Knutsford 3 Lostock Gralam 0

Saturday 14th January 2012
Knutsford 3 Lostock Gralam 0
Cheshire League Division 1
At: Manchester Road
Kick-off: 2-00 pm
Admission: £1; Programme: 50p (4 pages)
Weather: dry with sunshine throughout though increasingly cold
Attendance: 65 (headcount)
Duration: first-half: 46:34; second-half: 49:47

Knutsford moved to the top of the Cheshire League Division 1 table with a 3-0 victory over previous leaders and local rivals Lostock Gralam. Just like the Stafford Town v Brocton FA Vase derby I saw back in November, this game also generated plenty of talking points with differing opinions on the three key incidents.

Early on, a Knutsford defender appeared lucky to escape without even a booking for a professional-looking foul. Then, in between the half-time whistle and the start of the second half, Lostock had both a defender and unused substitute sent off for their part in a flare-up as the players headed for the changing rooms. And, deep into stoppage time at the end, Knutford’s keeper was sent off for handball outside his area. Three goals were scored amongst the controversy, all by Knutsford, from debutant Tom Rutter (13th minute), Dean Warburton (38th minute) and substitute Lee Shakoor (87th minute).

With freezing overnight temperatures and the grass in shade at home being white with frost, I decided to head somewhere close to a 3G pitch where Romulus (Sutton Coldfield) or Woodley (near Stockport) were playing home games in the Evo-Stik League. The added news that Brighouse’s NCEL game was definitely on encouraged me to head up the M6 with the hope that Knutsford’s home game was not marked as ‘P-P’ on the Cheshire League Full-Time website for a positive reason. I received no text message about Knutsford from someone at home checking Full-Time and arrived at Manchester Road around 1-15 pm to find a perfect green pitch bathed in winter sunshine.

I must say I’ve got ‘Shacker’ on the Non-League Matters Forum for flagging up this game earlier in the week. ‘This is the big derby match between the top 2 sides in the table,’ he wrote temptingly. Home side Knutsford (31 points from 14 games) went into the fixture in second position, a point behind their opponents Lostock Gralam (32 points from 18 games) with four games in hand.

Having driven past the ground on many occasions in the past I knew exactly where it was – on the right-hand side of the A50 heading north from the town centre and a large sign marked the entrance. The pitch was fully railed off with covered standing down the near touchline and club buildings behind the near goal. An area of hand standing led from the clubhouse to the stand.

Programmes were on sale for 50p at the entrance pay table, though as an early arriver, the Secretary pointed me to the clubhouse where I picked up a copy for the four-pager. The Knutsford badge gives 1888 at the club’s formation date while the programme gives Lostock Gralam’s date at 1892 – hence this game’s billing as ‘the 120 year old local derby’.

“Plenty of sound, plenty of encouragement,” urged one Lostock player before Knutsford (in red shirts, black shorts and block socks) got the game underway defending into the low angled sun and attacking the clubhouse end.

The game’s first talking point came in the 10th minute. Lostock’s Mike Butters was brought down on the edge of the area when bearing down on goal. I was down the other end but, to me, the guilty defender was lucky to escape with just a chat from the referee. From a distance, it looked like a booking or even sending-off offence. Knutsford keeper Mark Higgs produced a diving save to keep out the resulting free-kick hit by Martin Bell and Kyle Wilding, following-up, sent the loose ball wide of the right-hand post.

Having survived the scare, Knutsford took the lead three minutes later. Simon Williamson, on the left, found debutant Tom Rutter who lifted the ball over keeper Mike Langley and into the net (see photo above right).

The home side continued to dominate and create a number of decent chances. Midway through the half, Langley produced a diving save to parry a well-struck shot from Rutter looking for a second goal. Then, Mike Cartner drove across the face of goal and, on the half hour, Rutter set up Lee Jackson who fired straight at Langley.

Lostock (in all blue) won their first corner in the 38th minute which unmarked Mike Brandon headed wide at the far post. “Let off” for Knutsford and within a minute they doubled their lead. Williamson got down the left and crossed low for Dean Warburton to slot home his ninth goal of the season at close range.

The visitors quickly got forward and Wilding saw a deflected shot flash past the right-hand post.

Cartner and Warburton both fired over the visitors’ before the interval and Lostock’s Josh Smith picked up a booking in stoppage time.

Things boiled over at the half-time whistle and Smith was shown a straight red card for his part in an unsavoury flare-up. An unused Lostock substitute was also red carded after the players emerged from the changing rooms for the second half.

With ten men, the visitors made a positive start after the interval and Brandon cut in from the left before shooting low into the near sidenetting.

Lostock’s response was causing concern for Knutsford who had “gone flat” and needed to “raise [their] standard”. They did and substitute Paul Barry forced Langley to parry a well-struck shot.

The visitors continued to threaten, however, and a nice move involving Phil Parkinson and Chris Latham ended with Butters seeing his shot kept out by the legs of Higgs. It was a decent save and went close again soon after as Ryan Jackson saw a shot blocked by a defender.

“We’ll get another chance,” said one Lostock player encouragingly said to his teammates and James Horne sent a free-kick straight at Higgs.

Knutsford, working hard to protect their lead, put the outcome beyond doubt with a third goal scored in the 87th minute. Lee Jackson got down the left and crossed low for substitute Lee Shakoor in orange boots to slot home at close range for his sixth goal of the season (see photo right).

That wasn’t the end of the drama and controversy. In the third minute of stoppage time, Higgs rushed off his line to block Brandon’s lob after the striker had latched on to a long ball from defence. The linesman immediately flagged and it could only mean one thing… Higgs had made the save outside the area and he was sent off for denying a goalscoring opportunity as Brandon’s shot may well have found the net.

Steve Jenyons took over in goal and all he had to do was watch the resulting free-kick, taken by Brandon, fly over the bar before the referee blew for full-time before the goal-kick could be taken.

Overall, Knutsford can be added to the list of friendly welcoming clubs that are a pleasure to visit.

As a footnote, I must express sympathy to the aforementioned and luckless ‘Shacker’ He not only flagged up this game on the Non-League Matters Forum but also posted that Brighouse’s game was on. His reward? Suffering a late postponement at AFC Liverpool along with the Silsden squad after being told the game had ‘passed an inspection and was on’.

1-0 Tom Rutter (13)
2-0 Dean Warburton (38)
3-0 Lee Shakoor (87)