Daisy Hill 1 Irlam 2

Saturday 23rd February 2013
Daisy Hill 1 Irlam 2
North-West Counties League Division One
At: New Sirs, St James Street, Westhoughton
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Admission: £5; Programme: £1 (20 pages)
Weather: light snow
Attendance: 29
Duration (45): first-half: 45:08; second-half: 47:52

Just like the game I saw at Rocester on Tuesday, a straight red card to the side holding a one-goal advantage proved crucial as the opponents took full advantage by scoring late goals to win 2-1. Today, Daisy Hill led with an early goal scored after just 61 seconds by Craig Xuereb then had Jake Foster sent-off on the hour for violent conduct. Irlam levelled things up though Dave Castle and won game with an injury-time penalty converted by Ryan McGreevy.

If Wednesday’s trip to Cheadle Town plugged a gap in my football-watching ‘CV’ then this long-overdue visit to the New Sirs filled one of canyon proportions. It meant that a journey that started at Bacup Borough in April 1998 is completed and I can now ‘boast’ to have finally visited all the grounds of the current 40 members of the North-West Counties League.

Daisy Hill FC, as the club history printed in the programme explained, was established in 1894 and folded sometime between the two World Wars before reforming in 1951. They became founder members of the North-West Counties League in 1982 and for five seasons between 1989 and 1994 were known as Westhoughton Town. It is a puzzle to me based on that history that it has taken me so long to visit the New Sirs.

The Daisy Hill and Westhoughton area is located a few miles west of Bolton and, even though Daisy Hill station is only a half mile from the ground, I decided to drive today. On a Saturday afternoon for those using public transport, there are two trains per hour in each direction connecting Manchester Victoria and Wigan Wallgate.

Approaching the ground from Leigh and the outskirts of Atherton along the B5325, I could help but notice the parish church of St James, an impressive brick-built place of worship with bells visible in the bell turret topped by a weathercock. Certainly, well worth a walk back up St James Street for a closer look after I'd parked up.

Programmes were on sale at the turnstile and included a history of both clubs as well as the interesting story of the North-West Counties League. I was indebted to the two officials at the tea bar who, despite being short of numbers, produced the teamsheets for me copy down the lineups – much appreciated.

Through the entrance, the pitch ran lengthways with an interesting clubhouse behind the near goal with seats in front and covered standing down the right-hand side next to the dugouts. I know that work has been carried out to move the pitch barriers and improve the drainage of the playing surface which looked in very good nick. Despite the warnings to keep off the pitch, a stray hen wandered into the penalty area at the far end!

The league table showed that both Daisy Hill (17th with 16 points from 21 games) and Irlam (15th with 18 points from 22 games) both occupied positions in the bottom four. Both sides played in midweek with Daisy Hill winning 2-1 at Oldham Borough and Irlam going down 5-2 at home to Formby. Irlam had a change of manager a couple of weeks ago with Steve Nixon replacing the outgoing Nick Parker.

Though Irlam (in a change kit of red white and black) got the game underway attaching the clubhouse end, Daisy Hill took the lead after just 61 seconds. Captain Craig Xuereb hit a superb unstoppable rising 25-yard right-foot shot into the top left corner of the net, which flew past Jamie Brewer in the Irlam goal.

As the home side continued to threaten, Kyle Hynes crossed from the right and Richard Smith sent a free-header over the bar. Irlam goalkeeper Brewer produced a fine save in the 12th minute to keep out a rising shot from Matty Boland. The opening exchanges certainly provided plenty of entertainment between two sides closely matched in terms of the league table.

Elsewhere, a few miles to the east at the Reebok Stadium, “Bolton [were] three-up already” against Hull City. Three goals during the opening eight minutes I later learnt.

Daisy Hill’s Chris Taylor was also on good form as well and produced a brave save to block a close-range from Ryan McGreevy.

As well as Daisy Hill’s Xuereb, who seemed to be influential all over the field, I was also impressed with Irlam’s captain Steve Mills and the central defender headed just wide of the far post from Conor Braithwaite’s right-wing corner.

As the snowflakes began increasing in numbers and size, Daisy Hill went close again in the 35th minute. James Jordan crossed low from the left to Boland who flicked a shot past Brewer and agonisingly the left-hand post as well.

Into the second half and Irlam had a strong shout for a penalty waived away after McGreevy went down inside the area. Similar appeals by Daisy Hill suffered the same fate when Xuereb’s cross hit Mills.

Boland hit a 35-yard free-kick on target which Brewer could only block but the goalkeeper bravely claimed the ball at the second attempt as two attackers pounced on the loose ball.

After this warning, the visitors were told from the dugout to “step it up, Irlam”.

Arguably, the turning point of this game came in the 59th minute when Daisy Hill’s Jake Foster received a straight red card for violent conduct (photo right). Irlam’s Steve Castle was booked for his part in the incident.

Having a one-man advantage certainly gave Irlam a lift and they equalised 10 minutes in the 69th minute. Castle’s brave header looped over goalkeeper Taylor into the net.

From the dugout, Irlam were encouraged to “push for it” and they forced the home defence to work hard. On the break, Daisy Hill almost took the lead in the 87th minute when the influential Xuereb fired over outside the area.

The side with ten men at Rocester on Tuesday lost the game to a late goal and they same happened this afternoon in perhaps more dramatic circumstances. With the 90 minutes completed and just added time remaining, Liam Duffy went down in the area prompting the referee to point to the spot. McGreevy stepped up and sent Taylor the wrong way to claim all three points for his side.

I know I’m supposed to be concentrating on healthy eating nowadays but I couldn’t resist a portion of chips from the interestingly-named ‘Golden Chopsticks’ before heading home.

As always, this was another a ‘good day out’ at a friendly and welcoming club. I’d certainly recommend a visit.

Daisy Hill (blue/blue/blue): 1. Chris Taylor, 2. Kyle Hynes, 3. Darrell Gavin, 4. Marc Shemwell, 5. James Brooks, 6. Craig Xuereb (capt), 7. Matty Boland, 8. Richard Smith, 9. Danny Gregory, 10. Jake Foster, 11. James Jordan. Subs: 12. Simon Farrell (for Boland, 68), 14. Danny Brookes (for Jordan, 86), 15. Samuel Howell (not used), 16. Kane Duffy (not used), 17. Nicholas Swiran (for Brooks, 52). Manager: Craig Thomas.

Irlam (red with white sleeves / black / black): 1. Jamie Brewer, 2. Conor Braithwaite, 3. Alex Barlow, 4. Jordan Smith, 5. Steve Mills (capt), 6. Dave Castle, 7. Liam Duffy, 8. Tommy Smith, 9. Adam Campbell, 10. Jordan Icely, 11. Ryan McGreevy. Subs: 12. Scott Mason (for Braithwaite, 70), 14. Dean Burgess (for Tommy Smith, ht), 15. Christian Lawlor (for Campbell, 60), 16. Ryan Hutchinson (not used), 17. Liam Pennington (not used). Manager: Steve Nixon.

Referee: C. Porter.
Assistants: V. Evans and T. Haworth.

1-0 Craig Xuereb (2)
1-1 Dave Castle (69)
1-2 Ryan McGreevy (90+1 pen)

Daisy Hill: Jake Foster (RC, 59), Richard Smith (YC, 71), Craig Xuereb (YC, 90+1)
Irlam: Dave Castle (YC, 59)