Match Report: Longridge Town 4-0 Cleator Moor Celtic
By Ellie Hamilton
Jay the Hart Breaker again for Cleator Moor.
Just four weeks ago, in the reverse fixture up in Cumbria, Town striker Jay Hart scored a hat-trick in a 3-6 victory, and yesterday could have been a repeat performance as the in form frontman scored twice, his hat-trick only being denied by a superb performance in the Celtic nets by Craig Rule.
Longridge were looking to bounce back from a shock Boxing Day defeat to Garstang, and were starting their first game since the departure of captain Michael Morrison who left the club to become Assistant Manager at Premier Division side Padiham FC.
Brad Wicks slotted into centre midfield as Ashey reverted to a 4-3-3 formation, Joe Melling returned at right back behind Isaac Sinclair and debutant Warren Beattie played at centre half alongside Ryan McKenna.
The front three comprised of Hart, skipper Richie Allen, and Sinclair being supported by Tom Ince as Town went on the attack.
The visitors looked a different side to the one faced earlier in the month, and were handing debut's to several youngsters.
It was a frenetic start from the home side as Allen crossed low only for Hart's effort to be scrambled away, before volleying over from close range a few minutes later when well placed.
Town were dominating possession and Sinclair's pace and control were causing all kinds of problems to the Celtic defence. On 18 minutes the young winger beat two men before driving into the area, only to see his effort superbly saved by Rule in the away goal.
Murphy then fired just wide from an Ince free kick and it looked like the breakthrough would never come but, as is often the case after missing easier opportunities, the first goal was a 'worldie' scored by Hart on the half hour mark.
Allen was found in space by Wicks before chipping a delightful cross into the penalty area, Hart then acrobatically met the ball with a sweet overhead kick that flew into the top corner from 15 yards. 1-0 Town at last, and the floodgates opened.
Just two minutes later Joe Melling was slotted in behind the full back by Sinclair and buried a right footed shot past Rule into the top of the net. 2-0, with 32 minutes gone.
It was 3-0 just six minutes later, with Allen again the provider sliding a delightful ball across the box to be met by Hart at the far post who finished from close range.
The fourth goal in this 15 minute spell came on the stroke of half time as Sinclair waltzed his way past five defenders only to see his effort saved by Rule. Unfortunately for the visiting keeper, Allen was the first to react and tapped home to make it 4-0.
It was a true reflection of the half as the teams went in at the break, and you feared for the young visiting side in the second period.
Paul Turner replaced Ince at the break, and the game continued in the same vein, with Beattie marshalling an untroubled Town back four infront of Lee Dovey in the Town goal.
However, as chances came and went, the Cleator Moor youngsters remained resolute defying Hart in particular time and time again.
Admittedly there was some superb passing play from Longridge who played the ball around brilliantly but, without creating much in the way of chances, Cleator Moor worked their socks off, particularly at fullback despite Sinclair and Hart running at them repeatedly.
Hart was denied a second hat trick by Rule, and Allen saw several shots fizz just wide, whilst Sinclair was denied a full debut goal as Rule saved with his legs.
A rested Danny Gardner replaced Alex Murphy with ten minutes remaining, and there was still time for Rule to again show his quality as he saved well to deny Richie a second goal.
The whistle ended an entertaining game in front of 161 spectators, and Town were back to winning ways with the full time score 4-0. It could, and probably should, have been a lot more.
The Manager's thoughts can be viewed on the Club website and social media later today, but it's fair to say that he was delighted with his team's response, and the style of play that has seen Town emerge as title contenders in their first season in the NWCFL Division One North.
Next Saturday sees the lads travel over the Pennines to visit Shelley FC in Huddersfield, with a coach leaving The MRG late morning. For any supporters wishing to travel exact times will be published later on this week, so please keep an eye on the Club Twitter feed and website.