Former Football League side, Darlington, made their first ever visit to the Harry Williams Riverside Stadium as firm favourites for the championship, but left on the end of a comprehensive defeat.
RAMSBOTTOM UNITED 3-0 DARLINGTON 1883
The Rams form this season has been very much up and down, but this performance, before a large crowd, was just what was needed before the tough trip to Barrow in the FA Cup.
The home side took the game to their illustrious visitors from the first whistle. A Phil Dean cross in the third minute found Jon Robinson, but he scooped his effort over the bar.
Just sixty seconds later, however, the same pair combined to open the scoring.
This time, Dean’s cross soared in behind the Darlington defence, and Robinson swept the volley home to ease any early nerves.
New signing, Billy Priestley, almost doubled the lead minutes later when he headed a corner from Owen Roberts inches wide, whilst at the other end, the visitors nearly snatched an equaliser when Rams’ keeper Grant Shenton and Darlington’s David Dowson both contested a loose ball. Dowson it was who won it, but his flick across goal sailed just wide of the far post.
Ramsbottom increased their lead on 13 minutes.
Some clever footwork from Dominic Smalley saw him beat his marker before racing down the wing and placing an inch-perfect cross behind the retreating defenders for Robinson to powerfully head home.
Robinson then turned provider when he slid in Lee Gaskell, but his attacking partner could not find the target.
Shenton had to be alert to maintain the two goal advantage, when, at full stretch, he pushed out a fierce free-kick from Terry Galbraith, and then had a touch of luck as the ball was played back into the area, only to clip the top of the bar.
Ian Flannery headed a corner over before he had to leave the field with a recurrence of an injury, then a fine run by Dean opened up a chance for Gaskell, but his flick sailed wide of the target.
Amar Purewal was denied by the diving Shenton, as the visitors neat play looked to gain some reward, but the home defence stood up to the challenge well, whilst their forwards continued to create openings of their own.
A Grant Spencer free-kick was tipped over by Mark Bell, whilst a perfectly floated ball over the top saw Smalley dart between the defenders, but his first time volley sailed harmlessly over the bar.
Darlington almost reduced the arrears just before the break, but somehow the Rams goal remained intact as close range efforts bounced back off the post and Shenton’s body.
Gaskell, with the last touch of the half, should have done better when presented with a glorious chance from close range, but he allowed his shot to be tipped over the bar by Bell.
The home side continued to press as the second half opened.
A poor back pass let in Gaskell, but having rounded the keeper, he watched as Alan White scooped the goal-bound shot off the line.
At the other end, an excellent move by Steve Thompson and James Moore created an opening for Curtis Edwards, but he fired wide when he should really have reduced the arrears.
On 59 minutes, the Rams scored the all important third goal.
Smalley won a header outside the box, and cleverly played Robinson through. With thoughts of a hat-trick in mind, he weaved his way into the area before unleashing an unstoppable low drive to notch his third of the night.
Despite the setback, Darlington continued to look for a way back, but the home defence, superbly marshalled by Priestley and the returning, off the bench, Andy Dawson, held firm.
Keeper Shenton helped by firstly diving onto a dangerous low cross, and then changing direction in mid dive, as a defection altered the path of a drive from Ivan Pilatos.
By this time, the visitors had realised that it wasn’t to be their day, and the home side deservedly secured all three points with a performance that was quite outstanding.
RAMSBOTTOM UNITED: Shenton, Warrender(Dawson 52mins), Roberts, Stopforth, Priestley, Flannery(Pilkington 28mins), Smalley, Spencer, Gaskell, Robinson(Brooks 79mins), Dean. Subs not used: Toth, Edghill