A fabulous individual goal by John Marsden, and a simple finish by substitute Franck Atangan proved decisive as Stockport Sports gained revenge for their FA Cup exit at the hands of the visitors last month.
As has seemingly been the case in every game this season factors beyond his control forced Peter Withe into changes to his line up. Raphale Evans was still unavailable with a hamstring injury, while Gomez Dali, James Mullineux, Aliou Traore and Melford Knight were all missing from the squad for various reasons. Togo international Donaldson Sackey was also a late withdrawal from the squad through injury.
The injuries to Evans and Mullineux allowed Withe to bring new signing Mike Tomlinson in for his debut, and it was an inspired selection as Tomlinson produced an outstanding, assured performance in central defence alongside Jamie Street. Tomlinson did not lose an aerial challenge throughout the match, and proved equally as effective on the ground. Athletic could not find a way past The Saxons new man-mountain and they had to rely on long range efforts, none of which troubled Russell Saunders in goal. Central defender Street was certainly impressed by his new partner;
“Playing with Tommo was great. He organises and keeps things simple. I think we will make a strong partnership, and to get a clean sheet in our first home game of the season was great”.
As in the FA Cup ties between the two sides, Athletic adopted a defensive approach to the game, happily conceding ground and possession before looking to catch the home side on the break. The Saxons defence held firm throughout and Saunders will have few quieter afternoons this season.
20 minutes in Street had a chance to give The Saxons the lead following a corner-kick, however he volleyed over after doing well to get the ball under control. Minutes later, the livewire Callam Gardner had a half chance on the edge of the area, but his shot was straight at the keeper.
It was Gardner who had the best chance of the first half. Athletic failed to clear a corner and the ball fell to his feet six yards out. Unfortunately for Gardner the ball bobbled on connection and he was only able to scoop his shot over when it appeared a goal was a certainty.
The first-half was not a classic by any means, and the second half became even more of a battle. The Saxons played some lovely football, but the visiting defence was well-marshalled by the impressive Sean Mangan and they struggled to break through.
With time-running out and the game looking to be heading for a drab goalless draw Marsden struck. Substitute Aaron Best slipped him the ball just inside the area and he span his marker, jinked past a further defender and, left-footed, he slid the ball across the keeper into the far corner of the net. It was a sublime piece of skill by the young Liverpudlian striker for his seventh goal of the season, and no more than he deserved for a hard working performance.
After going a goal down so late the visitors were forced to abandon their defensive plan and search for an equaliser. Their efforts were futile as Tomilinson and his defensive line remained solid restricting them to hopeful efforts from distance.
It was following an Athletic attack that The Saxons scored the vital second goal that finished off their opponents. Jimmy Ogoo powered through midfield before lofting a delightful ball through to Marsden who hit a fierce volley that was well saved by the keeper.
Unfortunately for the Athletic custodian the ball fell kindly to Franck Atangana five yards out, and hammered home gleefully for his first goal in Saxons colours.
It was not The Saxons best performance of the season by any means, but they were able to gain three vital points, gained by sheer desire and a refusal to give in. Crucially too, there is evidence that this talented squad is finally becoming a 'team'. As baseball legend Babe Ruth famously said “The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don't play together, the club won't be worth a dime”. The work Peter Withe and his team are putting in each week on the training ground is obviously beginning to pay off and The Saxons now look to have that crucial ingredient.
The Saxons Line Up: 1. Russell Saunders, 2. Josh Symons (Franck Atangana), 3. Jordan Jacobs, 4. Liam Irwin (c), 5. Jamie Street, 6. Mike Tomlinson, 7. Ricky Anane, 8. Jimmy Ogoo, 9. John Marsden, 10. Jay Mehmet, 11. Callam Gardner (Aaron Best)