by Robert Lee · 31/07/2021
Saturday 31st July 2021, NWCFL First Division South
Alsager Town 1 (Vayro 53)
West 2 (Heathcote pen 60, 65)
Sam Heathcote’s double hauled West to an opening-day victory at Alsager Town.
West made hard work of their first assignment of the season, falling behind to a Luke Vayro strike shortly after half-time. But captain Heathcote led by example, levelling from the spot before prodding home from close range to secure a hard-earned three points.
With the NWCFL returning after a nine-month break, this battle of attrition in south Cheshire may not have been the most edifying spectacle for neutrals with chances at a premium. Chris Rowley, however, will be pleased at his side’s resilience to chalk up a win at the first available opportunity.
West put seven past the Bullets in the sides’ previous meeting, in October of last year, but this was an entirely different encounter with defences on top. West’s best moments in the first period came via interchanges between Aarron Grewal and Matthew Cook on the right flank, but lone striker Ben Elliott was well-marshalled by the home side’s back line. Callum Jones had the clearest sight of goal before the break, but he could only glance a header wide from Rhain Davis’ corner.
The visitors began the second half on the front foot, but their previously obstinate defence was breached eight minutes after the restart. After Sam Heathcote conceded a free-kick in the right channel, picking up a yellow card for his troubles, the ball was recycled back into the box and Vayro arrived to slam a cross past Andrew Jones.
Momentum appeared to be with Alsager but the goal provided West with the greater impetus and the scores were level within seven minutes. Josh Tinker, playing in an unfamiliar centre-back role, found himself bursting into the box before being bundled over from behind. Heathcote assumed responsibility and gave Bullets keeper Joseph Oldham no chance from 12 yards.
West now had a second wind, with Lee Gavin omnipresent in midfield, and the turnaround was complete five minutes later. With it came the first controversy of the new season – after Cook’s delivery had found its way to Heathcote via Oldham, Grewal and an Alsager defender, the linesman’s flag cut short celebrations. But after the referee consulted with his assistant, he pointed to the centre spot to restart them and confirm West’s comeback.
Nerves continued to jangle among the away support but it was West who looked the more likely to score the game’s fourth goal – the home defence found it increasingly difficult to deal with Aarron Grewal and debutant Ezeikel Eme was a energetic presence on the opposite flank. Ultimately, though, Heathcote’s brace was enough to ensure West go to Stockport Town on Monday with three points already on the board.
West: A. Jones, Cook, Hancock, C. Jones (Ryan 61), Tinker, Heathcote, Grewal, Gavin, Elliott (Swift 90), Davis, Eme (Gabidon 76). Not used: Messam, Westall.
Post-match reaction from Chris Rowley: