Mossley 0 - 0 Skelmersdale United

Skelmersdale win 6 - 5 on penalties

There is an old adage that goes something along the lines of 'good games fly by in the blink of an eye whilst the bad ones seem to go on forever.'

If I say that this match felt like it lasted a dozen lifetimes, does that give those of you who didn't attend a clue as to the quality of it?

In a season of poor performances in the knock-out competitions, Mossley saved their worst till last as they bowed of the President's Cup on penalties in a dire encounter against Skelmersdale United, who themselves weren't much better.

As the match wore (and bore) on, it was hard to believe that you were watching the same two sides who were responsible for one of the best games seen at Seel Park for quite some time, just over a fortnight earlier; that they could produce something that was the polar opposite in terms of entertainment was quite staggering.

The first half was on its way to being a total non-event before it finally sprang in to life in injury time. In charging off his goal line to try and beat Leadbetter in the chase for the ball, Ashley Connor arrived a second too late and in doing so took the Skelmersdale wingers legs out from under him. The Mossley keeper made amends for his error though by producing a superb one handed stop, low to his left, to keep out Steven Akrigg's effort from the spot.

Things were marginally better after the break, particularly if you were a Skelmersdale supporter. Though possession was shared equally, Mossley continued to labour as an attacking threat whilst the visitors became more productive. Akrigg headed over when he should have at least tested Ashley Connor's reactions and John Cass saw his shot beat Ashley Connor but not his namesake Lee who headed off the line.

When Nicky Thompson marked his return to the club by clearing another United attack out from underneath the Mossley crossbar, it appeared that it was only going to be a matter of time before Skelmersdale took the lead.

But with 13 minutes left, Mossley finally posed their first threat on their opponents goal and went agonisingly close to putting a foot into the next round. A free-kick was whipped in from the right by Paul Quinn and Lee Connor met the ball with a bullet header that flew narrowly wide of the left hand upright.

Unfortunately it proved to be a one-off and the Lilywhites once again had their keeper to thank for the scores remaining level as the ninety minutes drew towards a conclusion; Connor twice producing good saves from Tony Evans.

As extra-time loomed Evans was presented with perfect opportunity to finally beat Ashley Connor. Unmarked in front of the Mossley goal and with the ball at his feet, he produced an utterly woeful shot which guaranteed that the game would be extended by another 30 minutes. Something which at Halloween proved quite fitting, given that the prospect of another half hour of similar fare had been scaring the supporters senseless in the latter stages of normal time

And it's only through Michael Duffy missing another golden opportunity for Skelmersdale with six minutes to go, that those additional periods of play warrant any mention at all, being so devoid of incident that they might well have not taken place.

All of which meant that after two hours of football, it was now down to a penalty shoot-out to separate the sides.

The visitors got the proceedings under way with McConville firing past Ashley Connor, before it was immediately cancelled out by an absolute howitzer from James Riordan that ripped the bottom of the netting from its moorings; the Lilywhites first shot on target in the entire game. Evans' night in a front of a goal continued to be a fruitless one as Connor denied him for one last time in the game but whatever advantage it gave Mossley was short lived as Lowe kept out Michael Fish's follow-up penalty.

Both sides then went on to trade successful spot kicks until, in round seven, Richard Conway Chris Waddled his shot high and wide to leave the converted penalty from Tom Hardwick that had preceded it as the goal that won the game.

Overall, on the balance of chances created, the better team probably ended up winning, but it doesn't stop Mossley's final attempt at extending the season beyond the remaining league fixtures from being any less of a disappointment.

Whilst the loss of Paul Garvey early in the first half through injury certainly didn't help Mossley's cause, neither did pumping the ball down the centre of the pitch; a tactic that left Hamlet and Fish running themselves into the ground in the hope of capitalising on whatever meagre scraps the dominant Skelmersdale centre halves occasionally left them with.

It was therefore no surprise that Mossley's serious attempts on goal amounted to one solitary header from a set-piece. That's not to say that they didn't create some promising openings, they did, but the absence of that telling final ball, numbers in the box or a lack of movement meant that things quickly fizzled out.

Still, at least we got to see the Lilywhites take part in a penalty shoot-out for the first time in a competitive game but that proved to be a hollower experience than I expected. Maybe what had gone on before had a detrimental effect on my enthusiasm, or it was the ludicrous decision by the man in the middle to use the goal at the opposite end to where everyone was stood (including the Skelmersdale supporters), but the shoot-out turned out to be a peculiarly unexciting affair.

Not to worry though as it wasn't all doom and gloom. We did learn that we can score from the spot, so all's not lost the next time we're awarded a penalty during a match. And despite the heart-in-mouth moments we looked reasonably solid at the back too.

All that we really seemed to be lacking was that spark we had in the previous game against Skelmersdale and the Ossett and Rossendale matches. Hopefully we'll rediscover it in time for Garforth Town's visit on Saturday, enabling us to push for an entry into what could be our sixth knock-out competition of the season: the play-offs.

A Cup - Part Five

Should the weather hold off long enough, Mossley will be hoping to make it ‘fifth time lucky’ when it comes to progressing past the opening round in a cup competition this season.

The law of averages suggest that we’re going to win a knockout fixture sooner rather than later, and the President’s Cup provides the Lilywhites with a final chance to do just that in the 07/08 campaign. Of course there’s always the chance that we could reach the play-offs but that’s for the distant future along with hover cars, Sunday lunch in a pill and The Jetson's becoming a documentary. Okay, next May’s probably not that far ahead.

Our opponents in this 'First Division clubs only' competition are Skelmersdale United who were recently on the wrong end of 4 - 3 scoreline at Seel Park in a league fixture. And as it’s a mere two weeks since that happened, there’s not much more I can add to the preview that I did for that game, other than to say we’ve lost our intervening two games whilst Skelmersdale have won two of their three matches (the one they didn’t win coming in the FA Trophy at Stocksbridge).

Preview: I do hope I’m wrong but I can’t see our fortune in the cup competitions changing for the better in this game. A win for the visitors. :(

Filling In The Blanks

Whilst some people were a touch disappointed that Mossley had been left with a blank weekend due to the FA Cup commitments of Bradford P.A., I can't say that I was one of them.

Why? Well, it meant i) that I didn't have to spend the best part of a Sunday writing two match reports and ii) that I was able to watch two other teams without caring who won and who didn't - a sort of cleanser for the football palette. And if there's ever a fixture that fits the latter reason, it's Curzon Ashton versus Woodley Sports.

