Opening Day Defeat at Rushall.

A goal early in each half for Rushall, the first an audacious effort from just inside Rammy’s half gave the new look squad an unpleasant opening-day surprise.

The awful traffic on the way down to Rushall set the tone for what was to become quite a disappointing day all round for the fans and players who’d so much looked forward to the start of a new season – though Rammy fans should know by now that the club is not really known for starting off like a greyhound from a trap. A number of the supporters, whether due to a burst water main near Tatton, or the usual stop-start of M6 roadworks, missed the opening goal for Rushall, which came within the first three minutes and left The Rams looking shell-shocked.

It was quite a bizarre goal, which came from more or less nothing, but showed the vision for which midfielder Kris Taylor made his mark throughout the game. Picking up the ball on the halfway line, Taylor spotted Grant Shenton a little way off his line, and decided to try his luck – audacious to say the least. As the ball left his toe, time stood still for the Ramsbottom keeper, who back-peddled almost enough to get a finger-tip to the looping ball that dipped below the bar and into the back of the net.

The effect on a Ramsbottom team just trying to find its feet after a full-scale rebuilding exercise in the summer was crushing, and it was fully fifteen minutes before they managed to pull together a little confidence, and a half-chance of their own. Before that came, however, it was a case of weathering the storm from a strong and organised Rushall team which will do better than the ninth position they achieved last season.

Just two minutes after the opening goal, left-back Ben Woods was caught being a little over-elaborate with the ball, allowing Luke Benbow what seemed a free run on Shenton’s goal. Andy Dawson showed that, despite a long break through injury, he’s still very much the classy player he’s always been, and raced from behind to dispossess the striker when he looked odds-on to increase Rushall’s lead.

12 minutes saw Kieran Nolan and Andy Fitzgerald caught out when an excellent run down the left by Jordan Fitzpatrick was spotted by Kris Taylor, whose perfect chipped ball fell into his path. Fitzpatrick crossed low to the near post for the unmarked Benbow only to be denied at close range by the first in a series of fantastic saves by Grant Shenton in goal.

Rammy’s first meaningful posession came just short of the quarter-hour mark as an impeccable long ball out to the right by Alex Meaney found new signing Shelton Payne, who raced beyond his markers only for them to recover well and race back and disrupt his shot. This half-chance seemed to be exactly what The Rams needed, and their game instantly improved, showing some of the passing ability that they delivered in pre-season.

An excellent probing run through the middle by young winger Luke Heron saw him brought down about ten yards outside the box. Grant Spencer’s free-kick cannoned off the wall for a corner which was taken short to Shelton Payne who played the ball deep to Alex Meaney. His shot flew well over.

Shenton was called upon to make three fantastic saves as the half draw near to a close, the first as Rushall’s Kris Taylor pumped long, the ball flicked on to Fitzgerald whose low shot to the left was palmed wide. The resultant corner was headed clear by Dawson, but only as far as Rushall’s Gavin Caines who wrong-footed Fitzgerald and crossed to an unmarked Colin Smith. His shot was parried to the feet of Benbow who collided with Shenton, causing a short delay to the game as Shents suffered mild concussion.

Just before the half-time whistle Haywood cleared yet another Rushall corner to the edge of the box where Taylor lingered to fire a viciously dipping shot just under the bar – Shenton again denying an increase in the Rushall lead.

The second half began with more Rushall pressure which saw them extend their lead. Nolan challenged Rushall’s Reid for a loose ball, Reid getting the better of the bounce before slipping through a great ball to Benbow, advancing on goal. Although Dawson came out to intervene, Benbow managed to cut inside and then pull the ball back to Reid, who’d somehow lost Nolan, and had the simple task of side-footing into the left corner of the Rammy goal. 2-0.

The Rams made a trio of substitutions twenty minutes into the half, and the extra fight of McHale, Harrop and Kuba-Kuba did much to even out the match. Heron dropped to left-back, Payne out to left-wing, with Harrop and McHale combining well down the right. Kuba-Kuba gave some much needed fight in the middle alongside the tireless and hard-working Alex Meaney and Prince Haywood.

Rammy came closest to scoring just a couple of minutes later, Kuba-Kuba dispossessing Benbow in the midfield, buying himself acres of room, with Gaskell advancing to his right and Payne to his left. He chose Payne with a weak pass which was controlled well and then fired in by the new signing. The excellent shot called for a similarly excellent save from the otherwise untroubled ex-Bury goalkeeper. The game gradually fizzled out with Rushall running down the clock.

Ultimately this was a disappointing performance, but it’s easy to forget that this is a team of players who’ve never taken the field together in a competitive game before. There were signs of quality, however, and as the players grow together, this might just become a first-rate Rammy team.

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