West 4-4 Sandbach United

Saturday 17th October 2020, NWCFL First Division South

West 4 (Elliott 17, Heathcote 57, Davis 89, Dibble 90+3)
Sandbach United 4 (Garner 18, McDonnell 27, Lane pen 60, Hart 68)
Att: 300

West struck late to salvage a point against Sandbach United on an afternoon of high drama in M21.

Chris Rowley’s side looked doomed to a first league defeat of the season as the visitors entered the 89th minute two goals to the good, but Rhain Davis followed up a Sam Heathcote penalty to set up a grandstand finish. And with Brookburn Road baying for an equaliser, Marcus Dibble converted Connor Hancock’s cross to complete a remarkable comeback.

When the dust has settled, this will probably be seen as a fair result – West created enough chances to win the game, particularly in the second half, but were ultimately undone by some slack defending at key moments. The visitors, meanwhile, were a constant threat on the counter-attack and showed why they are likely to mount a serious promotion challenge this season.

After his stint at centre-back against Charnock Richard last weekend, Sam Heathcote took back possession of the number 9 shirt as West looked to assert their authority. The home side started quickly and could have had an opening goal inside six minutes – Rhain Davis’ low corner was dummied by Heathcote before Dibble’s shot was saved unconventionally by keeper Danny Hamlett, who deflected the ball away with his face.

West only had to wait another 11 minutes to take the lead, though, with Heathcote the architect – after being found in the left channel, his inch-perfect pass behind the defence gave the onrushing Ben Elliott the simplest of opportunities from close range.

But Brookburn Road was silenced less than 60 seconds later as the Ramblers set the tone for the rest of the afternoon – almost straight from kick-off, Kieran Garner-Knapper cut in from the right hand side and beat Jones with a low shot. The quick equaliser unsettled West and the visitors took the lead shortly before the half-hour, with Bobbie McDonnell unmarked at the far post to complete a swift Sandbach counter.

Any further goal before the interval would have been pivotal, and the Ramblers almost struck when a low shot flashed across Jones’ post and to safety from a home perspective. As it was, West went into the break just the one goal behind and began the second period at a much higher tempo – Elliott was denied by a last-ditch challenge before Aarron Grewal went close.

An equaliser looked as if it was on its way, and when Heathcote was upended 25 yards from goal the West captain assumed responsibility. Heathcote, who rattled the bar from a dead-ball situation against Charnock, went one better this time around and beat Hamlett to score his third goal in four games. But there was a sense of deja vu when the visitors roused themselves immediately – Gabidon brought down a Sandbach player inside the box, and Josh Lane squeezed his penalty past Jones.

Sandbach then put daylight between the sides for the first time in fortitious circumstances, as Jack Hart’s cross caught Jones out and nestled in the net after rebounding off the post. The nature of the goal heightened suspicions that this just was not going to be West’s afternoon, but as the game entered the closing period Rowley made an ultimately game-changing intervention as he introduced Billy Matthews. The West winger almost made an immediate impact, running through on goal before seeing his shot beaten away by Hamlett.

Belief began to course through Brookburn Road every time the electric Matthews got the ball, but a third West goal remained elusive as Stephen Hall fired wide before Dibble headed a cross over. As the game ticked into the 89th minute a lifeline finally materialised as Matthews was brought down in the box – Heathcote’s spot-kick was saved by Hamlett, but Davis was on hand to bury the rebound.

West poured forward in search of an equaliser and it arrived in the third of four additional minutes as Dibble rose highest to convert Hancock’s ball from the right. A charged home crowd even sniffed a scarcely-believable winner as there was time for one last raid on the Sandbach box, but the referee spotted an infringement before bringing another Brookburn Road classic to a close.

West: Jones, Hancock, Gabidon, Taylor (Matthews 76), Dibble, Clarke, Elliott, Gavin, Heathcote, Davis, Grewal (Hall 66). Not used: Delaney, Swift.

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