So it was to the Tameside Stadium that I hauled myself, hoping upon hope that the game would be better than the last time I saw both sides square off against one another (a dull 0 - 0 encounter at the beginning of September) and, to be fair, it was. It's hard to say otherwise given that the home side ran out 6 - 1 winners; a score line that should have been at least double that had the Blues not wasted a litany of gilt edged chances and not slacked off as much as they did midway through the second half.

Curzon fans will trumpet on about how good their team played but in truth the scoreline probably had more to do with Woodley's sheer ineptness than anything else. As we (there were a few other Mossley fans in attendance as well) watched the Lambeth Grove side provide the paying spectators with a shambolic impersonation of a football team, we couldn't quite believe that was the team that had beaten us so convincingly earlier in the campaign. Twice! You can see for youeselves on Channel M this Friday of you want.

The fun in watching their back four try to play the offside trap was only surpassed by watching the Woodley bench. For most of the second half manager Chris Willcock sat with his head in hands, offering no encouragement all to his charges (even when they did the odd good move) whilst his assistants intently studied the labels on their bottled water. I'm not saying they were sombre but the aristocrats lining up for the guillotine in revolutionary France had more life about them, and they were heading for the chop too.

That's probably a bit unfair as there's absolutely nothing to suggest that a change of management is on the cards at Woodley, despite the incredibly poor run of form they're in. That said though, there was a distinctly Martin Jol look to their demeanour as the goals flew and slowly rolled in.

Whilst this and recent results make things look ominous for our visit in a months time (as advertised on a PowerPoint presentation in their bar area), there are chinks in Curzon Ashton's admittedly impressive armour. There's a lack of communication between defence and their flapping goalkeeper and we're all aware of how to make Rhodri Giggs an ineffective presence on the pitch. Norton's his own worst enemy too when it comes to picking up pointless bookings and whilst he's good at winning high balls, concentrating on picking up his knock downs than challenging him will nullify most of their attacks.

The Tameside Stadium is hardly a cauldron that's likely to affect our players either. Even as the sixth goal went in you could still hear the skittles falling over at the Hollywood Bowl.

That's for the future though and hopefully by then we'll have embarked on a good run of our own, causing Curzon to worry more about us than the other way round. It's just a pity that we're not coming up against Woodley anytime soon.

Out In The Cold

It's amazing to think that on a cold Wednesday night in October, people have other things better to do other than watch a match at Seel Park.

However, the few (we reasonably cheerful few) who did make the effort to turn up and watch Mossley Reserves vs. Marsden were treated to what can only be described as... a game of football.

What transpired pretty much followed the pattern of recent first team games - Mossley dominating for a prolonged period before the opposition score the one goal that settles the encounter. On this occasion it was a Mark Viduka look-a-like that prodded in a second half winner from the (yes!) edge of the six yard box.

On the plus side Jamie Miller made it through his first game back from the injury he picked up whilst scoring against Bradford P.A. without any visible ill effects, and SAS and Thommo made their first appearances in a Mossley shirt since their return to the club. As an exercise in helping players get back to match fitness, the game ceratinly served its purpose.

Another positive is that none of St Joseph's School windows need replacing and paying for. Honestly, in all my years watching Mossley I've never seen the ball end up in the school as often as it did in the first half through some enthusiastic yet off-target shooting. Unfortunately it also happened to be the end that we were attacking...

It wasn't the best game in the world by any stretch of the imagination, but there aren't many better ways to part with four pound coins in the name of entertainment. Unless its to viciously throw it at the heads of people on public transport who insist on sharing their crap musical tastes through the speakers of their mobile phones.

Chadderton 1 - 0 Mossley

Oh dear.

A little over 48 hours after saying 'auf wiedersehen' to the F.A. Trophy , Mossley's brief flirtations with this season's cup competitions continued in an eerily similar fashion at Chadderton's Broadway Stadium.

Just like that match against Rushall Olympic, Mossley were rarely out of their opponents half but once again the inability to convert that domination into scoring opportunities, let alone goals, proved to be their undoing.

What few chances they did create in the opening period were, in the main, shots from distance and almost exclusively via the left boot of Michael Fish. Following a couple of early efforts that were never going to trouble the scoreline, he saw one shot headed off the line by Davis and a 20 yard daisy cutter roll inches past the wrong side of the post.

Yet it was the home side, on a rare outing from occupied territory, that had the best chance to take the lead eight minutes before the break. The Mossley defence stopped when the linesman raised his flag to signal an offside but the referee waved play on, declaring that the offending player was inactive, leaving Mickey Green with a one-on-one with Ashley Connor; a showdown that the Lilywhites keeper won with a smart save.

Seven minutes after half-time Mossley were once again bemoaning the positional sense of Davies when he cleared off the line for the second time in the game and within the space of 60 seconds, he and his team mates were celebrating as the visitors gifted them the goal that would ultimately win them the game.

If you're going to lose to a side that are two divisions below you might as well do it Carry On style and that's what Mossley did. Picking up a long clearance, James Riordan hit a back pass that appeared to catch Ashley Connor by surprise, not least the pace of it, and both could only watch as the ball continued on its trajectory towards the back of the net.

Mossley had the opportunity to make the Oldham side's lead a short one when Paul Garvey was sent crashing to the floor in the penalty area after being swung round like a field hammer by Davies. Responsibility for the kick fell to Martin Allison and he became the latest in an ever growing line of victims of Mossley's penalty curse. Though Allison's shot was firmly hit, it was what commentators like to describe as a nice height for the keeper, allowing Lee Swanson to push the ball away to his right and keep his sides slender lead intact.

By my brief calculations it was the fifth consecutive penalty miss since Chris Ward scored from the spot against Fleetwood last November, though I'm almost certain I've forgotten to include one or two more from the dregs of last season.

There was still over a third of the game remaining though for Mossley to rescue the result and despite spending 95% of it entrenched in their opponents half, it was hardly the Alamo. When the final whistle arrived all they had to show for their concerted efforts at forcing extra-time was a solitary shot from Lee Connor that had been deflected narrowly wide.

I know that we're fortunate to still have a team to follow this season and that we can't afford a big squad of players (hence problems when injuries start to bite), but that doesn't stop getting unceremoniously dumped out of the Manchester Premier Cup by a NWCL Division Two side from being in any way less embarrassing.

