No Cup Luck In Vegas!
Salford City's Manchester Premier Cup campaign came to an end with a 2-1 defeat at Bower Fold
TUESDAY 14th FEBRUARY
FRANK HANNAH MANCHESTER PREMIER CUP SEMI-FINAL
STALYBRIDGE CELTIC 2 SALFORD CITY 1
1-0 Mathias BAKARE (31st min)
1-1 John Johnston (49th min)
2-1 Gary GEE (77th min)
It seems that those supporters who chose to spend the evening wining and dining their loved one made the right decision as Salford City’s Manchester Premier Cup campaign came to an uninspiring conclusion. The Ammies threatened to take this semi-final by the scruff of its neck at times but could never quite follow it through and in the end Stalybridge deserved their date with FC United of Manchester.
There were a number of changes from the side that started the defeat at Whaddon Road on Saturday, starting at full-back where Craig King and Steve O’Halloran replaced Michael Nottingham and Patrick Brough. In midfield the Scott Burton/Brad Barnes combination made way for Sam Walker and debutant David Norris whilst further upfield Nick Haughton, John Johnston and Richie Allen came in for Jordan Hulme, Josh Hine and Mike Phenix.
Seven changes then, but the early indications suggested that Salford meant business. Some slick passing and intelligent movement kept Celtic’s rearguard occupied and the signs were good for another impressive away turnout.
John Johnston and Nick Haughton were looking especially lively and the latter set up Salford’s first real opening of the evening. In the 12th minute a clipped pass inside found David Norris, a couple of yards outside the box, and he hit a rasping low shot that Stalybridge keeper Callum O’Neill did well to push away to his left.
At the other end Daniel Wilkins hit a left-of-centre 22 yarder straight at Jay Lynch, but in the main it was Salford who were on the front foot. Former Plymouth and Ipswich midfielder Norris was doing well and he went close again on the quarter hour mark, hitting a dropping ball on the volley from 20 yards only to see the effort roll wide of O’Neill’s right-hand upright.
The Ammies continued to roll forward and after a couple of efforts were blocked, possession fell for Johnston on the right side of the box. His low, angled drive was well hit but a defender got himself in the way and the effort was blocked.
A decent start for Salford and in the 27th minute Norris rolled a pass to the right for Craig King whose low, angled drive was well saved by O’Neill.
There had been limited opportunities for Celtic to show their attacking teeth but nevertheless the home side snatched a goal just past the half-hour mark. Mathias Bakare burst unchecked from a crowd of players inside Salford’s half to chase a Florien Da Silva pass, then from the edge of the box and right-of-centre steered a cool, low finish between Lynch and his right-hand post.
Perhaps not a particularly merited advantage for the home side but the game is all about putting the ball into the net and the Ammies set about trying to emulate their hosts. Eleven minutes before the break Steve O’Halloran’s ball inside found Johnston whose surging run took him past a man and into the left-hand side of the penalty area. There was a sight of goal but O’Neill had judged his angles well to make a blocking save at his near post.
It was George Green’s turn next, and he displayed some expert trickery to slip into the area on the left but a hard, low shot was gathered by the Celtic keeper at his near post.
Plenty of attacking intent from Salford, but no goals yet and in the 2nd minute of time added on former Ammie Rio Ahmadi finished off a crisp move with a nice finish, only to have the effort ruled out by the assistant’s raised flag.
HALF TIME: STALYBRIDGE CELTIC 1 SALFORD CITY 0
A goal down at half-time but Salford had played quite well and were soon pressing forward after the game resumed. In the 49th minute King did well to get forward on the right and after his low cross towards the near post was cleared Daniel Wisdom the ball fell for Johnston on the edge of the box. From a few yards right-of-centre he hit a first-time effort that curled gently away from the despairing grasp of O’Neill to drop inside his right-hand post.
A 2nd goal of the season for Johnston and based on the pattern of the game this far an independent observer may well have expected Salford to kick on and win the tie.
Indeed, the Ammies almost edged ahead in the 54th minute when a flowing move saw Green pick out O’Halloran and when he whipped a low cross across the 6-yard box Richie Allen was inches away from applying a finishing touch.
James Poole was introduced for Green soon after that but it was Haughton who created the next chance, hooking a forward ball from his own half for Johnston to chase. The former Alfteton man is not short of pace but O’Neill had anticipated the danger, racing out of his area to punt the ball clear.
