FCUB 5 - 2 Mossley

With Auld Lang Syne still ringing in the ears, I get a feeling that this New Year match will be one of those never forgotten sooner than old acquaintances and never brought to mind. Again.

Mossley's Christmas campaign ended at Gigg Lane just as it had begun six days earlier at Seel Park, with the Lilywhites on the receiving end of another heavy defeat.

Although to be truthful the game wasn't quite as one sided as the final score makes it appear. In fact it was something of a paradox. On the one hand, the three goal margin could have been a lot, lot worse. On the other though, the eventual score line is incredibly harsh on a Mossley side that had an equal share of possession and, like their hosts, dominated lengthy sections of the game

And it was Mossley who saw the lion's share of the ball in the opening 12 or so minutes of the game but their failure to make United keeper Sam Ashton work up a sweat was punished when the home side took the lead against the run of play, and in a somewhat dubious fashion.

The ball was launched up the middle of the pitch and though FC's two forwards were clearly offside, play was allowed to continue and Ashley Connor was given no chance as the two men bore down on him; Jerome Wright eventually putting the ball into the net. Mossley almost made the perfect response less than a minute later but Danny Toronczak, albeit under pressure, prodded Hamlet's rebounded shot wide of the goal.

United then embarked on a lengthy spell of pressure of their own and whilst Mossley's use of the offside trap was continually catching United out, it has to be said that they were living dangerously at times - no more so than when Dean Johnson cleared off the line after the home side had fashioned an attack out of next to nothing.

Which, coincidentally, is how Mossley got back into the game in the 25th minute. Lee Blackshaw was brought into the game for the first time by Richard Conway and after skinning the right back, the former Glossop player produced an inviting near post cross that Gareth Hamlet skilfully turned into the net;

You could have heard a pin drop at the United end of the ground as their umpteenth rendition of the Eric Cantona song stopped in mid-flow and the left hand side of the Main Stand erupted in joy. And that silence from the home end continued as Mossley retook control and started to open up their opponents back line. Unfortunately though, just like that opening period, they couldn't press home their advantage.

Slowly the home side dragged themselves back into the game (on the pitch at least the stands remaining Old Trafford quiet) and Mossley's weaknesses at corners was suddenly exposed as a long series of them saw United go close on far too many occasions to retaking the lead.

With half-time approaching the referee, in a decision which would have had the Manchester Evening News producing a pull out supplement to describe the injustice of it had it happened at the other end of the pitch, awarded United a penalty after Aaron Burns threw himself theatrically to the ground when he realised he was third favourite in a chase for the ball with Ashley Connor and the byline.

To give you some idea as to how awful the decision was, Burns was already on the ground appealing for the penalty before Ashley Connor had got within two feet of him.

With half-time fast approaching the danger looked to have past but an unseemly aspect to FC United's game came to the fore when, in a chase with Ashley Connor for a loose ball, Aaron Burns threw himself theatrically to the ground the moment it became apparent that catching the ball was beyond him. Justice was served however, and Burns' laughter at the decision got caught in his throat, when Connor kept out the spot kick with a low save to his left.

For all of FC United's posturing about being the guardians of footballing principles and fair play, they exhibit very little evidence of it on the pitch (and off it judging by Marginson's bitter tinged programme notes) and following Burns' tumbling homage to one of the trappings of Premiership football they proclaim to detest, Jamie Baguley was the next player to try and turn the game into a farce.

With no Mossley player near him Baguley spun himself to the ground in the penalty area, immediately appealing to the official for a penalty. This time round though the referee wasn't being fooled and waved play on (although he should have stopped play and shown a yellow card) leaving Baguley sitting on the ground in the throes a childish tantrum.

Six minutes into the second period, fortune and the referee's leniency smiled on the home side once again when unable to get the ball off Gareth Hamlet, centre half Bleau (who I don't think won the ball with his feet all match) gave the Mossley forward a forearm smash which somehow went unseen by the man in the middle. Instead of the home side being force to play out the remainder of the game with ten men, it was the visitors who were left with a temporary numerical disadvantage as Hamlet sought lengthy treatment on the touchline.

A double substitution by United, combined with fifteen minutes of defensive madness from Mossley then changed the game. Within the space of two minutes Rory Patterson (whose previous claim to fame was that he'd probably get into a list top 5 worst players at his last three clubs) had found the net twice as Mossley's marking became non-existent. It could have gotten a lot worse too as the home side charged through gaps wide enough for Hannibal to have marched his elephants through - side by side; Patterson had a goal ruled out for offside (which the Evening News will no doubt label controversial) and was then denied by a smart save from Connor as the home side threatened to run up a cricket score.

Of course, now back in the lead the home crowd became the very definition of “sing when your winning.” The Old Trafford hymn book was opened up and once more we were treated to countless more airings of that Busby Babe's song.

Mossley slowly began to regain their composure and with 20 minutes to go they staged a late rally and, amazingly considering the pummelling they'd had in the previous quarter of an hour, they suddenly looked as though they could rescue the game. That hope coming when Matthew Butters' quick thinking at a free-kick saw him play in Martin Allison and his low cross was turned into the net by Lee Connor.

It was now Mossley who held the upper hand but for all their possession and tormenting of United's shaky looking back line, that killer final touch was once again sadly lacking and chances came and went (notably from Allison and Toronczak) before the home side were allowed to climb back off the rails and put paid to Mossley's hopes of salvaging the game.

More slack defending allowed Nicky Platt to put the game beyond Mossley's reach with five minutes left and salt was rubbed into the wound in injury time when a reckless challenge from Butters gave United their first genuine penalty of the match; Patterson completing his hat-trick despite Connor almost making his second successful spot kick save of the afternoon.

So, for the second year running, it's a 1st January to forget for Mossley. But despite the heavier defeat, there are certainly more causes for optimism in the loss to FC United than there was in the one goal to defeat to Ashton United at the beginning of 2007.

That said, Bridlington match aside, it all adds up to a Christmas to forget for the Lilywhites and whilst the need to tighten up defensively was a concern before the festive period, it's certainly an urgent priority now. We've conceded three or more goals in more than a third of the games played this season and in over half we have (or would have had to have) scored two goals just to claim a draw.

But as I said two paragraphs ago, we're stronger than we were this stage last season so whilst it may not feel like it after this result, it is still a Happy New Year!