Taking the last two fixtures as a whole, we've basically controlled almost 180 minutes of football with nought to show for it but the odd smattering of shots and two defeats. Whilst the defences we've come up against deserve some credit for this being the case, responsibility for coming out of both matches with nothing ultimately rests with Mossley: both in their inability to carve out and finish decent goal scoring opportunities and their knack of conceding goals that could have so easily been avoided.

This is going to sound harsh, and I really don't want to be over critical, but you honestly wouldn't believe that this was the same side that put Skelmersdale to the sword with such flair and imagination ten days ago.

Are there any positives to be taken out of the game? A quick look at many of the faces on the terraces as the match approached its conclusion showed little evidence of any having been found, but I'm up for a challenge:
  • Chadderton may have been shorn of many of their more recent high profile signings due to the competitions ridiculous 14 day registration rule, but at least it wasn't a reserve side as the Flixton team that knocked us out last season had been.
  • We scored. Sort of anyway.
  • The long run of conceding goals from the edge of the six yard box came to an end.
  • If anybody videoed the goal there's a chance that we could make up all the revenue lost from early cup exits by selling it to the producers of those football cock-up DVD's that clutter the shelves at Christmas.
  • Err... the orange kit still looks good.
  • This is getting a bit desperate isn't it?
All we can do is continue to get behind the team and hope that they can bounce back in the next game, another cup match and another visit by Skelmersdale. Who knows, maybe their reappearance at Seel Park will be the catalyst for the return to better things? We can but hope.

Chadderton By Moonlight

After the road to Wembley it's the road to wherever the Manchester FA decide at the last possible moment to the hold the final.

It's that time of the year again where clubs are forced to fore go any planned league fixtures in order to fulfill the demands of a County Cup competition, totally devalued by the lack of participation from professional clubs. Or to look at it from a completely different angle, it's the opportunity for a few teams to compete to see who'll lose to Droylsden in the final, such is the (temporary) Blue Square Premiership sides domination of the competition in recent years.

Of course the natural reaction to this game is "Who cares?", but after our less than sparkling performances in the cup competitions so far this season, I think the answer should be "Us!". Besides the chance to make a bit of money should we draw Hyde or Ashton in a later round and the opportunity to break up the long procession of league games that would otherwise occur after Christmas - it's silverware and probably our best chance of winning some this season, so why not give it our best shot? It hasn't done Droylsden any harm over the past few seasons.

Our first step on the path to glory however sees us having to negotiate a potential banana skin in the shape of Chadderton. This season the Oldham side were taken over by a couple of local businessmen with big plans for the club, backed by even bigger wallets. The latter of which has helped them sign some familiar names to Mossley supporters such as Adie Orr and Nehru McKenzie, as well as players more closely associated with our local rivals like Phil Edgehill.

At this stage of the competition last season we were taken 'all the way' by Salford City; a late goal seeing us eventually run out 1 - 0 winners in a game so soporific that supporters who attended were banned from driving or using heavy machinery for a week afterwards.

Hopefully things will be better than twelve months ago but, given our aversion to winning cup games this season, who knows?

Prediction: I'll stick my neck out and say a win for Mossley. Just!

Mossley 0 - 1 Rushall Olympic

Madams et Monsieur's. Ladies and gentlemen.
Bienvenue! Welcome!
To the match report for the 2007 Mossley-Olympic game.

As well as displaying just how little knowledge of the French language I have (can you guess at which point my powers of translation failed me), the opening paragraph does give Mossley's brief involvement in this season's FA Trophy an unwarranted grandeur.

Still, it'll teach me not to write the introduction to a report before the match has even taken place.

In my defence though the match had all the hallmarks of being a potentially exciting encounter. The Lilywhites were going into the game off the back of their best performance for quite some time against Skelmersdale, whilst their Walsall based opponents had made something of a name for themselves in this season's cup competitions: reaching the 4th Qualifying Round of the F.A. Cup as well as cutting a swathe through opposition at a higher standard than Mossley in that and other contests .

As such there was a good deal of optimism on the terraces that we were about to witness something special but what actually transpired turned out to be duller than an unabridged audio book of logarithms as read by Gordon Brown.

Yes, another cup match, another defeat for Mossley's as their insipid performances in this season's knock-out competitions continued with a one goal defeat at home to British Gas League Midlands Division side Rushall Olympic.

After an opening ten minutes which threatened promising things for the home side (Paul Quinn firing a 30 yard free-kick narrowly over the bar and Richard Conway having a goal bound shot blocked), chances began to grow fewer and farther between as Mossley failed to convert the possession they were dominating into anything that came close to truly testing Olympic keeper Tony Breeden.

It was however considerably more than what Rushall were managing. For a side whose recent form probably made them slight favourites on the day, they were playing some spectacularly unspectacular stuff; mostly involving the tactic of seeing who could kick the ball as high and as far up the pitch as possible without it bouncing. To call them one dimensional would be overstating matters by some margin.

Most of Rushall's better forays up the pitch were coming courtesy of some poorly delivered set pieces by Mossley, allowing Olympic to counter attack, though with little in the way of imagination and success. In fact it wasn't until the 42nd minute that they finally got their first clear sight of the home goal, but the shot produced went closer to having the ball boys rushing into the park to retrieve the ball than troubling Ashley Connor in any way whatsoever.

Unfortunately for the Lilywhites their opponents emerged from the changing rooms at half-time with a bit more purpose to their game and they should have taken the lead soon after the restart; Neil Barnfield pulling away from Butters and Blackshaw at the far post and, when it looked easier to score, firing a shot back across the face of goal.

Mossley's generosity presented them with another opportunity moments later after a poorly taken free-kick just outside the Olympic box gave them the chance to outnumber the defence on a break. Fortunately for Mossley their charity wasn't accepted and Rob Holdcroft ended the counter attack with a feeble effort that was gratefully dropped on by Connor.

With their very next attack, Mossley should have punished Rushall for their wastefulness. Breeden made a complete hash of his attempts to deal with Matthew Butters' cross from the left, spilling the ball from his grasp as he crumpled to the floor like a decommissioned chimney that had undergone the close attentions of Fred Dibnah. Paul Quinn was the quickest to react to the loose ball but he snatched at his shot and the chance sailed well over the goal.