With the scores still level Stalybridge gradually grafted their way back into the game and in the 63rd minute King had to track back quickly to block a dangerous cross from the left.
At this stage however Salford were still looking the more likely winners and midway through the 2nd half Sam Walker’s corner from the right was only partially cleared. Poole was onto the loose ball in a flash but from 15 yards out and right-of-centre he could only slam a rising effort over the bar.
A decent chance but the Ammies were to let their grip on the game slip as we entered the final stages. In the 70th minute Ahmadi’s pass found Kieran Dunbar on the right but he could only drill a low effort wide of the far post.
A signal of intent from Stalybridge but now their opponents were losing challenges instead of winning them and concentration appeared to be wavering. Trouble was brewing for the Ammies and with 13 minutes to play they fell behind for the 2nd time. Another quick attack from the home side ended with Wisdom playing in a ball from the left and although Lynch got down well to make a save his defensive colleagues could only stand and watch as Gary Gee poked the loose ball home from 6 yards out.
Salford sent on Jordan Hulme, who rescued their Premier Cup campaign at Hyde in the previous round but the initiative had been grasped by a Celtic side encouraged by Gee’s goal. With 10 minutes left Wilkins picked up a pass to the left and tried a 20 yard curling effort that dropped not too far outside Lynch’s left-hand post.
The Ammies were sending too many passes astray and in the 85th minute only a superb Billy Priestley tackle denied Stalybridge a breakaway chance as they broke up a Salford attack to hit on the counter.
The visitors were still seeing plenty of the ball but lacked the composure and imagination to do much with it. In the 1st minute of time added on Johnston cut inside from the right and from the edge of the box then hit a rising shot that O’Neill calmly plucked out of the air. Celtic had dug in and the Ammies were unable to prise open their defence in the bare minutes that remained. At the last gasp Walker’s punted free-kick from the halfway line was easily taken by O’Neill – the Ammies had ‘gone’ and so had their Premier Cup aspirations.
FULL TIME: STALYBRIDGE CELTIC 2 SALFORD CITY 1
In the great scheme of things the Manchester Premier Cup isn’t Salford City’s top priority but even so this evening has to be filed under ‘very disappointing’. The Ammies had a good first half, but failed to turn possession and chances into goals. After the break they found their equaliser – deserved at the time – then promptly took their foot off the gas for much of the time that remained. A debut win for new Stalybridge manager Steve Burr and he will be encouraged by the application and attitude of his new charges.
For Salford, too many misplaced passes and too many aimless long balls to a forward line that couldn’t effectively challenge for them, allied with a couple of lapses of concentration at the back were ultimately the recipe for a cup exit.
A final against FC United of Manchester would have been a distraction of course, but quite an appealing one and the disappointment of the travelling support was evident at the final whistle. Three defeats from four away games is a pattern that needs to be broken, but in the meantime Saturday’s league game against a doubtless vastly encouraged Stalybridge Celtic now very much needs to be won.
Back to the ‘AFC Fylde’ form please lads!
1) Callum O'NEILL
2) Daniel MORTON
3) Daniel WISDOM
4) Matthew HUGHES (c)
5) Aaron CHALMERS
6) Mathias BAKARE
7) Kieran DUNBAR
8) Gary GEE
9) Porya AHMADI
10) Daniel WILKINS
11) Florian DA SILVA
12) Darren McKNIGHT (for BAKARE, 73rd min)
14) Sefton GONZALES
15) Jude OYIBO (for DA SILVA, half-time)
16) Adam MATHER (for CHALMERS, 82nd min)
17) Callum BAGSHAW
Booked: DA SILVA
1) Jay Lynch
2) Craig King
3) Steve O'HALLORAN
4) David Norris
5) Steve Howson
6) Billy Priestley
7) Nick Haughton
8) Sam Walker
9) Richie ALLEN
10) George Green
11) John Johnston
12) Sam Livesey
14) Josh Hine (for ALLEN, 85th min)
15) James Poole (for GREEN, 55th min)
16) Jordan Hulme (for HAUGHTON, 77th min)
17) Patrick Brough
Booked: Green, Johnston
Referee: Paul Graham
Assistants: Alex Gray & Joe Lawton
Fourth Official: Will Davis