REPORT: AFC Darwen 2-3 Widnes
Widnes survive a scare to record back-to-back league wins
Widnes FC survived a second-half scare to beat AFC Darwen 3-2 in an enthralling contest at the WEC Anchor Ground on Thursday night.
First half goals from Jack Banister and Ben Hodkinson gave Widnes a 2-0 lead in a half that they largely controlled.
In the second half, the visitors had to dig in, and stand firm in the face of the home side's renewed confidence. Kiel Lonsdale halved the deficit before Kev Pollard quickly replied to make it 3-1, while a Nicholas Hepple strike on the hour set up a tense finish.
Steve Akrigg and Kev Towey’s men were without the services of a number of key players as the duo made four changes to the side that beat AFC Liverpool. Dylan Sweeney, Pollard, Akrigg and Danny Laverty came in for Phil Doran, Sean Myler, Stuart Cook and Chris Lomax.
Widnes started well and nearly took an early lead as Richie Mottram’s long ball forward kick-started an attack. Hodkinson and Towey exchanged passes before the latter forced a decent save out of James Whittingham.
Banister then cut inside and fired over as Widnes pushed for an opener which came after 18 minutes.
Michael Grogan won possession back 25 yards from goal before releasing Towey in-behind. The Widnes co-boss’ shot could only be parried by Whittingham into the path of Banister who found the roof of the net.
Eight minutes later, moments after Towey spurned a good opportunity after slicing wide from close-range, the visitors netted a second.
Hodkinson gambled and forced Ryan McKenna into an error, stealing away possession and surging forward. He raced towards Whittingham, who got a glove on the ball, but Hodkinson was afforded a second bite of the cherry, slotting home from close-range.
Darwen enjoyed a decent spell to end the half with Bobby Langford unable to capitalise after Mottram had fumbled a Liam Cole cross, before Hepple rode a Grogan challenge in the area only to shoot at the Widnes custodian.
Half-time: AFC Darwen 0-2 Widnes
Buoyed by their positive end to the first half, Darwen began the second period with a sense of newfound belief and confidence.
The hosts quickly halved Widnes’ two-goal advantage. It was a disappointing goal to concede from the visitors’ point-of-view as Lonsdale stole a march on his marker from a Cole corner to head unchallenged into the far corner.
However, Widnes quickly responded and restored their two-goal advantage. Banister and Hodkinson both had efforts blocked from inside the area, with the loose ball breaking to skipper Pollard who slammed home Widnes’ 100th goal in all competitions this season.
Hodkinson struck wide minutes later, before the hosts suffered a blow as goalkeeper Whittingham had to be replaced by debutant shot-stopper Josh Cosgrove as the hour-mark approached.
In truth, Widnes would fail to test the substitute goalkeeper as Darwen hit back for a second time.
It was another really soft goal to concede as Hepple got the wrong side of Akrigg before holding off the challenge of the Widnes co-boss before rolling a shot beyond Mottram and into the back of the net.
Widnes looked to respond swiftly as Jay Roberts danced around defenders in the area only to poke across the face of goal and wide.
Despite Widnes’ latest chance, the complexion of the game had swung in Darwen’s favour.
Widnes had suddenly found themselves on the back-foot as Sidi Fofana was twice unable to get on the end of two dangerous Langford crosses, while Roberts had to be alert twice to cut out Darwen through-balls before hobbling off injured.
The visitors had to withstand 10 minutes of Darwen pressure, but Akrigg and Towey’s men managed to hold on for all three points, closing the gap on leaders Runcorn Linnets, while opening up a seven-point gap on third-placed Runcorn Town.
Full-time: AFC Darwen 2-3 Widnes
Widnes now face a pivotal fixture in their promotion push, travelling to 1874 Northwich on Saturday before hosting Winsford United in the Macron Cup semi-final first leg on Monday.