Bet Victor Northern Premier League North West Division
Saturday 21st December 2019
Widnes 2 Ramsbottom United 2
Report by Jon Haslam
In the final away game of the decade Ramsbottom United made the trip to the salubrious surroundings of the Halton Stadium to take on a Widnes outfit in what was the reverse of the opening day fixtures.
The visitors line up showed three changes from the comprehensive win over Droylsden some seven days earlier with Reece Fishwick, Karl Jones and Mason Fawns starting the contest in place of the benched Evangelinos, Hmami and suspended Gooden respectively.
The opening minutes had the hosts in the ascendancy with Murray having the first attempt of the match but the stinging effort brought a fine finger tip save from Tom Stewart in the Rams goal.The ensuing corner was flicked towards the target but some alert defending smuggled the ball out of play for another flag kick, the second set piece caused further concern for the visitors who had a lucky escape when Grogans header looked goal bound but thankfully the header was blocked and cleared to safety.
After a goal laden few weeks the Rams took time to settle on the artificial surface but had their first sight of goal just after the ten minute point when good work and cut back from Karl Jones gave Richie Baker a sight of goal but the midfielders effort was blocked by a frantic block by the retreating Widnes defence.
The home side responded ten minutes later when live wire winger Ben Hodkinson brought a routine save from Rams number one Tom Stewart but again served notice that despite only winning one home league match to date this season Widnes posed an attacking threat.
At the quarter mark of the contest and the scoreline blank the game could perhaps be described as disjointed with flowing football proving elusive and the sparse crowd of 92 in an arena that holds above thirteen thousand not being treated to a pre Christmas cracker as some had predicted.
With the clock ticking towards the half hour point the visitors sparked into action in the final third of the field when Reuben Jerome broke away from his marker Grogan and fired a well struck attempt which required Widnes stopper Stone to repel the effort at his near post. Moments later and the Rams would open the scoring when excellent work down the right flank from Karl Jones saw the angular forward burst to the byline before squaring the ball to the waiting Jerome and the frontman went into double figures for the campaign by tapping in from close range to give the day trippers from Lancashire the advantage.
Widnes immediately responded on the half hour when home striker Murray burst beyond the Rams backline before rounding the onrushing Stewart but thankfully the retreating defenders managed to force the Widnes attacker wide of the target before Luke Thompson cleared the danger.
Ramsbottom had the opportunity to double their advantage when a long ball forward caused chaos in the home defence when home skipper Burke attempted to head the ball back to keeper Stone but the weak effort was intercepted by goalscorer Jerome but the attackers header didn’t have sufficient power to loop over the grateful home custodian who gathered comfortably.
With the Rams perhaps not at their fluent best the visitors again threatened to increase their lead when excellent play again from Jerome saw the forward hold the ball up before crossing into Karl Jones who held off his marker before sending a low scuffed effort which looked destined for the bottom corner of the net before Stone plunged down low to turn the goalbound effort past the post.
As the half time whistle blew the Rams held a satisfactory yet narrow lead at the interval and despite the absence of Nic Evangelinos and Iyrwah Gooden in the forward areas the away side were good value for their advantage as they headed for their mid point refreshments.
The second period began with both sides unaltered and it would be Widnes that had clearly been given some words of encouragement during the half time hiatus and began the half full of endeavour as they looked for a way back into the contest.
Then, with only a few minutes played after the restart the contest would be completely turned on its head within a bewildering three minute spell, firstly on 51 minutes raiding Widnes full back Holden found himself in behind the Rams defence and an accurate cross to the far post found the head of the onrushing James Steele who planted a header past the exposed Stewart to level matters up.
The second goal soon arrived for the hosts when some neat approach play down the left touchline saw Towey send in a flighted cross which perfectly found the head of the impressive Hodkinson whose flicked header looped beyond Stewart into the top corner to give the home side the reward for their impressive start to the second period and leave the away side wondering how they have surrendered their advantage so quickly.
With nineteen goals scored by Ramsbottom United in their previous five league outings hopes were high that despite a sluggish start to the second forty five minutes there was sufficient time remaining to garner something from the match against a side in the bottom half of the division.
As the clock ticked on towards the three quarter mark of the contest it appeared as though Widnes seemed the more likely side to add to their goal tally for the day with Hodkinson again proving to be a thorn in the side of the Rams as the wideman fired an angled effort towards goal but the ever alert Stewart acrobatically thwarted the player that impressed in the opening match of the season back in August.
Only minutes later and things could have got worse for the visitors when goalscorer Steel threaded a pass through to Murray and a well struck attempt flew goalwards but thankfully for the Rams clipped the crossbar and to safety.
With this pre Christmas clash heading towards the final quarter of an hour a double substitution from manager Chris Willcock saw Richie Baker and Mason Fawns make way for Josh Hmami and the welcome return of Greg Daniels whose incidentally was making his first appearance in over sixteen months due to injury. Indeed the forward made an impression barely sixty seconds into his return in the blue of Ramsbottom United when a late challenge saw referee Young issue a yellow card.
Widnes had also changed things around when former Rams loanee Anointed Chuckwu made an appearance against the side he scored three goals for earlier in the campaign. With time ebbing away and chances for the visitors not forthcoming the away side put together perhaps their best piece of play of the half when a well constructed passing move brought a corner which ultimately lead to parity being restored. The set piece was delivered by skipper Tom Kennedy which landed at the feet of defender Kelvin Lugsden who prodded the ball towards goal and there was sub Josh Hmami to force the ball over the line from close range to equalise to register his third goal in two games after the midfielders brace against Droylsden and again showed the strength of the Rams squad as the substitutes bench again had a positive impact on proceedings.
With the sides level the Rams second half performance was below what has been served up in recent weeks and really should be treated as the exception in what has been a month that has seen the team move from mid table to the play off position with some scintillating performances that have been a joy to witness.
The goal seemed to give the visitors the momentum they had been missing throughout much of the contest as they looked to repeat the scoreline when the two sides met back in August at The Riverside which saw the Rams edge a five goal thriller. Although the deciding goal didn’t arrive it was Widnes who almost grabbed the three points when a left wing corner was headed towards goal by Grogan but the visiting rearguard blocked the effort and the rebound was off target much to the relief of the vocal travelling Rams.
The remainder of the encounter was played out with no further chances of note as the Rams extended their unbeaten run to seven matches and sit in third position in the league standings prior to the busy festive period.
Ramsbottom United- Stewart, Fishwick, Kennedy (Capt), Moran, Thompson, Lugsden, Jones , Rother (Naidole.53 Mins) Jerome, Baker (Hmami.75 Mins) Fawns (Daniels 75 mins)
Subs not used- Evangelinos, Hampson.