Both sides proceeded to create the occasional half chance but other than a looping shot by Barnfield that bounced on to the top of Mossley's crossbar, none went close troubling either goalkeeper and the game increasingly looked to be heading towards a replay. That changed though with quarter of an hour of the game left. And fittingly for a match short on skill and excitement, the goal, when it did arrive, was borne out of a series of mistakes rather than any moments of sparkling play or great individual technique.

After losing the ball through a piece of sloppy play in Olympic's defensive third of the pitch, Mossley won it back before repeating the error again, this time in midfield. A poor delivery into the Lilywhites penalty area appeared to have averted the possibility of any danger arising but in attempting to control the ball instead of clearing it, James Riordan slipped and possession was turned over to Rushall for the third time in quick succession; Sean Dowdall gratefully accepting the opportunity to hammer the ball into the net on the edge of the six yard box.

Mossley's attempts to salvage something from the game amounted to nothing more than a couple of shots that, as supporters of an older generation would have proclaimed had I bothered to seek their opinion, Breeden could have thrown his hat on to stop. Had he, indeed, been wearing one.

As the match slowly ticked towards its conclusion and Mossley laboured in the final third of the pitch, it was the visitors who should have given themselves a more flattering margin of victory. And if ever the poorness of a match could be summed up by one moment it would be what happened in the final seconds of injury time.

Having forced a corner, Mossley threw everyone into the Rushall box, including keeper Ashley Connor. The opportunity came to nothing but it did allow the visitors to counter attack and with an open goal in front of him, Dowdall proceeded to hit the perimeter fencing with a woeful effort from the edge of the penalty box.

Not that he was too despondent as the final whistle that immediately followed it signalled his sides progress to the next round, leaving Mossley ruing another missed opportunity to not only embark on a cup run, but generate some much needed extra revenue as well.

Why Mossley can't produce anything approaching the kind of form they've shown in league games in any of the cup competitions is something that's probably got Gerry Quinn scratching his head in bafflement as well. It's almost as if we have a phobia about entered into cup draws.

Whatever the reason it is though that causes Mossley to freeze like deer's caught in the glare of oncoming headlights when there aren't points at stake, it's with great hope that it's rectified in time for the next couple of matches: two cup ties that represent Mossley's last chances of extending the season beyond an unending succession of league matches.

In truth the game should be being replayed this coming Tuesday as neither side really did anything to merit being named victors (Rushall especially looked anything but the all conquering cup side that their reputation suggested), but it's yet another mistake, and not the first this season either, that's cost us the game. The progress of time will naturally eliminate some of these errors but not all, and until we start taking a 'safety first' approach to some of our defending they'll continue to hamper us.

All in all a match that's best forgotten, which is why the report ends now: so I can get on with doing just that.

It's Not A Cup, It's A Trophy

It's the Wembley trail we once again step on as (deep breath) British Gas League Midlands Division side Rushall Olympic make the trip up the M6 to Seel Park.

Whilst Mossley's previous attempts this season at embarking on a cup run have been more knocked out than knock out, Pic are having a fantastic time in them. So much so that despite playing at home to a side from the same level in the Pyramid, Rushall's cup pedigree this season probably means that we go into the game as (albeit slight) underdogs.

Last week the Walsall based side knocked Hednesford out of the FA Cup, leaving them only 90 minutes away from being patronised by Mark Lawrenson and Alan Shearer on a Match of the Day cup special, sometime after midnight. Standing in their way way is York City, who we have our own murky FA Cup history with, and a difficult game at the Kit-Kat Stadium.

This match takes place next week and there could be the chance (or more likely wishful thinking) that Rushall will take things a bit easier than they normally would. But after hammering Leek Town midweek in the Staffordshire Senior Cup (their second Unibond Premier scalp in four days) with a 'weakened' team, I doubt that will be the case.

The Rushall side may contain one player who's visited Seel Park recently and whilst his name may not be ring any bells, what he did will. Back in January Gary Birch was the player who came off the bench for Telford and, with practically his only touch of the match, won the game for the Shropshire side by whacking the ball into the net with his arm. Instead of showing even the slightest hint of embarrassment at winning the game in such an illegal manner, he proceeded to celebrate it like he'd scored a 40 yard howitzer that had won a World Cup final. Any appearance this Saturday from him however depends on whether or not Telford (where he's on loan from) will allow him to become cup tied.

At this stage of the competition last season Mossley belied their early season form to thrash Lincoln United 5 - 1; a result that was the very definition a false dawn given the sheer dross that followed it - just two wins over the course of the next three months, with one of those being a scraped 1 - 0 victory over NWCL opposition. I have feeling though that, win or lose, we won't see a repeat this time round.

Prediction: As much as I want and hope that we'll win, I've the suspicion that we'll be making a midweek trip to the Midlands for a replay.

Mossley 4 - 3 Skelmersdale United

With the lure of live international football having undoubtedly swayed some very easily pleased people into spending an afternoon in front of the television (as it appears to have done at many grounds up and down the country – thank you F.A.), those who'd made the wise decision to forego what little delight there is in watching England these days to attend Mossley's match were justly rewarded with what newspapers would excitedly call a 7 goal thriller.

I'm sure that the print media would also follow it up with a match report that conveyed the sheer drama, passion and spectacle contained within that ninety or so minutes, allowing you to relive every moment again. Unfortunately for you this isn't a newspaper so you're left with me and my numerous spelling and grammatical mistakes to describe, almost perfunctorily (barring the odd wild stab at something that may or may not be humorous), what went on.

After two disappointing defeats away from home, the last team Mossley would have wanted to play on their return to more familiar soil was a side unbeaten since the opening day of the season. And in Skelmersdale United that's exactly the proposition they had to face on a damp Autumn afternoon at Seel Park.

Like the preceding match at Bamber Bridge where the mobility of the opponents forward line had caused Mossley no end of problems, the pace in United's attack was proving similarly troublesome immediately from the kick-off and, sadly, the deja vu didn't end there. Just as they'd done in Preston seven days earlier, the Lilywhites fell behind to a goal scored from a cross that was finished by an unmarked player on the edge of the six yard box; Adam Birchall this time diving full length to head home in the third minute.

Over the course of the following 20 minutes Skelmersdale created enough chances to win the game twice over. That they didn't was due in no small part to the performance of Ashley Connor in the Mossley goal. Not for the first time this season he produced a string a of outstanding saves that kept the opposition within sight on the score sheet. The pick of a very good bunch being a superb one handed stop that left Craig Noone momentarily stunned as to how his close range effort wasn't nestling in the back of the net.

