Draw secures mathematical safety
RAINWORTH finally made themselves mathematically certain of a third season of Northern Premier League football with a hard-earned point against Kidsgrove Athletic this afternoon.
The Wrens, at home for the first time in four weeks, went into the match still four points from safety, but other results went their way meaning that the point was enough for a threadbare home squad, with no fewer than eight players unavailable, to lock the trapdoor behind them.
It was an emotional day for longer-standing supporters following the death three days earlier of legendary former manager Brian Phillips who led the club on an epic FA Vase run to Wembley 30 years ago—emotional, too, for manager Kevin Gee who, as a precocious teenager, had subsequently played for the club under Phillips, and also for spectator Paul Comerford, who was one of the stars of that great side.
Whether the ebullient Phillips, looking down, would have approved of what he saw once play got under way is open to question, but probably so, for the match was all about ensuring safety, and in that, at least, it was ‘job done’.
Reflecting on the end of the successful battle against the drop, Gee said: “Having eight players unavailable was a big factor, but the response from the side was terrific, and to have secured our place before the end of March is a wonderful feeling.
“To get the job done with four games to go from where we were in November is a fantastic achievement, and I’m thrilled for the players, the supporters and the backroom staff.
“We changed to a flat back four with the players available, but Mark Camm and Matt Plant were outstanding, they won every header and covered and complemented each other well.
“We could have been two more goals up at half time, but went to sleep a bit for the start of the second half, and conceded. After that, against a good side, you fear the worst, but we dug in and still created a few more chances of our own.
“But if someone had offered me a point beforehand I would have taken it, because I was sure the bottom two would lose and a draw would be enough.”
Joe McCormack was handed the goalkeeper’s jersey for the first time since his return to the club from Leek, while Lee Cooksey, Jermain Hollis, Niall O’Rafferty and Ben Spargo were also unavailable from the starting line-up at Newcastle in midweek, but Nathan Adams was back, and Curtis Shaw, Rob Paling and Danny Simpson all returned to the starting 11.
Rainworth played into a stiff breeze in the first half, and Grove’s Karl Charlton was twice off target in the first 15 minutes.
Rainworth did not really threaten until the 18th when Adams won a corner from which both Shaw and Simpson saw shots blocked.
But three minutes later Sam Hall brought down Shaw in the box, and after a delay in which keeper Steve Hodgson was booked for something said, Shaw himself slotted the spot kick.
It should have been 2-0 in the 28th minute. Adams’ cross shot from the right beat Hodgson but came back off the inside of the far post, where Danny Bacon’s follow-up deflected off Steve Brannan for a corner. From that, home debutant Plant completely miskicked with the goal at his mercy.
Charlton and Danny Griggs were working the Wrens defence hard, and Paling came up with an exceptional challenge to halt Charlton’s surging run through the middle.
But although defending well, Rainworth were guilty too often of giving the ball away and putting themselves under pressure.
Paul Taylor’s 25-yard half volley brought an excellent save out of McCormack two minutes before the break, but as the half entered added time Adams and Ryan Goward combined to set up Ant Lynam who screwed his effort wide from eight yards.
Within 40 seconds of the re-start Griggs’ tricky work won a corner for the visitors, the defence struggled to clear, and in a packed six yard box Taylor turned the ball over the line for the equaliser.
Rainworth continued to defend resolutely while on the back foot, but were still guilty of squandering possession too often, and McCormack had to be at his best to deny Liam Shotton in a one-on-one in the 72nd minute.
When the Wrens did finally begin to hit back again Adams placed a free header from Simpson’s cross straight at Hodgson, Lynam saw the keeper just manage enough of a touch onto his angled shot to turn it for a corner, and the temporarily busy Hodgson then tipped Goward’s long, curling, dipping free kick from the right over his bar.
The normally deadly Shotton should have won it for Kidsgrove in the 81st minute when, put through by Andy Kinsey, the well-placed substitute striker pulled his shot wide.
Rainworth had one more opportunity in the 87th minute when the grounded Brannan handled just outside the area. It looked tailor-made for a Goward ‘special’ but Lynam took the kick and hit it disappointingly into the defensive wall.
But, as Kidsgrove moved up a gear in the closing stages, Camm made three important blocks to ensure that Rainworth held on for the point they required.
RAINWORTH: McCormack, Graham, Paling (Dockwray 86), Camm, Plant, Simpson (Hanson 76), Shaw, Bacon, Adams, Lynam, Goward. Subs not used: Glass, Barcherini.
KIDSGROVE: Hodgson, Brannan, Taylor, Smith, Crompton, Dove, Charlton, Hall (Davidson 25), Walker (Shotton 67), Kinsey, Griggs. Subs not used: Johnston, Turner.
REFEREE: Neil Guest of Grimsby.
GOALS: Rainworth—Shaw 22 pen. Kidsgrove—Taylor 47.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Mark Camm.