MATCH REPORT | Irlam 2 – 3 West

Irlam 2-3 West Didsbury & Chorlton
Jordan Buckley (34)
Matthew Boland (49)
HT: 1-2
Att: 94
Ryan Eiselt (6p)
Stephen Hall (30)
Stephen Hall (70)

A sun dappled day on Silver Street brought the best out of a West side that stared into the abyss, and only took steel when the abyss stared back at them. A loss at Irlam would’ve surely put paid to any lingering hopes of a successful relegation battle. This being the first of four games left before the end of the campaign, West started the day 6 points adrift having experienced victory once since the turn of the year. A banner season for Irlam had seen the side reach the fifth round of the FA Vase, but results in the league have been somewhat more mixed – despite sitting comfortably in lower mid-table, they have suffered home and away losses to fellow strugglers Hanley Town and Abbey Hey, while being one of the few sides to take points from league leaders City of Liverpool.

The reverse fixture in October was settled by a solitary goal early on in the game: it is a perhaps a sign of West’s season that of the XI that started that game, only one (Matthew Eckersley) remained for this early April match. Irlam, for their part, had 6 – but this continuity counted for nothing as defender Ryan Eiselt made the most of the game’s first chance within the first few minutes. A fast-dipping corner eluded the rush of players headed for the near post, only to fall sweetly onto his left boot, comfortably guided home from 6 yards and sparking joy in the sizeable travelling support.

One goal up, West used the advantage as an excuse to maintain pressure on their hosts. Tom Horner was the width of a post away from doubling the lead with a thumping header 5 minutes later, before the flow of the game was disrupted by a heavy challenge on Lee Gavin that earned neither card nor free-kick. Having started the game brightly, fan favourite Gavin was soon to be withdrawn as a result (and would leave the pitch at half time limping, ice strapped to his ankle) and replaced by Zac Cooper, who played in an unusual defensive midfield role. While this broke up much of West’s early rhythm in the short term, this slightly makeshift side found a way to make things work, with the sub himself jinking into the box and winning a penalty around the half hour mark. Stephen Hall – who was a ball of energy all game – slotted home the spot kick, and it was easy, just for a moment, to wonder how this side had struggled for much of the last few months.

But then, the first glimpse of the abyss. Irlam, shaken by the second goal, put together their first proper attack of the game a few minutes later, and that was all it took for them to half the deficit. Number 9 Buckley, who looked to be a positive force throughout, found himself being slipped through, finding his stride to break free of the chasing West defender and finishing with aplomb past the onrushing Jones. Where before the side had played with abandon, conceding was enough to remind Powell’s side of their own mortality. Where before there had been control, now there were nerves – misplaced passes and clearances to the wrong coloured shirts crept in, all earlier momentum gone as if it had never been there at all.

Although ahead at the break, it didn’t take long for the home side to earn parity. A chance in the box was only half cleared, and pinballed around before dropping to Boland. Stood at almost the exact same spot as Eiselt had been at the same point in the first half, he swept it home with the same calm. it looked as though the game – and, indeed, the season – was being taken away from West by inches, at this point being 5 points from safety with only 9 left to play for and having played a match more than both of our relegation rivals. Welcome to the abyss: feel free to have a look around.

Now, stuttering, they would have to seize the initiative if they were to make survival merely improbable rather than near impossible. Through speed and trickery on either wing, they found a way to penetrate even though the football was far from flowing. Miranda dragged a shot wide from distance, before Cooper – a bright spot throughout – danced past two defenders at the edge of the box while using a third as a shield for his curved, arched effort which White in the Irlam goal did incredibly well to get a glove on and palm behind for a corner.

With the clock ticking down, Hall turned the game in his side’s favour. On 70 minutes, some smart interplay on the edge of the box found the striker – who had played a slightly more withdrawn role, working off the knockdowns of the physical and irrepressible debutant Darragh Walshe – around the penalty spot. Finding space where others would’ve found none, he rifled a shot home. Power and precision, it was a moment of magic delivered with some brute force. It also marked the end of West’s forays forward, and the beginning of a back to the walls effort that may not have been as successful had luck not been on the visiting team’s side.

Jones was forced into several excellent saves forged from half chances, but the biggest moment of the last section of the game came on the 86th minute. From the edge of the box, a member of the home side found space and hit a shot towards the far post with venom. Jones, left stranded, could only watch as it thumped against the post, coming back out to ricochet off a blue shirt before they could steady themselves, looping and spinning towards goal before being smothered to raucous applause from a thankful away support.

The attempts to salvage a point lasted well into the 4 added minutes, the full time whistle being greeted as though it was survival itself that had been attained rather than simply a shot at it. Only 3 points behind having played a game more than both Hanley and Winsford (who play one another next), there will be even more trying times ahead. Hopefully there will be many more celebrations like this to come too but, even if this season is to ultimately end in failure, there will always be that sun dappled day on Silver Street when Stephen Hall looked to the abyss and said: not today. Not now.

Irlam starting XI West starting XI
Lee White 1 William Jones
Zach Dulson 2 John Sergeant
Andre Stewart 3 Ezequiel Miranda
Charlie Doyle 4 Matthew Eckersley
Conor Braithwaite 5 Thomas Horner
Karl Cassell 6 Ryan Eiselt
Marcus Perry 7 Jesurun Uchegbulam
Daniel Eyres 8 Lee Gavin
Jordan Buckley 9 Daragh Walshe
Matthew Boland 10 Stephen Hall
Liam Pollitt 11 Ramirez Howarth
Substitutes Substitutes
Sam Bolton S1 Zachary Cooper
David Jones S2 Jordan Peach
Callum McCarty S3 James Coombes
S4 Daniel McLaughlin
S5 Divine Shanganya

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