Bears make history with Bootle win
Congleton Town made history on Bank Holiday Monday as a 3-0 victory over Bootle extended their winning start to the season to six games, their best ever start to a season in the club’s 117-year history.
Not only did first-half goals from Dan Cope, Billy Hasler-Cregg and Steve Foster maintain Congleton’s 100 per cent record, but a resolute defensive display and a stunning save from Craig Ellison late in the match secured the Bears their sixth successive clean sheet.
Less than 48 hours after booking their place in the next round of the FA Cup, the Bears were back in action; although an hour later than originally planned. The match kicked-off at 4pm after Bootle’s arrival at the Cheshire Silk 106.9 Stadium was delayed by lane closures on the M6.
Despite the delayed start to the match, there was a real intensity to the first-half as Congleton raced into the lead after 10 minutes. A neat flick by Steve Foster in the box found Dan Cope, who made no mistake volleying the ball into the bottom right corner to score his first goal since joining from Hanley Town in the summer.
Five minutes later, Cope nearly added a second, but the striker saw his shot hit the foot of the post after he was played in by Hasler-Cregg. Cope had another chance in the 22nd minute, but the striker couldn’t keep his shot down as he stretched to reach Foster’s square ball.
Dean Warburton produced another industrious performance in midfield alongside captain Anthony Griffith. Warburton showed great control to create space for himself on the edge of the area in the 24th minute, but his shot was comfortable for Bootle goalkeeper Ryan Jones.
The Bears worked hard to press Bootle high up the pitch; hassling their opponents and not allowing the visitors to settle on the ball. This proved to be effective with Congleton limiting Bootle to only a few chances in the opening 45 minutes.
The closest the visitors came in the first-half was when Johnny Foy shot just over the bar from Lee McConchie’s cross from the right.
Congleton doubled their lead in the 30th minute when a goal of the season contender from Billy Hasler-Cregg provided a welcome two-goal cushion for Congleton.
Hasler-Cregg did brilliantly to control Warburton’s ball from across the other side of the pitch, before the winger drove into the Bootle box. With his back to goal, the Bears winger showed great skill to turn around the defender, before shooting from a tight angle.
Hasler-Cregg’s shot struck the inside of the post, before bouncing down into the other side of the net to double the Bears’ lead.
Warburton went close for Congleton from two free-kicks. His first effort needed a superb fingertip save from Jones to tip the ball onto the cross bar and out for a corner, while his second, in an almost identical position, went just over.
The second free-kick came just after Steve Foster put the Bears into a commanding position heading into the second-half. An inch-perfect cross from Cope on the left found Foster unmarked in the centre of the box. Still with the goalkeeper to beat, Foster steered the ball beyond the reach of Jones and into the back of the net to score what was the Bears’ 800th home league goal.
The second-half never managed to rediscover the same intensity of the first-half, with neither side managing to create a clear-cut chance in the second period of 45 minutes.
Hasler-Cregg fired wide from 30 yards, while substitute John Main forced Jones into two saves. The first was a comfortable save for Jones from a shot from outside the box. The second saw Jones having to stretch to claim Main’s curling shot.
With the Bears looking comfortable and leading 3-0, the hosts’ main priority was to preserve their three-goal lead and secure a sixth successive clean sheet.
Bootle came within inches of becoming the first team to beat Craig Ellison this season when Antony Hickey’s ball went across the goalmouth. Substitute Andrew Gillespie tried to catch Ellison out after spotting the Bears’ goalkeeper off his line, but the striker’s shot went over the bar.
No doubt eager to preserve his clean sheet record, Ellison produced a superb fingertip save to tip Gillespie’s shot over the bar with three minutes to go. Ellison’s brilliant save ensured the Bears made it six clean sheets from the opening six games.
For the first time in the club’s 117-year history, Congleton have won their opening six games. The Bears will be looking to extend their record even further when Bootle return to the Cheshire Silk 106.9 Stadium on Saturday when the two sides meet in the FA Vase First Round Qualifying.
Bears XI: Ellison, Williams, Peters, Ryder, Jamieson, Griffith (McIntosh-Buffonge 77’), Hasler-Cregg, Warburton, Cope (Taylor 79’), Foster (Main 62’), Burey
Subs not used: Hibbert, Moran
Speaking after the match, manager Brian Pritchard said: “It was another good professional performance and another clean sheet. We dug in when we had to against a really good passing team and managed the game well.
“We've started the season well and need to keep getting points on the board from league games with lots of cup games coming up. We've had a number of players away today and the players who have come in have done a really good job.
“Hopefully, our recent results will encourage more Congleton people to come down and support us.”