Mossley 0 - 2 Ilkeston Town

After a series of bangs in this years FA Trophy, Mossley exited it the competition with a bit of a whimper as, on what's turning out to be a stereotypically wet and windy Tuesday night at Seel Park, a replay against Blue Square North side Ilkeston Town proved to be a game too far for the Unibond North club.

The initial match three days earlier had, despite the difference of two divisions between the teams, been an evenly fought contest. The initial stages of this fixture though were anything but as Ilkeston dominated possession (a situation helped by Mossley continually handing it to them) and pinned the Lilywhites into their own half of the pitch for long periods.

Barely three minutes had gone when the first chance of the evening presented itself. Foreshadowing what would be Mossley's downfall later in the match, left winger Rory Prendergast (on one of the rare occasions he remained upright while a white shirt within twenty yards of him) took advantage of some lax marking to power a header towards goal, only for his effort to be met by a very good save from Peter Collinge.

The keeper though was beaten a couple of minutes later by an opportunistic effort from Gary Ricketts but on this occasion the upright came to both his and his colleagues assistance. Ricketts profligacy then came to Mossley's rescue as the Town striker spurned some good chances, notably through his Thierry Henry-esque ability to touch the ball with his hand during the build-up.

One can only assume that it was the tiresome regularity with which he appeared to be auditioning for the role of Kobe Bryant's successor at the LA Lakers that the referee stopped punishing him for it in the second half. Then again this was the same official who, three days earlier, declared a fully intentioned back pass to be accidental and let Prendergast go unpunished for two horrible tackles, so we shouldn't rule old fashioned incompetence out of the equation either.

The Lilywhites then successfully endured a series free-kicks just outside their own penalty area before surviving what appeared to be a very good claim for a penalty as Ricketts was sent crashing to the ground courtesy of an ill-advised tackle.

When the home side finally stopped trying to wallop the ball as hard as they could in the general direction of the goal at the opposite end of the pitch, they began to get a foothold in the game. In fact they began to cause a great deal of panic in their opponents defence by simply attacking them with the ball on the floor. And had it not been for a spectacular double save by Dan Lowson to deny Lee Blackshaw and Matty Kay, and the former again not long after, the Lilywhites would have held the lead when the half-time whistle blew.

However, rather than being a promise of better things to come after the interval, it turned out to be the only threat Mossley would pose on the night.

The second half was, to put it mildly, one way traffic as Town controlled it in the same way they'd done the opening thirty minutes of the first and Mossley returned to pumping the ball high into the strong wind blowing into their faces.

Even though they weren't creating quite as many chances as they had been in the previous period, a goal looked an inevitability and it duly arrived just before the hour. Having failed to heed the warning about leaving players unmarked when Ricketts fired wide just after the restart, Mossley paid the price for leaving the same man to his own devices at a corner in the 55th minute; the Robins' forward heading the ball through what appeared to be a crowd of statues and into the net.

The failure to close players down came back to haunt Mossley once more when the deficit was doubled five minutes later. O'Loughlin was allowed to stand unchallenged for what seemed like an age with the ball at his feet just inside the Mossley half, giving him time to pick out the head of Ricketts with a lofted pass which was in turn looped over Collinge from the edge of the box.

With the Lilywhites showing little sign of staging a late comeback (something which has been a feature of their last three games in the FA Trophy) the second goal effectively signalled an end to the game as a contest.

With Mossley looking unlikely claw their way back into the game, the referee could have done everyone a favour and brought the game to a close with over a third of it still remaining. At least that way we'd have been spared the embarrassing sight of Ilkeston players throwing themselves to the ground in order to win a penalty.

The "Curzon Ashton award for trying to seek an unfair advantage" on the night went to Sam Duncum who didn't even wait for a challenge to come in before plummeting to earth like a dead pigeon. It was a spectacularly appalling piece of gamesmanship but it needed to be to wrestle the award of out Rory Prendergast's grasp who'd gone for quantity and not quality in terms of his theatrics.

It was a truly embarrassing spectacle to not only watch players throw themselves to the ground in a game they were winning 2-0, but the referee refuse to take any action either. As I've already made my feelings known about the man in black though I won't bore you again here with another rant about his head slapping approach to officiating the game.

Admittedly the late introduction of a two man attack did allow Mossley to huff and puff a little but the results were similar to those experienced by the wolf in the final chapter of The Three Little Pigs; the sum total of their efforts being nothing more than a solitary corner kick.

Some things are meant to be - this just never looked like being.

I'm not going to be overly critical of a side that has spent the vast majority of the last two months unbeaten; a period of time during which they've played some very good, nay excellent, football and have a lot to be proud of. You can't help but feel though that this game is going to be one looked back on with a bit of disappointment and a touch of regret as they were not the best they and we know they can be.

Of course some credit for this does go to Ilkeston who looked decidedly more focused than they had been the previous Saturday but you don't really have to do anything special when your opponents are playing right into your hands.

One of our best outlets over recent weeks has been Steve Settle yet he was turned into a peripheral figure in this game. Three days earlier he'd posed so much of a threat to Ilkeston that at one point in the closing stages of that game he had three players marking him. In this fixture though he rarely saw the ball, though to be honest hardly any of the attacking players saw much of it as Mossley spent the vast majority of the game pinging it from one end of the pitch to the other. Yes, after months of good passing football the long ball made a dreaded reappearance.

I'm not saying that a ranging ball from the back can't be an effective tool, it can be a devastating weapon in a teams arsenal. There are two things though that can negate that effect. The first is the weather. If it's windy it's more than likely that any punt forward will be over hit if the breeze is behind you and a complete waste of time if you're kicking into it. Secondly, if the focus of your attack is a lone, diminutive centre forward (and one who spends 50% of them walking back to an onside position after the previous one) he's not going to stand a chance against a couple of towering centre halves.

Sadly though the presence of both these drawbacks didn't stop us from continually hitting it high and long. It can be argued that the pressure Town were exerting was causing us to 'lump it' but that doesn't stand up under close scrutiny. There were numerous occasions during the game when Mossley had time to build an attack but the short pass to an unmarked colleague was often overlooked in favour of the hoof to no-one in particular.

It's not as though the pitch was unplayable as Ilkeston were managing to knock the ball around on the floor. And we did too for a 15 minute spell before the break - a period during which we had Town wobbling like the flag pole was in the strong wind. But for reasons unknown we abandoned this working approach in favour of the one that wasn't when the second half began.

It's all done and dusted though now. The game is consigned to the history books and will no doubt be the topic of numerous “What if?” discussions over the coming days and weeks, though probably not months and years. All that remains to be seen is how we bounce back from this defeat against Ossett in the next game. Hopefully we'll be back to having attacking wing backs, a well fed forward line, a dominant midfield and a commanding defence giving Peter Collinge little to do. Weather and team selections permitting of course.

But to end (yes, this is going to end) despite my criticisms of the way in which we left the Trophy I'd like to say a big thank you to the players and management for giving us a cup run that has the left me, and no doubt many others, with some indelible memories. Hopefully the success such efforts deserve to be rewarded with will not be long in coming.