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.