Super Ammies Power Into Play-Offs
Salford City scored five to beat rivals Darlington and book their National League North play-off place
SATURDAY 29th APRIL 2017
VANARAMA NATIONAL LEAGUE NORTH
SALFORD CITY 5 DARLINGTON 1883 1
1-0 Simon Grand (10th min)
1-1 Mark BECK (20th min)
2-1 Gary BROWN (37th min, own goal)
3-1 Michael Nottingham (40th min)
4-1 Fraser Horsfall (52nd min)
5-1 David Norris (80th min)
The Ammies powered into the National League North play-offs as they produced a complete performance to overcome Darlington at Moor Lane. The four-goal margin of victory could have been more as chance after chance was created but in the end it was more than enough to set up a two-legged semi-final clash with FC Halifax Town.
There were changes from the line-up that started last week’s win at Worcester, although Huddersfield Town loanee Fraser Horsfall retained his place despite Billy Priestley’s return from suspension. Scott Burton’s groin injury, picked up in training meant that experienced midfielder David Norris got a rare start with John Johnston coming in for suspended James Poole.
Darlington’s exclusion from the play-offs due to ground issues meant that Salford needed just a point from this afternoon’s game yet it was obvious from the start that they were looking for all three.
In the fifth minute Sam Walker swung in a free-kick from the right with Simon Grand going in for a header that clipped the bar before going out of play. The Ammies were to make the most of their set-pieces this afternoon and soon after that Darlington keeper Adam Bartlett was forced to punch clear Walker’s corner from the right.
The afternoon’s first yellow card came in the 9th minute when Darlington’s Gary Brown was booked following a tangle with Mike Phenix. The decision seemed a trifle harsh and the Quakers’ luck got even worse as they fell behind from the free-kick within another minute. Walker’s delivery from wide on the right bounced off a Darlington player deep inside the box and possession fell for Simon Grand. Salford’s skipper has been in great goal scoring form during this campaign and slammed home an unstoppable six-yarder from right of centre to record his ninth of the season.
A great start for the home side and within sixty seconds of the restart Darlington lost possession in their right-back position, with Johnston getting to the line only to see his cross collected by Bartlett at the near post. Within seconds it was Mike Phenix’s turn to press forward but his left-of-centre effort took a deflection off Liam Marrs on its way past the far post for a corner.
So far Salford had bossed the game in terms of attacking possession but Darlington had certainly not travelled to Moor Lane just to make up the numbers. The darting awareness of Nathan Cartman, Mark Beck’s strength and touch plus the technique of Stephen Thompson added up to potential trouble for the home defence. In the 14th minute David Ferguson did well on the left, getting into the box before sliding a pass inside for Josh Gilies who made half-a-yard of space. This was a real opening for the Quakers’ number eleven but Grand slid in with a great blocking challenge to ensure his side’s lead remained intact.
The visitors were finding their feet and on eighteen minutes Brown’s ball from the right picked out Cartman whose shot clipped off the inside of both posts before dropping into the arms of Jay Lynch. Plenty of Salford hearts in mouths there although the assistant’s raised flag would have ruled out a Cartman goal in any case. It had definitely been too close for comfort from the Ammies’ point of view and within another couple of minutes their lead would be wiped out. Gillies tried a shot from distance but skewed the effort, with Cartman displaying deft skills as he got the ball under control. Even better was to come from the former Harrogate Railway striker as he threaded a pass to the left where Beck coolly slid a low ten-yard finish across Lynch and inside his left-hand upright.
A nicely taken goal for Darlington and a blow for Salford who had been threatening to take the game by the scruff of its neck until they were pegged back. The Ammies had more defending to do in the wake of Beck’s leveller as Darlington won a free-kick and a corner that were dealt with competently enough.
An even game at this point but there was a steely determination about Salford this afternoon and they were soon looking to re-establish their lead. In the twenty-sixth minute Jordan Hulme did well under pressure to turn a ball into the path of Phenix, only for his ambitious sixteen yard lob from left-of-centre to drop over the bar. The former Southport striker went rather closer a couple of minutes later after Josh Hine’s long throw from deep on the right. Horsfall got up to flick that one towards the far post where Phenix’s effort from close range was somehow pushed behind by Bartlett.
It was Darlington’s turn to get forward next but Steve O’Halloran snuffed out a dangerous foray, putting in a tremendous challenge to stop Marrs in his tracks. Next up was Thompson whose clever touch opened up an opportunity to have a go but his twenty-two yard lob from right-of-centre was caught on the stretch by home keeper Lynch.
As the half entered its final ten minutes Salford cranked up the pressure and from the second of three successive corners Grand got his head to Walker’s delivery only to see the effort clip off a defender and over the bar. Hine’s long throws had also been causing problems for the visiting defence and in the thirty-seventh minute the tactic paid real dividends. A mighty throw from the right rose high into the air before plummeting down into the six yard box. More than one player rose in an attempt to get a touch but the ball appeared to come off the unfortunate Brown, beating Bartlett at his left-hand post.
A stroke of fortune for the Ammies but they built on it quickly to give themselves a two goal cushion in time for the half-time interval. Yet another corner – the tenth of the half for the home side – was awarded and Walker’s delivery found Horsfall towards the far post. A header back inside was perfect for Nottingham who had the relatively simple task of rising to nod home from a couple of yards out. A tenth goal of the campaign for the supporters' player-of-the-season - a remarkable return for a right-back.
That three minute spell that completely changed the complexion of the game and the home fans showed their appreciation as their side trooped off at half-time with a three-one lead. Salford had been on top but Darlington had defended well until those two late goals were conceded - the visitors now had quite a job on their hands if anything was to be rescued from this one.