Other than a lone Lee Blackshaw effort, the home side were struggling to make any headway but that all changed in the 27th minute when a piece of incisive attacking football drew Mossley level. A turn by Gareth Hamlet on the halfway line took his marker out of the game and set in motion a move that finished with Martin Allison striking the ball low under Ryan McMahon in the Skelmersdale goal.

It might have been a goal out of nothing but the Lilywhites play over the next quarter of an hour showed that it had been no fluke. The game became almost exclusively confined to the visitors half of the pitch as Mossley's passing and movement constantly opened up their opponents defence; only a string of saves by McMahon preventing the home side from running up the kind of lead that Skelmersdale had previously threatened to posit.

However, with the interval fast approaching United proceeded to give Mossley a taste of their own medicine by retaking the lead against the run of play. A long clearance up field was misread by Lee Connor and in the race to reclaim possession, Noone beat Ashley Connor by a split second and toe poked the ball into the net.

Unsurprisingly the goal appeared to knock the wind out of Mossley's sails and as in the first half, the visitors could have had the game done and dusted within the opening moments of the second period. That they didn't was again due to Ashley Connor, once more leaving Noone looking on disbelief as he denied the Skem left winger with an outstanding double save in the 50th minute.

Eventually the home side began to find their bearings again and a series of interchanges between Hamlet and Garvey ended with the latter forcing McMahon into conceding a corner. Paul Quinn floated the resultant kick over from the right and Lee Blackshaw bustled his way through a group of defenders to power a header into the net at the near post, pulling Mossley level for the second time in the match.

It was another goal that could be argued to have been against the run of play but this time Mossley made sure that the momentum it gave them wasn't wasted.

United left back Ryan Bowen's last visit to Seel Park ended with him being chauffeured to Tameside Hospital in an ambulance following an altercation with the pitch surround and I doubt he'll have enjoyed this visit any better. After allowing Blackshaw to beat him to the ball for the equaliser, Bowen almost denied Mossley the opportunity of scoring a third immediately from the restart by doing it himself - slicing the ball narrowly over his own cross bar whist attempting to deal with what should have been a simple clearance. His sigh of relief was premature however as Martin Allison ran through a static defence from the resultant corner to head the Lilywhites into the lead.

With Bowen and his comrades across the visitor's back line now wobbling like a jelly in an earthquake measuring 9.4 on the Richter Scale, Mossley's fourth soon followed. Picking up a deep, cross field pass, Gareth Hamlet waited for support to arrive before playing the ball along the edge of the 18 yard box. Paul Garvey's step over allowed Blackshaw to curve a shot towards the bottom right hand corner of the goal that McMahon did well to push away. Hamlet reacted quickest to pick up the loose ball and as two Skelmersdale defenders, along with McMahon, dived in front of him to block the expected shot, the former Halifax striker neatly sidestepped to the left and hammered the ball into the roof of the net.

The remainder of the game then became a question of how many Mossley would score as the Lilywhites threatened to run riot. The visitors goal began to lead a charmed life as Blackshaw, Hamlet, Fish and Kirk all went agonisingly close to piling on the misery for Skelmersdale. A series of marginal offside decisions also went a long way to relieving some of the pressure, and this 'mercy' shown by the officials was none more so evident than when the referee waved away appeals for a penalty after Gareth Hamlet had had to chase for the ball whilst wearing Skem captain Michael White as a ruck sack.

A more emphatic score line wasn't to be though and, somewhat surprisingly, it was Skelmersdale who wrapped up the scoring in the fourth minute of injury time, despite only two have been signalled by the referee. A lapse in concentration by allowed White (making more of a contribution to Skem's efforts up front as an emergency forward than he had as a centre half) to head home at the back post to reduce the arrears.

The late goal failed to take any of the shine off what was a very impressive win for Mossley, a victory that mover them into the play-off positions for the first time this season. And whilst there's still some considerable way to go in the 07/08 campaign before the occupation of that spot really matters, similar results and performances to this one should see them consolidate their position in the upper reaches of the league table.

As you all know it wouldn't be a Mossley80 report if there wasn't a nit to pick at and this time round it's our startling ability to leave opponents unmarked in front of goal that's proving something of a worry. It happened many times at Bamber Bridge (they scored three goals through such instances) and on more than one occasion in this match, and until it's addressed we're always going to be susceptible to giving away silly goals.

Unlike last year though when the same mistakes were repeated more often than 'Vicar of Dibley' Christmas Specials, I'm confident that it's a flaw that's being addressed as I write (or maybe not as, at this precise moment, it's almost tea-time on a Sunday).

Attacking wise we appear to be getting better and better with each passing game and whilst we may have scored four in this game (and eight in total over the course of the last three), you do get the feeling that at some point in the not too distant future we're really going to tear a team to shreds. That may just be wishful thinking but we can head into our mini run of cup fixtures safe in the knowledge that we're following a side that's only going to get better.

Something that, with the impending return of Frank Lampard and Phil Neville to the starting line-up, can't be said for those who'd prefer to back the national side from the comfort of their armchair.

An Evening Assembly

FORUM, n. a place or occasion of open discussion.

Unfortunately the forums held at Mossley AFC over the last few years have been anything but. I'm not going to rake up any of the many events from the recent past explaining why but, generally, supporters who'd made the effort to attend were more often than not left feeling like a child sat on a naughty step come the end of the evening.

That appears to have changed though as the first forum "under new management" was light years away from any previously experienced.

The evening began with the board informing us as to the current status of the club and any other related news. This in itself immediately elevated the forum to a level above its predecessors by the sheer fact that the club was actually telling us something instead of telling us off. As supporters we don't need or want to know every minute detail involved in the running of the club but, occasionally, we would like to have a look at the grander scheme of things and this is what we got.

The highlight of the night though was a Q&A session with manager Gerry Quinn. Addressing the people in attendance as adults he was engaging, funny, knowledgeable and responded with a degree of honesty that I think caught everyone by surprise. It certainly made a change from previous meetings (no names mentioned) where questions were answered with questions or you were made to feel like you'd just asked if you could force feed them your daily excretions whilst using photos of their beloved family members to clean up the mess.

Add into the mix the informal atmosphere the event took place in and the end result was a group of happy and enthused supporters; surely the main objective of nights like these.

