An impressive run in the Lancashire FA Challenge Trophy last season could not be matched in this, as Lancaster City were knocked out in the first rivals by their most local rivals in the Northern Premier League, Bamber Bridge. It was one of Brig's many former Dollies that delivered the ultimate winner, Rhys Turner scoring an opportunistic attempt from outside the box in the first half that was never overcome.
Lancaster shuffled the pack somewhat, reintroducing Ed Ikpakwu, Brad Carroll, Christian Sloan and Dom Lawson to the starting line-up. The defensive quintet remained unchanged from the weekend, though Andrew Teague returned to the eleven in the second half.
The undershirt was out in greater numbers, donned by half of Lancaster’s outfield, a measure against the frosty air of November’s last hours. The game itself looked hard to read. Bamber Bridge had proven themselves almost equally likely to score big as concede big, responding to a 5-0 defeat by South Shields with a 5-1 hammering of Matlock. Brig boasted five former City players in their line-up, men no stranger to Giant Axe. Then there was the knockout element to consider – straight to penalties; we would have a result.
Only one Bamber Bridge side would turn up, and it seemed to be the one buoyed by their five-goal weekend spree, not a record of five defeats in their last seven. Lancaster were unable to find a rhythm in the early stages and so invited their opponent into one. The yellow-clad away side looked searchingly beyond Lancaster’s back three with sprints down both wide channels, not often finding the pass but giving the trio cause for concern.
They benefitted from a collection of very sharp individual performances, Aaron Skinner on the left and Noah Alabi down the middle were a handful, tricky on the ball and sharp in their passing. It was on the flanks, particularly, that Brig’s threat materialised best, resulting in a series of tantalising but unconverted byline crosses.
Bamber Bridge’s goal was not a surprise though still managed to come from nowhere. The visitors delivered a deep free kick, only for Rhys Turner to take smack a dropping ball off Jamie Mellen’s clearing header across the bumpy turf, his effort given an unreadable trajectory. Sam Waller connected with half a palm, pushing it into the top corner.
They had two much easier chances saved by Waller soon after. He was quick to shut down Alabi’s angles as the forward broke into a one-on-one, and when Mellen gave away a penalty during the recycled possession, he put a strong right hand to Paul Dawson’s medium-height attempt, keeping City in the game.
Lamine Toure could have levelled it before the break when he rose well and unmarked to meet Bailey’s corner, but skewed the header into a harmless area. A goal there would have come against the run of play, and Lancaster would need to return in the second half with more finesse to get themselves on top.
Early changes change came, though they was involuntary to a degree as Mellen and Toure departed precautionarily, replaced by Dale Whitham and the returning captain Teague respectively. Ikpakwu moved into defence to cover Mellen. Nic Evangelinos for Brad Carsley completed the set.
Immediately, the relatively quiet night was filled with the barked instructions of Teague who had a command for every teammate in his vicinity. All the same, Lancaster seemed a little off their marks, behind on pressing cues and uncharacteristically hesitant on loose balls.
The defence had certainly resolidified after the break, and the respite from Bamber Bridge attacks provided a base upon which Lancaster could build attacks more patiently. It was after a long ball, though, that Dom Lawson came within a yard of beating Brig’s Felix Goddard to the ball, City’s best moment of the half.
Brig’s defence were generally in control of such situations, and Lancaster found it hard to establish a secondary route by sustaining possession. As such, there was little drama in added time despite the visitors’ narrow lead, and they held on to progress, knocking Lancaster out at the entry point of the competition.