Manchopper in….Leyland (Lancashire FA Headquarters)

Result: Blackpool Wren Rovers 5-2 Prestwich Heys (Lancashire FA Amateur Shield ‘sponsored by Thornton Sports’ Semi Final)

Venue: The County Ground (Wednesday 19th February 2014, 7.30pm)

Att: Around 140-150 (headcount)

A slightly different take on my blog for this one, as with their being no club to feature as a home club, it becomes more or less a match report, and a description of the ground & town, which I unwittingly saw a large amount due to me getting lost…again!

After beginning my journey at Urmston Train Station at a little after 5pm, I switched trains at Deansgate, and was soon on my way upwards to Lancashire, and the town of Leyland. Leyland plays host to the headquarters of the Lancashire County FA, who have a relatively large complex in the town, featuring a couple of 3G surfaces, (though it may have been the same one from different angles whilst lost), and a grass pitch, which was to be in use today. I arrived at Leyland Station at around ten-to-seven, and had around 50 minutes to kick-off. I was bemoaning my decision therefore to get this train, and not the one due about 20 minutes later, as I knew where I was going. Or so I thought…

After heading down the main road and through the town centre and past a Wetherspoon’s which I planned to visit when I had found the ground entrance, I approached the ‘British Transport Museum’ which had floodlights clearly visible tucked in behind it. However, as I started to walk up the road towards the lights, it became clear to me there was no way in this way, so I continued on. And on. And on. And on some more. For 45 minutes, I traipsed around the dark streets and back alleys of the town, desperately lapping the ground many times, the floodlights mockingly remaining in view, yet out of reach.

At 7.20pm, I finally found the entrance, through a car park. As I approached the turnstiles, I crossed the road to see right next to it the Transport Museum I had seen a half hour earlier. It could have been oh so much easier, but it wouldn’t be a manchopper trip without getting lost in some way. If you live near a football ground, and you do ever see someone walking past your house, ranting at their phone screen, it is more than likely me!!

After paying £5 entrance, and receiving a team sheet which still advised the game was at Bamber Bridge’s home, Irongate, where the tie was originally planned to be staged  until the weather forced a switch, I entered the ground just as the two teams exited the tunnel. Wren Rovers from the Squires Gate area of Blackpool, and Prestwich Heys, from the Bury area of Manchester. Wren Rovers ply their trade in the strong West Lancashire League, so where considered favourites by many, despite having just come off the back off a long period of inactivity due to the weather. Prestwich Heys play in the Manchester League and hadn’t played on grass for a while, with previous few weeks of game being played on various 3G venues.

A look around the ground shows a large brick building on the left of you as you enter, and the players tunnel and refreshment bar on the right. Next to these, and behind the right-hand goal is a small stand, almost perched up against the wall of the Museum directly behind it. Behind the left hand goal was a small terraced area and a 3G pitch which was in use tonight, so created illuminations that would make the Blackpool side feel right at home. The far side opposite you as you enter, is a rather impressive, smart all seater stand bearing the letters LFA in white seats amongst a red seat background.

After a minutes silence in memory of the late, great Sir Tom Finney, the game began at a frantic pace, Wren Rovers starting on top and they really should have took the lead after five minutes when Ric Seear, fired wastefully wide from close range. Even he looked shocked and bemused by his miss as he covered his face with his hands.

The afro-sporting Heys right-winger Erike Sousa then stung the hands of Wren Rover ‘keeper Andrew Speight, and Heys were made to pay for this miss soon afterwards as a good team move from a Wren Rovers corner ended with Oliver Crolla finishing with aplomb past Heys’ ‘keeper Rob Sadler. At this point, I realised that Wren Rovers’ number 5, looked remarkably like Shane Watson, the Australian batsman, although maybe this was just the lights? I later found out this was Ant Pearson, and he prefers to be known as Pirlo!!

A few minutes later, the impressive Ric Seear attempted a delightful chip over Sadler but the ball dropped narrowly wide of the near post, but this miss only served to help Seear get his radar right, as a minute later he repeated the trick, only for the ball to find the far corner on this occasion. It was a terrific bit of skill by the front man.

Heys tried to fight back against an ever more dominant looking Rovers, with Paul Tierney’s backheel being held on the line by Speight, and then Mark Drew had to be denied by the Rovers ‘keeper, diving away to his right, as Heys began to seize the initiative back from the boys from the seaside. And with 10 minutes of the half remaining, their pressure told. Shaun Johnson was played in by Jon Lyons, and had time to pick his spot, which he did, despite appearing to panic slightly, from 20 yards.