HALF TIME: SALFORD CITY 3 DARLINGTON 1
A good first half for the Ammies but although three-one leads against Darlington are all well and good, they have been known to be a touch fragile. Last season’s trauma could not be repeated, but fortunately for the home supporters their side had no intention of repeating that collapse.
The first chance of the second half went the way of the home side after Phenix and Hulme swapped passes with the latter denied a goal by a smart save from Bartlett.
Salford were working hard all over the pitch, pressing efficiently and attacking with pace. They continued to force free-kicks and corners too and the game was effectively ended as a contest following a fifty-second minute corner. Darlington were really struggling to handle the set-pieces and again from the right Walker aimed for Horsfall at the far post. Marrs was positioned decently enough yet failed to get in a challenge as the youngster capped a fine first outing at Moor Lane with a close-range header to make the score four-one.
Darlington made a couple of changes after that, with Leon Scott and Josh Falkingham replacing David Syers and skipper Phil Turnbull. The change in personnel would have little effect on the tide of the game as the Ammies continued to dominate.
With fifty-six minutes played Norris – putting in an accomplished midfield performance – hooked a great pass out to Hine on the right. Strength and balance gave the Salford forward a sight of goal and he almost took advantage, rifling in a low effort that Bartlett turned around the base of his left-hand post.
The Quakers must have been getting tired of defending corners and Walker’s delivery from the right seemed destined for Horsfall at the far post until Bartlett managed to tip it behind.
Walker switched to the other flank in the sixty-fourth minute and this one fell for Hulme on the far side of the penalty area. The eighteen yarder that followed was decently struck but was always too high and cleared the crossbar by a yard.
The visitors were struggling to break out of their own half and Phenix held up a pass on the left, despite pressure from Brown. A cheeky back-heel gave Johnston the chance to head for the line and having arrived he played a low ball across the six-yard box that Hulme only just failed to get a touch onto.
The second half had developed into something akin to a game of attack and defence and Salford’s pressure won them a penalty just before its mid-point. Hulme’s pass gave Phenix a chance to get into the penalty area but just as he was about to pull the trigger a clumsy challenge from Chris Hunter sent him crashing to the turf. The referee had little option other to award a penalty with Hunter shown a yellow card before Walker stepped up to take the spot-kick. The midfielder deserved a goal for his contribution so far but he got under a kick that rose a yard over the crossbar.
An unusual failure for Walker’s trusty left boot and that would be his last contribution of the afternoon as he and Hulme made way for Brad Barnes and Nick Haughton.
Darlington’s attacking contribution to the second half had been minimal but with twenty-two minutes left Beck’s low twenty-yarder went straight to Lynch after Gillies had been crowded out. The Ammies countered and Allen’s first taste of action almost created a goal as his left-of-centre through-ball sent Phenix off on a run. Salford’s top scorer was under pressure but he managed to drill in a low fifteen-yarder that was saved by the busy Bartlett.
Back at the other end Beck’s touch gave substitute Falkingham an opening but his angled drive from the left thumped into the boards outside Lynch’s right-hand post. A couple of minutes later Thompson tried his luck from distance – we’ve seen this lad hit the target at Moor Lane before but this one flew wide of Lynch’s left-hand upright.
The Ammies had eased up a little but still seemed to have goals in them and with twelve minutes left a long ball forward was nodded towards Bartlett by Hunter. Unbeknownst to the defender Allen had crept in behind him and after the ball glanced off his head he moved left then played a ball back inside. Norris was advancing at speed and side-footed in a low effort that seemed destined for the net only for Bartlett to deny him a first Salford goal with an instinctive save.
Norris wasn’t to be denied however and just a couple of minutes later a Darlington clearance fell for him, just outside the box and left-of-centre. The subsequent shot was sweetly enough hit to test Bartlett but the ball took a deflection off a defender, leaving the keeper with no chance as it dropped between him and his right-hand post.
The final ten minutes of the game were fairly quiet with Salford sitting back on a job well done and their opponents unable to make any further impact up front. The referee’s whistle completed the formalities and an excellent showing had cemented fourth place and a play-off berth for the Ammies.
FULL TIME: SALFORD CITY 5 DARLINGTON 1883 1
Even the most partisan of Salford City fans might have hesitated to predict a scoreline such as this, but their side were great value for it. For the greater part of the afternoon this was the Ammies at their formidable best, knocking the ball around with confidence, playing to their strengths and with everyone understanding their roles and sticking to them.
Perhaps only the demolition of Kidderminster Harriers had risen to these heights before today and the turnaround in form since the Good Friday defeat at Gainsborough has been both dramatic and timely. Darlington arrived determined to spoil the Ammie party but despite their best efforts they found themselves played off the park during the second half and could have returned home nursing an even heavier beating.
At the end of today's game Darlington's vocal travelling support gave their players an ovation and that was good to see. Like Salford, the Quakers have put in a great shift this season - for the third campaign in a row - and their playing staff earned a play-off place only to be denied for reasons entirely beyond their control.Hopefully the off-field woes that have spoiled their season will be resolved and fortune will smile more kindly on a club who have developed into our closest rivals over the last few seasons.
Run through the Salford side today and you see outstanding performances virtually across the board, with a special mention due for young Fraser Horsfall who has seized his chance with vigour and his considerable presence in the opposition’s penalty area earned him a deserved goal. Also on the scoresheet for the first time in a Salford shirt was David Norris – at the other end of his career and with relatively few minutes under his belt, yet he hardly put a foot wrong all afternoon.
A result that was down to hard work, application, maturity and ability - Darlington's equaliser came against the run of play yet Salford's sense of purpose didn't waver for a second - the will to win was immense and the talent was there to back it up.
Ahead now lies the considerable task of accounting for FC Halifax Town’s promotion hopes but as we all know, with Salford City there’s always a good fighting chance…the dream is very much still on.