If you didn't make this meeting (and there were many of you who didn't) I can't recommend attending the next one enough. Besides being informative for us - the supporters, it's also a chance for you to inform the club. Technically it was in the past too, only now there's no threat of having your head bitten off or being treated as an 'enemy of the state' should you choose to proffer a smidgen of anything that could, in some way, be perceived as a criticism.

The main thing to come out of the night though is that we're being treated as supporters once again rather than irritants and, personally speaking, that's more welcome than any cup or title.

The Benefits Of Sponsorship: #1

The first in a irregular series looking at the supplementary benefits of Mossley's tie-up with J.Mills Funeral Directors this season:

Pitch Maintenance

Don't Call Them The 'Sc' Word!

After disappointing results at various locations in Lancashire over the past fortnight, it's back to the relative comforts of Seel Park to face some old adversaries from our NWCL days.

Skelmersdale United's last visit to Mossley in February 2004 ended with them heading back to West Lancashire pointless following a 3 -1 defeat in a game which, for the most part, they were the better side. That victory was an important one for the Lilywhites as it was their first for two months; a run of results that had turned double figure lead at the top of the league into a situation where we were desperately trying to cling on to Clitheroe's coat tails. Sadly the renewed hope this result brought was quashed the following Tuesday with that now 'infamous' match at Newcastle Townthe performance and bizarre team selections going to show that last season's trials and tribulations didn't suddenly appear out of nowhere.

It's to the future we look though and Skem arrive this Saturday sitting one point and two places below us in ninth, although they have played three games less than us. They also come in to the fixture on the back of a mightily impressive eight match unbeaten run in the league. In fact in the thirteen games played since they came off second best in their opening day encounter at Bradford Park Avenue, United have lost only once and that was to Blue Square North side Southport in the FA Cup. Not that form really counts for anything anymore as other results have proved this season.

Turning out for Skelmersdale this weekend should be their new signing from Burscough, Ryan Bowen who, as you may remember, left Seel Park last season in an ambulance after performing a Shao-Lin Monk like party piece on the pitch surround with his head. Thankfully he's now fit and well so this may be a good time to bill him for the damage he caused to the fence... ;)

A special mention too for Skelmersdale's chairman Frank Hughes. It's thanks to him, via various outlets, that many people were able to keep up to speed with what was, and for the most part wasn't, happening with regards to the restructuring of the Unibond First Divisions over the Summer. Often fighting a rearguard action against the likes of Ryman League supporters and groundhoppers who seemed to think they knew what was better for the Northern clubs than the people who run and support them, he was one of the few people in a position of authority to publicly speak against it. And with the subsequent mish-mash of a league structure (some teams playing each other three times), the introduction of relegation after the season had started, lower attendances, etc. it's probably no comfort that the mess its created has proved him right.

As for the cryptic heading to this piece, remember! They're not scousers but West Lancastrians. They really don't like it when you call them the former so don't.

Unless needs be...

Prediction: I'm in a reasonably good mood so what the heck - a win for the Lilywhites!

Bamber Bridge 4 - 2 Mossley

Before last Tuesday's game at Shawbridge, Mossley, form wise, had the third best away record in the division. Five days later it's probably safe to assume that after two defeats in Central Lancashire in five days that that's no longer the case.

Maybe it was a hangover from that midweek game at Clitheroe, where two late goals had seen the home side claim what had for long periods looked like a highly unlikely win, but Mossley looked jaded as the game got under way; only fleetingly showing glimpses of what they're capable of in a first period that Bridge dominated for long stretches.

During that opening forty five minutes it was hard to see how the Preston based side had managed just ten goals in the league all season. Employing what appeared to be a 'shoot on sight' policy they peppered shots at Ashley Connor's goal from all angles and distances to varying degrees of accuracy. To be honest, and as much as it hurts to say a Mossley fan, that it took them as long as the 34th minute to grab their opening goal was something of a surprise. As was the ease in which they scored it.

A series of short passes completely opened up Mossley's left hand side, giving Steve Brown the opportunity to advance up the pitch unchallenged. Approaching the byline he whipped in a low cross and Ryan Salmon, completely unmarked on the edge of the six yard box, dispatched the ball past Ashley Connor with a diving header.

Soon after that the lead was doubled in an identical manner: ball easily worked down Mossley's left - Brown cross - Bamber Bridge forward unmarked in front of net - goal. In fact if it wasn't for Adam Tong putting the ball past Connor instead of Salmon, you'd have sworn that you were experiencing the most intense feeling of deja vu ever. Not so much Groundhog Day but Groundhog Four Minutes.

The 'enjoyment' of the half wasn't helped either by the 'Opposing Supporter from Hell' standing next to me for part of its duration. Peppering his loud contradictions of everything said by the Mossley supporters with the overly liberal uses of the 'f-word' (yes, enough to shock a Mossley fan) and rants against our players and Blackpool (whom we'd raised his ire about by making the mistake of resembling them in our orange shirts), he was as irritating as an unreachable anal itch.

Armed with the belief that being old and full of alcohol gave him immunity from any comeback he seemed to take genuine exception to being told where he could put his opinions by some of the travelling supporters and he scuttled off. The respite was only brief however as the 'Player's Parent's from Hell', a few metres further down the terraces, picked up the baton of arguing at a level akin to that of claiming the the earth is flat and the sky is green and in doing so, you could almost hear the sound made as the eyeballs of the Mossley fans collectively rolled upwards in their sockets.

Half time talk amongst the away support was centred around a “What if?” moment 20 minutes into the game. Prior to Bridge taking the lead the best opportunity of the game had fallen to the visitors in one of their few attacks of note. A perfectly weighted through ball caught the home defence square leaving Gareth Hamlet with a clear run on goal. As he approached the box there were two options available: a lob over the onrushing goalie or a quick shot. Which decision he came to will forever remain unclear as he scuffed his attempt and sent the ball bobbling into the arms of Bridge keeper Terry McCormick.

There was a noticeable improvement in Mossley following the interval, working a few half chances in the moments immediately following the restart, but it was their opponents who were again creating the openings that were most likely to be scored from and that they did in the 55th minute. Mahoney, Tong and Porter (sporting a ridiculous leopard print hairstyle) combining in a move that ended with Salmon rolling the ball under Connor. Mossley claimed offside and in the ensuing protests manager Gerry Quinn was, in that most pointless of actions at the lower reaches of non-league, sent from the touchline to the other side of the pitch perimeter.

