The Blues travelled to Kellamergh Park hoping to take the shine off AFC Fylde’s crowning as league champions but two late goals from the prolific Richie Allen consigned Clitheroe to defeat in the final game of the season.
Big-spending Fylde’s midweek home win over Salford City meant the Coasters secured the title and despite Clitheroe battling well for the duration of this match they could not gatecrash the promotion party.
There were a couple of changes to the team which lost at home to Woodley Sports last Saturday with Jack Higgins partnering Kevin Brown in central defence, Matty Fearon reverting to right-back in place of the suspended Chris Smalley and Glodi Kuba-Kuba returning to the starting line-up.
The hosts were in the ascendancy for the majority of the first half but could not find a way past a determined Clitheroe defence and a goalkeeper in Zack Hibbert who commanded his area well and made some important saves.
Fylde looked to control the game with a strong midfield which included Bradley Barnes and Joe Booth, both of who were named in the division’s Team of the Year alongside skipper Glenn Steel, and exerted some early pressure which the visitors managed to withstand. Hibbert showed safe handling to collect a couple of Booth set-pieces before Harry Winter sliced wide a cross from Adam Sumner. Booth then had a chance from a Jimmy McCarthy cross but failed to make sufficient contact.
Clitheroe held their own after this initial period of dominance although Fylde maintained a territorial advantage for most of the opening period and created some presentable opportunities to take the lead before the interval. After 24 minutes, McCarthy played in Allen down the inside right but Hibbert managed to turn his effort behind for a corner. Then, after Paul Jarvis and McCarthy had both miscued, Clitheroe’s keeper produced an excellent save on 35 minutes to keep the scores level, clawing out a close range shot from Allen after he had been found by McCarthy.
The second period followed a similar pattern but, despite never really testing keeper Zac Jones, Clitheroe were by no means non-existent in the final third. The Blues forced a number of corners and as the half wore on Oliver Devenney managed to find pockets of space while Glodi Kuba-Kuba proved a handful at times for what is a well-woven Fylde defence.
The home side though always looked the more likely to score in spite of a resolute Clitheroe backline. Jack Higgins executed a superbly timed tackle to deny Allen as the on-loan Fleetwood man was about to pull the trigger before Booth shot inches wide of the post after being teed up by Winter.
Higgins again defended magnificently in the 69th minute as he intercepted a ferocious Allen drive across goal which may well have been goal-bound. Hibbert then made a crucial save from Bradley Barnes’ low drive from the edge of the box after Booth had released Allen down the left. Kevin Brown had blocked the initial effort with the rebound falling to Barnes.
Clitheroe’s resistance was finally broken in the 78th minute as Jarvis’ ball forward from the left-back position freed Allen who cut inside and bent a shot past Hibbert, who was possibly unsighted, to score his 26th goal of the season.
The lead could have been doubled moments later as Lee McEvilly picked out fellow substitute Michael Barnes only for his pull-back to be screwed wide by Matty Kay.
Clitheroe’s best chance of the match arrived shortly afterwards as Marcus Calvert’s persistence afforded Nat Taylor some rare space in the penalty area but his shot whistled over the bar.
Fylde sealed victory after 86 minutes as Michael Barnes’ searing pace allowed him the time to pick out Allen who steered home a header for his second of the game. Hibbert denied Allen a hat-trick in stoppage time with a fairly routine save.
Congratulations go to AFC Fylde who finish the season as champions having won their last ten games to stave off the challenge of Curzon Ashton. On the day, despite Fylde dominating for large periods, Clitheroe were not outclassed but they did struggle to make an impact against a defence which has only conceded 29 goals all season and has recorded nine straight clean sheets. The players did, however, show plenty of grit and graft, qualities which have epitomised their performances of late.
So the curtain comes down on another season with this game bringing to an end a difficult campaign for Clitheroe FC. Thoughts pre-season were that the Blues might mix it in the higher echelons of the division but sadly this did not prove possible. It is fair to say that everyone with a vested interest in the club – Officials, management, players and supporters – will have wanted the campaign to pan out differently. The club has enjoyed year on year improvement since reaching this level of football back in 2004, prior to which it was knocking on the promotion door for a number of seasons in the North West Counties. So, in reality, this has been Clitheroe’s first really indifferent season in ten, probably more, and there are many teams up and down the land that would jump at the chance of a record like that over the next decade. Nevertheless, an important decision awaits over the summer months with the appointment of a new manager, before we all reconvene in July for pre-season and the start of what will hopefully be a successful and progressive 2012/13.
Zac Jones, Jimmy Heywood, Adam Sumner (Lee McEvilly 65), Phil Doughty, Glenn Steel (c), Bradley Barnes, Jimmy McCarthy (Michael Barnes 61), Joe Booth (Matty Kay 76), Paul Jarvis, Harry Winter, Richie Allen. Subs not used: Danny McDonald, Rick Mercer
Zack Hibbert, Matty Fearon, Lee Pugh (c), Jack Higgins, Kevin Brown, Connor Smith, Joe Roberts (Andrew Naylor 58), Oliver Devenney, Glodi Kuba-Kuba, Alex Johnson (Marcus Calvert 79), Ross Dent
(Nat Taylor 68). Subs not used: n/a