There is still work for Clitheroe to do to ensure Evo-Stik League football at Shawbridge next season after losing at Garforth Town despite an impressive performance which merited at least a point.
Clitheroe’s five previous trips to Yorkshire this season had yielded only a solitary point and a visit to Garforth promised to be a testing proposition. Nevertheless, the Blues do have a solid record at the Genix Healthcare Stadium with two wins and a couple of draws there in recent years with it being almost a year to the day since an Alan Coar strike secured a narrow 1-0 victory.
The only change to the Blues’ starting line-up from the previous week was Joe Roberts in for Andrew Naylor and the extra man in midfield proved an astute tactic as Clitheroe out-passed Garforth for much of the opening period. The visitors were composed throughout the half and good value for their interval lead courtesy of Joe Roberts’ emphatic finish after 17 minutes. Ross Dent
released Nat Taylor down the right wing and although the initial impetus of the move seemed to be lost the ball came to Roberts who let fly from the edge of the box and found the top corner giving Garforth keeper Ben Higginson no chance at all.
Defensively the Blues were resilient and aside from some early Garforth pressure restricted the league’s most prolific side to very little in terms of goalscoring opportunities. If anything it was Clitheroe that looked more likely to add to their tally, Lee Pugh had Higginson scrambling with a drive from 30 yards and Oliver Devenney was close to heading home Taylor’s corner.
The second half continued in a similar vein with the visitors playing some neat and incisive football. Alex Johnson cut the ball back for Dent to fire into the side-netting just after the break before Johnson beat the offside trap, deceived Higginson but could not find the net from an acute angle with defenders covering.
A second goal was not forthcoming and Garforth equalised in the 70th minute with a breakaway goal following a Clitheroe corner. David Brown was played in down the left flank before finding the onrushing Jamie Price in space who finished crisply. The momentum was now with the home side and moments later Zack Hibbert produced an excellent save from Paul Walker’s free-kick to keep the scores level. Walker was named in the Evo-Stik League Division One North Team of the Year earlier this month but was well-marshalled all afternoon by the Clitheroe defence.
The defining moment of the match came in the 78th minute as Garforth were awarded a dubious penalty which playmaker Oliver Hotchkiss converted. The referee pointed to the spot after the diminutive Brown was adjudged to have been fouled although there did not look to be a great deal of force applied or contact made. There was also some controversy in the build up as the game was restarted in front of the home dugout with a new ball whilst the ball which had been in use was being retrieved by a Clitheroe player.
The visitors refused to let their heads drop and continued to look sharp in their pursuit of an equaliser. Matty Fearon, who had replaced Taylor, made an immediate impact on the right side of midfield and delivered a perfect cross which Devenney headed narrowly wide. Fearon also came close to setting up fellow substitute Glodi Kuba-Kuba late on but his cross evaded the forward at the back post. As the game entered stoppage time Garforth wasted a couple of chances to extend their lead as both Brown and Walker failed to find the net when well placed in the box.
The overriding emotion at the full-time whistle was one of disappointment but Clitheroe can take a number of positives from their performance in this game. It should be recognised also that for much of it they looked the better side, this against a team which are now unbeaten in nine games having accumulated 25 points from a possible 27. The Miners, whose manager Steve Nichol was named March’s Manager of the Month, now occupy a play-off place. The Blues entertain Lancaster City on Easter Monday as they look to secure the necessary points to stave off the lingering threat of relegation. Clitheroe have dropped to 19th and are six points above Wakefield with a superior goal difference but if similar quality is shown in the upcoming home matches it is more than conceivable that points will be chalked up to render results elsewhere largely irrelevant.
Ben Higginson, Milton Turner (c), Chris Fisher, Matthew Plummer, Rob Pacey, Jamie Price, Ben Thornton (Matt Mathers 55), Oliver Hotchkiss, Paul Walker, Adam Priestley (Chris Walton 77), David Brown (Ben Small 90). Subs not used: Andy Villerman, Lawrance Hunter
Bookings: Paul Walker
Zack Hibbert, Chris Smalley, Lee Pugh (c), Kevin Brown, Sam Christensen (Marcus Calvert 85), Connor Smith, Nat Taylor (Matty Fearon 77), Oliver Devenney, Alex Johnson (Glodi Kuba-Kuba 75), Joe Roberts, Ross Dent
. Subs not used: Jack Higgins, Andrew Naylor
Bookings: Chris Smalley, Alex Johnson, Sam Christensen, Connor Smith, Lee Pugh