So, after battling the M62 and M6 traffic for the second time in a day, I headed past Northwich and on to Winsford and, more specifically, the St Luke's Barton Stadium, home of Winsford United and, currently home of 1874 Northwich. There were a couple of firsts for me this evening. Not only was this a new stadium for me, it was also a new league. My first ever chance to catch a glimpse of the North West Counties League.
There is plenty of parking available adjacent to the ground. You enter through a turnstile which brings you into the stadium directly behind one of the goals. The first impression that you get of the ground is that it is a large oval bowl. Think Maracana without most of the stands. It also put me in mind of a speedway stadium. Both ends of the ground feature grass banks that form the ends of the oval and lead up to a hard-standing walkway. To the left of the car park entrance is a fairly large stand that features a covered seating area, the media centre, the club house and the cafe. To the right is a low covered standing area that runs for about two-thirds of the length of the pitch. My first thoughts were 'this is a real non-league ground'.
Although 1874 are tenants at the ground, they have certainly put in a lot of effort to make it feel like their home on match days. As you enter you first come across a gazebo in club green colours. This is where you can pick up a copy of the excellent 'Ever Glorious' match day programme. I know I have said this before but, seriously, you need to visit 1874 even if it is just to get a copy of the programme. Every edition is crafted superbly, full of information and articles. I can only guess at the amount of effort that goes into it. This evening's copy featured Ashton's Taffy Roberts on the cover. The Yellows Secretary sadly passing away last week.
There are flags and banners on the fence as you enter, more to the right and even more to your left. Also to your left is the 1874 club shop, also green, which has plenty of club merchandise. Judging by the number of shirts, jackets and hats on show, it seems they do a decent trade in there too. So, it may not be in Northwich, or be a permanent home, but apart from the Winsford United signs on both stands, you wouldn't really know.
The game began with the home side kicking up the slight slope towards the car park end and Tweet from Andy extolling the virtues of the local Birtwistle pies.
I think it's fair to say that the game didn't exactly ignite. It rather coughed and spluttered. Northwich, to their credit, were always looking to play out from the back but, often as not, a pass would go astray and they would find themselves on the back foot defending against an Ashton side that were growing into the game.
Although neither team managed to create any real opportunities in the opening half hour, Ashton really did not look like a team that had failed to win a league game all season. They started the half sitting quite deep, although they had two up front. However, as they half progressed they started to look to push forward more and more and were certainly the more dangerous of the two.
One of the highlights from the early part of the game was Ashton's Luke Holden managing to stop a through ball with his head despite slipping and being on the floor at the time.
Northwich did manage to get the ball into the Ashton net after 28 minutes. However the assistant's flag had gone up well before the ball was poked home.
With three minutes to go until half-time it was the away side who took the lead. A cross from the right was cleared by the Northwich defence but only as far as their opposite flank. The ball was fizzed back into the penalty area where Luke Holden managed to get a glancing header (from a standing position this time) on it, planting the ball past Coates and into the net. 0-1
HT 1874 Northwich 0 Ashton Athletic 1. On the overall balance of play, the away side were deservedly in front. Northwich, to a certain extent, had been the architects of their own downfall. Giving the ball away way too often allowing a team, who should have been very low on confidence, to grow into the game.
To be fair, there did seem to be a renewed urgency about the home side in the opening few minutes of the second period, but they still weren't able to really worry Martin Pearson in the Athletic goal. Add to that the fact that a few refereeing decisions weren't going their way and the locals were increasingly becoming restless.
After about 10 minutes of the second half, I started to get the feeling that it just wasn't going to be a good night for Northwich. They were losing the midfield battle and Ashton looked pretty comfortable at the back.
The first time I saw 1874 play at Leighton Town I praised them for the way they managed the game. They spent quite a bit of that game on the back foot, but managed to stay in control of the game. This evening Ashton played that game with 1874. They seemed quite content and confident to concede possession and soak up the Northwich attacks. Backed by a small but vociferous following (good effort for a midweek game), they had the air of a team full of confidence. Extraordinary when you consider their league position.
On 70 minutes Ashton applied the killer blow and, as with the first goal, aerial power was the key. A deep corner from the Ashton left was headed back across the six yard box where big striker Marcus Cusani headed it past Coates. 0-2. Cusani had become the villain of the piece earlier in the game after a couple of dubious challenges, one of which had finally earned a yellow card. However, I have to say that he has lead the line well for Athletic, constantly bullying the Northwich defence even if once or twice he had been a little too exuberant.
At one goal down, Northwich must have been hopeful to get back into the game. Once they were two goals down, they looked to be a beaten team. Six minutes later the result was well and truly confirmed when Athletic conjured the best goal of the evening when Joshua Nicholson picked up the ball in midfield, weaved around half of the Northwich team before slotting the ball past Coates and into the net, despite the despairing attempted clearance from Paul Connor. 0-3
FT 1874 Northwich 0 Ashton Athletic 3. A first league win of the season for Athletic. Fully deserved on the night and, as the blog title says, maybe this was One For Taffy. Although Northwich did not play well, The Yellows looked much better than their league position suggested.
Good luck to both teams for the rest of the season. I thoroughly enjoyed my first taste of the North West Counties League. I'll be back for more soon, I hope. Not least because I never got to try the Birtwistle pie.
1874 Northwich: Coates, Tucker, Russell, Pritchard, Thomas, Clayton, Connor, Irlam, McGowan, Waite-Jackson, Kennerley. Subs: Riley, Gardner, Lever, Winthrop, Green
Ground Number: 165