Mossley 3 - 2 Clitheroe

If for some reason you’d chosen this first home match of 2011 to introduce either yourself or someone you know to watching Mossley then you couldn’t have picked a better one to do it as it contained everything good, bad and infuriating there is about following the Lilywhites.

Absolute highs and lows of the opposite extreme contained separately in two easily digestible chunks of forty five minutes. Although the three quarters of an hour containing the low points seemed an awful lot longer.

It’s the highs we start with though and Mossley’s perfect opening to the match. Only five minutes had elapsed when Andy Watson got just enough of a touch on the ball to turn Ben Richardson’s scuffed free-kick past Danny McDonald in the Clitheroe goal.

Eight minutes and another free-kick later it was two. On this occasion however the goal sprung from a poorly executed set-piece by the opposition on the edge of the home side’s penalty area. Mossley broke forward quickly and despite a Clitheroe player stopping an initial attempt to send Kristian Dennis clear with one of the most deliberate handballs I’ve seen for a while, a pass was eventually put through that sent the forward scurrying towards the visitor’s box where he made slipping the ball under McDonald and into the net look surprisingly easy.

Dennis’s second goal (and Mossley’s third) in the 32nd minute was a near carbon copy his first; the only difference being that he decided to take the ball around McDonald before sliding it between the posts. And if it hadn’t been for the referee refusing to play the advantage as he galloped through the Clitheroe defence just before the interval it’s possible he could have finished the period with a hat-trick of virtually identical goals.

Three goals isn’t a bad return for one half of football against a side in third spot in the table but if there’s one possible teensy-weensy bit of criticism (heck, it wouldn’t be a proper report on this blog if there wasn’t) it’s that it was only three as it doesn’t do justice to just how dominant Mossley were. There was an abundance of extremely good play from the men in white shirts but not a lot of it resulted in shots on goal or to be more specific, shots on target. Looking back through the video footage of that opening period the goals (clips of which to come at a later date) were the only shots that the keeper actually had to try and stop. His failure to do so was much appreciated though by the majority of people watching him.

So that was the good bit: one of the best halves of football I’ve seen Mossley play this season. What followed after the break though didn’t really quite come close to matching it. By some considerable distance.

To be fair to the Lilywhites they did begin pretty much from where they’d left off. Dennis was prevented from galloping off on another one-on-one with McDonald by an offside call which is now the new benchmark for all contentious decisions and Aaron Chalmers directed a free header over the bar from a corner kick. Then it all began to go a bit wrong.

The wobble started in the 50th minute when Matty Kay was forced to leave the field with an injury. The departure of Darryl Weston for the same reason seven minutes later however turned that wobble into the full blown shakes. With the home side’s experienced central midfield pairing gone Clitheroe (who’d come out after the break finally looking like a side pushing for promotion) began to run rampant. The movement, marking, smart passing and discipline which the Lilywhites first half performance had been built on was replaced by fear, desperation and ridiculously stupid challenges – one or two of which were lucky to escape being punished by a red card.

Fortunately there was one person who hadn’t succumbed to the blind panic affecting the rest of his team mates and that was Peter Collinge who kept his former team at bay single handed, literally at times. Such was the pressure though that even he couldn’t stop the inevitable as Clitheroe finally found the back of the net in the 65th minute. He had a good go mind you, pulling off a superb stop to deny the initial effort coming from a corner on the right. Unfortunately it was a save in vain as the ball rebounded out to Danny Williams and with no-one marking or closing him down he was afforded more time than he should have been to pull a goal back.

Mossley’s net then lead a charmed life as the ball bounced off bodies being thrown in its path or, as in the case of one particularly fraught spell of a few seconds, rolled slowly along the goal line as players from both sides swung legs at it in an attempt to divert it in one of two directions. The pressure was incessant and not helped by the Lilywhites constantly surrendering what little possession they had by continuously launching the ball down the middle of the pitch to Clitheroe’s centre halves, enabling them to start another attack in which they proceeded to run rings around us.

And that’s how the match played out, Mossley grimly hanging on to their two goal lead in the face of unrelenting pressure until it became a one goal lead four minutes from time; Danny Kinsey’s strike setting the stall out for a bum puckering end to the match.

Except it didn’t. With the result balancing on a knife edge and the nerves getting increasingly more strung out Mossley actually managed to put their opponents on the back foot for the first time since the opening stages of the half. They even fashioned a couple of chances too, one having a familiar look to it – Dennis breaking clear of the Clitheroe back line – but not a familiar ending as McDonald clawed away his shot.

Mossleys cause was helped as well by Clitheroe’s efforts to fashion an equaliser becoming a little more frantic as time wore on and rushed passes lead to mistakes and less time in front of the home goal. There was still time for a couple of heart in mouth moments but – and it may have been only by some badly chewed finger nails – Mossley hung on for the three points.

As well as the warm glow that comes with all wins the match provided another service in giving seasoned followers of the Lilywhites the knowledge that while the year may have changed some things remain stubbornly the same: that no matter how big a lead the side has built up, there’ll always be the thought in the back of your mind that says we might, just might, have done enough to hang on for a draw.