So was it offside or wasn't it? Being at the other end of the pitch I've absolutely no idea but opinion amongst some of the Mossley fans who were in a position to see it was split; the majority of views however falling in the 'definitely offside' camp.

The host's wrapped up their scoring for the afternoon in the 69th minute when Mossley conceded a cheap free-kick 10 yards inside their own half and about half that distance from the touchline. The resultant ball forward was met by Tong as it dropped six yards out and he stabbed it past Connor as the orange shirts of Mossley remained disturbingly statuesque.

With 17 minutes left the travelling support were finally given something to cheer when Gareth Hamlet headed home Richard Conway's free-kick. Nine minutes later that goal was looking less like a consolation effort but the beginning of an amazing comeback when substitute Michael Fish started and finished a move with Paul Garvey by arcing the shot around a stunned looking McCormick from the right hand side of Bridge's penalty area.

Suddenly Mossley found a belief that had been absent for most of the match and under their first significant spell of pressure in the game, cracks began to show in the bridge defence. McCormick had to be alert to stop a Garvey effort from sneaking in at his near post before Daryl Weston's 'daisy cutter' from 30 yards not only beat the Bridge keeper's desperate dive but the post as well by a matter of what could only have been inches.

It was all too little too late though and begs the question of what might have been had the performance Mossley showed in the latter stages of the game been in evidence much sooner.

Getting something from this game against third placed Bamber Bridge was always going to be tough ask but it was a task made even harder by what at times was some slack defending. Admittedly it doesn't help when a series of non-footballing factors mean that you can't play a settled defence but that can't be an excuse for allowing someone to score from close range whilst unmarked on not one, not two but three occasions.

Kudos to Mossley though for not rolling over and dying, as previous sides would have done, in the final twenty minutes of the match. It's hard to judge how much of it may have been down to the Bridge players mentally being back in the changing rooms and celebrating the three points but, even with the game as good as lost, they worked hard to reduce the arrears and were rewarded with a well taken goal and a phenomenally well taken goal.

Defeats can just as valuable as victories for learning about your team and though the we've seen some things over the past week that won't please the management at all, there have also been some encouraging signs as well. Enough to be pleasantly optimistic about.

At 40 Miles, Bamber Bridge Too Far?

It's to Preston we head next and our fourth ever visit to Bamber Bridge’s Irongate ground.

Bridge have had an extremely impressive start to the season and seven wins out of a possible eight in September was enough to win them the ‘Team of the Month’ award; something they’ll be presented with prior to kick off.

However that mini run came to an end last Monday night with a 2-0 defeat in front of over 200 people at Curzon. Yes, over 200 people! And no, I've no idea where they've suddenly appeared from either. Who knows, maybe they've altered the 'this way to Ikea' signs to point towards the ground, Dick Dastardly like, or watching them now counts towards the hours you do on community service?

There's no doubt that this fixture will be a tough test for Mossley but there is precedent for meetings between the two sides when Bridge have had an impressive start to the season. In 1995 Mossley were drawn to play at Irongate in the FA Cup at a time when the Preston based side were not only one division higher, but unbeaten and top of the league. That troubled Mossley not a jot as they swept them aside with a superb performance that, sadly, was to be one of the last ' good football' displays that season; Paul Cuddy's departure as joint-manager not long after allowing Kevin Keelan's long on ball, short on style tactics to come to the fore.

Our last visit was on a very cold January night back in 2006 when two first half goals (both from Chris Downey) were enough to claim all three points despite a spirited second period comeback by the hosts. The pitch was also in a rough old state on that occasion so it’ll be interesting to see how much its improved - if at all. Hopefully it will be a lot too!

And all being well we won't have a hangover from Tuesday's match at Clitheroe. As gutting as it was to concede two goals in the final seven minutes, life moves on and it will do in a considerably happier way if we can repeat the display we put on in the middle section of that game. Only for a bit longer this time ;).

Prediction: As I get comments at matches about putting down in these little sections that we won’t win, I’m not going to say anything.

Oh, go on then - a draw.

Clitheroe 3 - 2 Mossley

A, r, g and h.

Four letters that, if you were to put them together in that order and exclaim both loudly and longly, perfectly sum up this match from a Mossley point of view.

Games can be won and lost in a second but Mossley's failure to emerge victorious from a game they were looking odds on to win can almost certainly be put down to a 22 minute spell in the second half were no football was played at all.

The visitors had just taken the lead when the referee declared himself unfit to carry on, necessitating a lengthy hold-up whilst appeals went out for any incognito officials who happened to be amongst the crowd and calls were hurriedly made to F.A. headquarters about what should happen.

Speaking of which, does the governing body of the sport in this country actually employ someone, specifically, to sit in their Soho offices on a midweek night and answer phone calls from inquisitive match officials about the minutiae of the games rules? Or did they just speak to a cleaner?

Eventually Mossley press officer, programme and web site editor John Cawthorne was given the go ahead to step into the breech now left by one of the linesmen taking control of a spittle drenched whistle and the game resumed. Well Clitheroe did anyway.

Mossley on the other hand were a shadow of the side that had looked so comfortable before the stoppage and a result that previously didn't look in any doubt was suddenly in the balance. Gone was the flowing, attacking football that had put them in the lead and in its stead was a team who were struggling to string their passes together whilst looking a yard and a half off the pace of their opponents. Mossley's goal, just as Clitheroe's had done previously, began to lead a charmed life; no more so than when Dempsey's shot from distance cannoned off the cross bar with Connor beaten.

Chances came and went for Clitheroe but the Lilywhites looked to have weathered the storm when a series of corners, around the 80 minute mark, saw Allison twice go close to getting the third goal that would have undoubtedly sealed the win. But a mere 60 seconds after the Mossley midfielder had screwed the ball wide from the edge of the six yard box, the scores were level.

Throwing an extra man into attack paid dividends for Clitheroe when a deep ball across the box found Exton completely unmarked. His initial shot forced Ashley Connor into making a tremendous save but the he was powerless to stop Exton from forcing home the loose ball from the rebound.

Mossley immediately, and somewhat understandably, developed a severe case of the wobbles and the question now was as to whether they could hang on for a point. The answer came in the 90th minute and it was no. Lee Connor seemed to have saved the game when he headed off the line following a steady succession of corners but, as if to prove the old saying that it's not over till it's over, the ball was fired back into a crowded area and Osbourne applied the touch that gave Clitheroe all three points.