It got even better for Heys. On the stroke of half-time, the Manchester side won a corner on the left-flank after a free-kick was deflecting just wide of the far post with the ‘keeper rooted. The corner was beautifully whipped in and centre-back Luke Hodson rose highest to power a header past Speight from 8 yards. 2-2 at the break.

With drizzle beginning to fall, the players made their way to the dressing rooms, and the fans made the trip to the refreshment bar for some hot stuff. Behave. I decided to get a hot chocolate, for 50p (it was quite small), and a bag of Aero Bubbles, orange flavour, for £1. At this point, word got round about Stoke City’s Charlie Adam being in attendance tonight. Not sure why, but must have been from his Blackpool days?

The second half began with questions to be answered. Were Wren Rovers starting to struggle with lack of match fitness, could Heys complete a comeback, and an upset? The answer was to be no on both counts.

Three minutes into the second period, and Rovers regained the lead, as a mistake in midfield gifted possession to them and the ball found its way to Lee Tobin who proceeded to within 20-yards of the Heys goal before firing in an effort reminiscent of Heys’ first.

It was all Rovers from this point, and Tobin almost added to his tally soon afterwards when he found himself unmarked 12-yards out, but he was thwarted by a wonderful save from Rob Sadler in the shadow of the museum wall, however the let-off was only temporary for Heys, as Crolla received the ball on the right, cut inside and unleashed a superb effort from range past the helpless Sadler, for a knockout punch his namesake Anthony would have been proud of, if it was an actual punch of course….

Out of bad puns, and back to the game. With Heys now pouring forward and throwing the proverbial kitchen sink and more at Wren Rovers’ back line they were hit on the counter with just under 10 minutes to play, as Seear added the icing on the cake when he was released clean through, and he slotted past Sadler via the post to make it 5-2 and send his side into the final. Despite the best efforts of Heys’ defence on the line, the assistant gave the goal to no complaints.

The scoreline was somewhat harsh on Heys, who weren’t three goals worse than their opponents on the night, although the result was the correct one as the better side won through. No complaints from either team, who both put on a great display of football to show great credit to both their clubs, and the leagues they were representing. A shout here for the referee too, who I thought was exceptional, he got everything right for me.

I was soon back on Leyland Station Platform 2, and getting wetter by the minute as the rain teemed down, before I got on the train to Buckshaw Parkway, where the wind was whistling through like sound of a phantom conductor whistling. It was eerie to say the least, and I was happy to be on the train to Deansgate, before any ghost trains came through!

*The final will be between Blackpool Wren Rovers and the winners of the tie between Thornton Cleveley’s and Rochdale Sacred Heart, in another clash of West Lancashire League vs Manchester League. This tie is to be played this Wednesday (26th Feb), a 7.30pm kick off.

My Blackpool Wren Rovers M.o.M.- Oliver Crolla

My Prestwich Heys M.o.M.- Mark Drew

RATINGS:

Ground: 8- Simple, yet effective and tidy. Nice set up.

Game: 9- I really enjoyed the game, two teams going at it, but a little one sided second half.

Food: 7- Small Hot Chocolate, but Aero Bubbles in orange helps the rating!

Fans: N/A- Not a home ground so I can’t give a rating.

Programme: 1- Token team sheet, nothing more, and venue was still wrong. Boo.

Value For Money: 8- Good value all round really.

Referee: 10- Really impressed. One of, if not the best refereeing performance I’ve seen this season. 

TEAMS:

BLACKPOOL WREN ROVERS: 1.Andrew Speight, 2.Lewis Cook, 3.Nick Greenall, 4.Conn Methven(c), 5.Anthony ‘Pirlo’ Pearson, 6.Danny Pickering, 7.Mark Fiddler, 8.Mickey Clark, 9.Ric Seear(2),10.Oliver Crolla(2), 11.Lee Tobin(1). SUBS: 12.Kurt Bradley(p), 14.Nick Corless(p), 15.Ryan Willetts, 16.Fran Donaghy(p), 17.Steve Creelman.

PRESTWICH HEYS: 1.Rob Sadler, 2.Darius Photiou, 3.Phil Woodcock, 4.Shaun Johnson(1), 5.Gareth Walsh, 6.Luke Hodson(1), 7.Erike Sousa, 8.Jon Lyons(c), 9.Paul Tierney, 10.Mark Drew, 11.Chris Mackay. SUBS: 12.Greg Wills(p), 14.Martin Love(p), 15.Conor Landers(p).

OFFICIALS: REFEREE: Mr. Mike Barlow. ASSISTANTS: Mr. Paul Turner & Mr. Ian Claridge. FOURTH OFFICIAL: Mr. Peter Simm.

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