour point was reached more positive attacking play from the Rams saw Evangelinos fire over the crossbar before the same player struck the post from close range as the hosts piled on the pressure.
With the contest entering the final twenty minutes the Widnes defence were being increasingly tested as the Rams utilised both wings as they pushed forward looking to take advantage of the extra player with Evangelinos and Gooden stretching the visiting defence with the promptings of Naidole and the non stop running of fans favourite Jamie Rother.
The home side made their second change of the day when debutant Fawns was replaced by Moncrieffe as the hosts looked for fresh legs from the bench, moments later the scores were level when a free kick was won tight to the goal line from where Tom Kennedy sent in a superb left footed cross which was powered into the back of the net by Irywah Gooden and the Rams had fought back from two goals down and the fixture was finely poised with around twenty minutes remaining.
With the wind in the Rams sails it appeared as though the home side had the momentum to go on and take all three points despite trailing at the interval, with that said Widnes then almost retook the lead when Hodkinson broke away and worked some space down the left wing before what appeared to be a cross hit the crossbar before being scrambled to safety and served notice that the visitors still had some attacking intent despite being down to ten men.
As the clock showed ten minutes remaining on an enthralling start to the campaign at The Riverside both teams fashioned presentable chances to win the game in quick succession, firstly Widnes threatened the home goal when a marauding run from the excellent James Steele brought a smart save from the Ramsbottom keeper Tom Stewart before the hosts responded when Ruben Jerome was denied by the onrushing Widnes stopper Wheeler as the game fluctuated end to end.
Then as the clock ticked towards additional time the defining moment arrived when patient play down the Rams left hand side lead to Tom Kennedy sending in a precise cross into the penalty area which found the head of Ruben Jerome whose towering header flew past Wheeler to win the game for Ramsbottom United and give the burly striker a reward for his hard work during the ninety minutes.
As the final whistle sounded the Rams celebrated taking the opening day honours whilst collecting three points after a superb and entertaining second half showing which was the proverbial “Game of two halves” as the hosts began the season on a positive note ahead of Tuesday nights trip to Pickering Town.
Ramsbottom United- Stewart, Bleau (Osi-Efa 46 mins), Kennedy (Capt), Rother, Norris, Lugsden, Gooden (Chukwu 91 mins), Naidole, Jerome, Fawns (Moncrieffe 72 mins), Evangelinos
Subs not used- Mc Dowell-Jallow, Adetiloye