It brought a weird, and unwelcome, sense of symmetry to proceedings as Clitheroe had taken the lead for the first time in the opening moments of the match. Like the last match against Newcastle, Mossley were slow out of the blocks only this time they were punished for it. Four minutes in and a risky ball played across the defence was intercepted by the home side and Heep fired past Ashley Connor to give Clitheroe the lead. Instead of it being a wake-up call, Mossley hit the snooze button and but for a couple of saves by Connor, and some wayward shooting, we could have been in real trouble.

Eventually Mossley cleared the Sandman's dust out of their eyes and they dominated the remainder of the half, only without getting the goals their control of the possession deserved. That's not to say that they didn't come close though. What follows are just some of the chances Mossley carved out in that first period: Lee Blackshaw had a shot pushed behind by Clitheroe keeper, James Mann, at the near post; Gareth Hamlet hit the crossbar and had his follow up effort blocked; Hamlet again had another effort blocked, only this time through good luck more than good defending; Mann scrambled across his goal to turn away Paul Quinn's curling shot from the edge of the area and Martin Allison shot into the keeper's arms following a superb passing move. And you can add to that numerous other shots that were blocked or just wide.

The "How are we not level?" moment came two minutes before the end of the half when Hamlet was once again denied by Mann. The parried shot rolled into the path of Paul Quinn and, with the goal at his mercy, he placed the ball a good five to six yards over the bar.

The miss and the interval didn't upset Mossley's momentum and after five more minutes of pressing they were rewarded with the equaliser. Turning his marker in the corner of the box, Gareth Hamlet released a shot that got the slightest of deflections but it was just enough of a touch to take the ball past a wrong footed Mann.

Not only was Clitheroe's lead wiped out but they should have had their numbers on the pitch reduced to ten as well. After the shot hit the back of the net, the defender Hamlet had unceremoniously dumped on the floor with the speed of his turn lashed out with his leg catching the Mossley forward below the knee. Both parties squared up and received a yellow card for their troubles, Clitheroe's Clarke was extremely fortunate not to be shown a different colour for his petulant outburst. Still, it was nice for the supporters to have a new focal point for their displeasure now that Whittingham, one of those players who only his own supporters could love, no longer plies his trade at Shawbridge.

Things got doubly better 10 minutes later though when the orange shirts of Mossley took the lead their play deserved. A corner from the right was headed towards goal and believing it to be going over, Mann had his mind on the goal kick he was expecting to be taking when the ball bounced back off the crossbar. His stunned look as Lee Connor headed the rebound past him was the perfect accompaniment to Mossley's celebrations.

Then the referee clutched at the back of his leg and the rest, as they say, is now history. Or paragraphs four to ten of this match report if, for some unbeknownst reason, you've just skipped to this bit.

Clitheroe will no doubt claim that this win, their first of the season in the league, was the result of a battling performance but in truth it was Mossley that let it slip through their fingers; the Blue's didn't win, the Lilywhite's lost it.

So why the sudden change in Mossley from a side in control to one one that looked like... well, looked like last year's Mossley side? Only those on the pitch will know for sure but on leaving the ground, every Mossley supporter seemed to have come to the same conclusion (an event in itself) as to why the turnaround happened. And if you're sitting comfortably, it goes a little something like this.

Whilst play was stopped during the search for a fourth official (the plot of next years new Indiana Jones movie I believe) Clitheroe continued to keep active by running round, performing warm up routines, etc. whilst Mossley for the most part stood waiting. This meant that when the game finally got back under way the home side looked a lot more ready for it than us and it gave them enough of an advantage for them to dictate the game for the first time since the game clock was still in single digits. Mossley were able to stem the flow a bit after quarter of an hour (the two chances for Martin Allison) which suggests that they did indeed need a bit of reheating.

Having said that we were still winning at the point of that brief resurgence so the thing that probably tipped the balance in Clitheroe's favour was the introduction of all three substitutes, giving them a timely boost against tiring Mossley legs, and the tactical switch of an extra attacker.

But that's all conjecture. Maybe, just maybe, Clitheroe's manager gave his side the greatest team talk he'll ever give in his career or, even simpler, that it just wasn't meant to be.

On the plus side, and it's a big plus, like this one...

for 54 minutes (the 9th to the 63rd) we were simply outstanding to watch; arguably playing the best football we've seen this season. After 18 months of primarily dull football prior to this season it's a genuine joy to see Mossley playing with such verve and invention – win or lose. The 36 minutes surrounding them however are something to take lessons from.

It's still relatively early days though and it's another one to be chalked down to experience but there's enough evidence to show that once, not if, the rough edges get sanded down, we're genuinely going to take some stopping.

Heart Of Darkness

It’s a return to some familiar territory this Tuesday as Mossley make their way up the M66 and various A and B roads to our old friends, Clitheroe.

Since our last meeting two years ago we’ve gone up and come back down a division whilst they’ve remained in the lower to middle echelons of the Unibond First.

It will be interesting to hear what jocular new songs they’ve got this time round to replace the “what a waste of money” chants that have made us ‘chuckle’ on our last few visits. I’m suspecting that we’ll be few rounds of the pot/kettle calling, “Where’s your money gone?”

If we do at some point though get desperate for money, lets hope that we don't take the approach that the East Lancashire town's most recent 'celebrity', Philip McHugh, took. i.e. phoning up various Tesco’s around the country to tell them that prices were about to come down. As well as the roof, walls, etc.

Despite having a home record this season in the league that has seen them amass a grand total no points from twelve, Clitheroe (with the most inopportune of timing) go into this fixture on the back of an 8-2 win over Spennymoor in the FA Cup. Mossley on the other hand have picked up ten points from a possible twelve in their last four games.

These games usually tend to be ‘edge of the terrace step’ stuff so let you finger nails grow a bit because you might just need to nibble on them at some point.

Oh, and don’t forget to bring a torch with you just in case they use an extra plug socket in the kitchen and blow the floodlights. Alternatively bring something electrical that has a heavy power consumption with you, just in case we're losing...

Prediction: My heart says it’ll be a draw but my gut is telling me that that’s overly optimistic. Not to worry though, if my guts do indeed turn out to have Nosradamus-like powers, it should be noted that the only time we’ve lost there recently, we won the league title the following April.