Match Report: AFC Darwen 2-6 Longridge Town
By Ellie Hamilton
Jay's hot streak continues as Town go past 100 league goal mark.
Longridge travelled to AFC Darwen for a vital League fixture missing Tom Ince, Alex Murphy and winger Isaac Sinclair.
In came Gary Basterfield, Paul Turner and Danny Gardner as Ashey reverted to a 4-4-2 formation.
Darwen switched the teams around at the kick off and played with a strong wind and driving rain at their backs.
It was a feisty start with young Ben Fletcher being the victim of an awful tackle after just eight minutes. The only possible excuse for it going unpunished was that it was ‘too early’ in the game for a red card, but the young midfielder was forced off, to be replaced by Brad Wicks.
Town opened the scoring moments later as Jay Hart, playing from the left of a midfield four, turned his man inside out before firing low past the keeper, a brilliant goal to make it 0-1 Town.
It was to be the first of three goals in a 20 minute spell, as Hart scored a second on 24 minutes, a carbon copy of the first after a great ball from Wicks. 0-2 Town.
Soon after Town were awarded a penalty for handball, and up stepped captain Richie Allen to drive home low to the keepers right. 0-3 Town, with ten minutes of the half remaining.
Crucially for the home side, they pulled a goal back before the break, Kiel Lonsdale scrambling the ball over the line at the near post after a low driven cross evaded the Town defence.
There was still time for Turner to sprint clear of the Darwen defence but his scuffed shot was cleared comfortably off the line by the covering defender.
1-3 at half time, and Darwen had a glimmer of hope as the sides went in at the break. The next goal would be vital.
As the weather, and the playing surface worsened, Town emerged knowing that if they could score again it would be the Club’s 100th League goal of the season.
It was Darwen however who were on the front foot and, after a strong start to the half, they made it 2-3 with Lonsdale getting his second goal of the game beating Dovey from 18 yards. 2-3, and game on with half an hour remaining.
For a short spell Darwen threw everything forward but Ryan McKenna was outstanding at the heart of the Town defence, playing against his former club, and the one time they did break through, Dovey saved well, holding on to a close range shot to keep the Town lead.
It was the fright that Town needed and they responded brilliantly as, just eight minutes later, Brad Wicks used the conditions to his benefit and curled in the 100th League goal of the season direct from a corner. The scrambling Darwen keeper was left helpless as the ball drifted in the wind, finding the back of the net to make it 2-4 to Longridge with 25 minutes to go.
Town visibly relaxed, as the Home side wilted, and Hart got his second hat trick in two games after 75 minutes, cutting inside the tormented full back and curling a right footed shot into the top corner of the net.
Three brilliant goals for Jay, coming in from the left hand side. 2-5 Town, and the weather now was atrocious as the pitch began to cut up badly.
Luke McKenna replaced Joe Melling to shore things up in midfield, and there was still time for captain Richie Allen to score a trade mark goal, shimmying past 3 defenders, going back to beat them again, before firing past the keeper to finish the game. 2-6, and a superb performance in very difficult conditions.
As the referee blew for time, the lads were applauded off by the Town faithful who had made the short trip up the M65, and it was a great feeling of togetherness for all involved at the Club.
Ashey gave his thoughts after the game which will be available on all the usual platforms this afternoon.
Wednesday night sees us welcome title rivals AVRO to The MRG in a huge game, 7.45 Kick Off.
See you there, Up the Ridge.