Tuesday 12th May 2009

Royton Town 1 East Manchester 1
Bridgewater Office Supplies Manchester League Premier Div
At: Crompton Cricket Club
Kick-off: 6-45 pm
Admission: none; Programme: none
Attendance: 15 (headcount)
Weather: sunny, very strong cold wind
Duration: first half: 47:18; second half: 47:36

I guessed this was going to be the final curtain for my midweek games in the winter league season of 2008/09 and a first taste of action in the Manchester League Premier Division. Of course, I’d seen two games hosted by teams in this division – Prestwich Heys and Elton Vale – both in the Goldline Trophy back in the summer.

I opted for this one as, assuming no programme, both club’s had up-to-date websites which provided match reports containing line-ups. I turned out to be a wise move as my squad lists proved invaluable when obtaining the teams from the respective dugouts.

Problems on the M60 motorway by the Stockport Pyramid played havoc with the preparations of the match officials and East Manchester. The appointed referee, Joe Perselli, was stuck and unable to arrive so one of the assistants, only called up a day or so ago, took the middle and a club official ran the line of his Royton defence. The visitors were left short of key players at kick-off. Royton seemed to have problems as well and didn’t name any subs.

I too, approaching from the northern side of the M60/M62, arrived shortly before kick-off and I had to ‘abandon’ my car in a nearby sidestreet.

The ground was located in Shaw with Royton being the nearest town in the direction of Oldham. I approached from the southbound A627(M), down from the M62 junction 20, and took the A663 exit. Turn left in the direction of Royton passing close to Oldham Athletic’s Boundary Park ground. It was straight over the A671 and a bit further than I thought to the roundabout. I took the second exit into Compton Way then left into Rochdale Road (B6194). After passing Warburtons on the right and the Star pub on the left, it was right into Glebe Street and left into Alison Street at the end. The ground entrance was on the right opposite Christine Street.

The walk from the complex entrance went to the left of an immaculate cricket ground with the football ground behind the clubhouse to the left of the steel fence. The pitch (orientated north-east to south-west) ran lengthways with the dugouts on half way down the left-hand side.

In terms of promotion or relegation there was nothing at stake. However, a win from either of their final two games (tonight and on Saturday at home to Hindsford) would lift East Manchester (in 11th position in the 18-team division on 44 points from 32 games) into the top half of the final table. A win for Royton Town (eighth position with 50 points from 33 games) in what was their final game of the season would have lifted them for a final position of seventh.

When the two skippers met in the middle prior to kick-off, there were only seven East Manchester players were on the field and no keeper. However, a pause of a couple or so minutes allowed the visitors to start with a full complement of eleven men.

A strong easterly wind blew ferociously down the pitch from the cricket field end which Royton (wearing yellow shirts, green shorts and yellow socks), who got the game underway, had to attack into during the first half. I opted to stand on the near side by the dugouts which meant as far as I was concerned that Royton were attacking from left to right in

East Manchester (wearing all blue) created a couple of chances during the opening five minutes. Michael O’Connor delivered a corner from the right which fell for Graham Byrnes to chip over from 10 yards out. O’Connor was then involved to set up Mark Wright with a neat diagonal throughball which the striker fired wide.

Tom Bogan battled to create a change on the edge of the East Manchester area which he sent wide with a left-foot shot.

The visitors were encouraged to “raise it boys” and Connor Hampson responded with a good effort which flew over the bar.

The wind was posing a real problem for the players and in particular Alex Perkins, the Royton keeper wearing an all orange kit.

Not content with the start they had made with the advantage of the wind, the East Manchester players got more encouragement: “Let’s try and make the most of it.” – ‘it’ being the wind!

Mark O’Connor, in goal for the visitors, was called into action to make a save midway through the half, holding Bogan’s low cross-cum-shot at the base of the near right-hand post.

East Manchester broke the deadlock in the 31st minute. Michael O’Connor delivered a right-wing corner which was headed home by Graham Byrnes. The visitors were temporarily reduced to ten men six minutes later as Wright limped off.

Before the break, East Manchester were awarded a free-kick 32 yards out for handball by Andrew Wade which Mike Kays sent over the wall and bar as well.

At the interval, Royton stayed on the pitch which the visitors returned to the changing rooms. Towards the end of the first half, more East Manchester players arrived having battled through the delays around Stockport, meaning they could make a double change for the start of the second half.

Soon after the restart, Royton’s Carl Caffrey looked to make used of the wind, firing a long-range free-kick over the bar. However, the home side suffered a blow in the 55tnh minute when Anthony Duffy limped off after treatment. With no available substitutions, Royton were forced to complete the game with ten men.

By the time the hour mark arrived, the cold wind was still blowing and the shadows were noticeably lengthening. The visitors created a decent chance to double their lead. Simon Harrison played a throughball into the path of Michael O’Connor, on the left inside the area, who fired straight at the advancing Perkins.

Despite only having ten men, Royton equalised in the 70th minute and what an excellent goal it was. From a position fully 35 yards out, Carl Caffrey hit an unstoppable shot which flew into the bottom left corner. Keeper Mark O’Connor tried to save with his legs but to no avail.

There was further danger for East Manchester and this time Mark O’Connor successfully used his boot kept out a shot from Michael Moss.

It wasn’t obvious that Royton, aided by the wind, had ten men as they continued to look for the winner. Andy Eastwood got the better of Simon Finegan just outside the area and fired over. The forward appealed for a foul by the last defender which the referee ignored. The home side again got forward as Bogan battled to the edge of the area, exchanged a one-two with Moss, and fired just over the bar.

Royton continued to press and the visitors bench again reminded their players that the opposition only had ten men.

With all of the pitch now in shadow, the home side never gave up and almost equalised during the final minutes. Wade sent a 30-yard free-kick flashing wide of the left-hand post and Moss got into a good position inside the area before firing across the face of goal.

That’s it till next season, I wrote in my notebook.

Royton Town (yellow/green/yellow): 1. Alex Perkins, 2. Anthony Duffy, 3. Jamie Peers, 4. Ryan Hulme (capt), 5. Andrew Wade, 6. Dave Yates, 7. Carl Dean, 8. Carl Caffrey, 9. Michael Moss, 10. Andy Eastwood, 11. Tom Bogan. Subs: none.

East Manchester (blue/blue/blue): 1. Mark O’Connor, 2. Chris Marsden, 3. Dominic O’Donnell, 4. Mike Kays, 5. Dave Noble, 6. Simon Finegan (capt), 7. Graham Byrnes, 8. Connor Hampson, 9. Mark Wright, 10. Tom Broadbent, 11. Michael O’Connor. Subs: 12. Keith Power, 13. Chris Stanley (for Michael O’Connor, 68), 14. Simon Harrison (for Moss, ht), 16. Andy Tomlinson (for Marsden, ht).

Referee: John Nisbet.

Footnote: It wasn’t my end of season as four days later I made my way to Dawley Wanderers, the first of a further eight games seen before the end of June!