by Robert Lee · 04/10/2020
Saturday 3rd October 2020, NWCFL First Division South
West 2 (Heathcote 17, Gabidon 40)
Stockport Town 1 (L. Grimshaw 46, Moloney sent off 90+5)
West saw off Stockport Town to register three points on the opening day of the NWCFL season.
The delayed start to the campaign, coupled with filthy conditions across the North West, meant that this curtain-raiser looked a little different to the sun-drenched August opening days of previous seasons. But a perfectly-prepared Brookburn Road pitch ensured an attractive game of football was still possible and this tense, exciting affair set the tone for the next seven months of action.
Sam Heathcote opened West’s league account for the season inside 20 minutes before Dontai Gabidon stylishly curled home an ultimately decisive second just before half time. The returning Lee Grimshaw pulled a goal back immediately after the restart, but West had chances to extend their lead and were ultimately deserved winners.
The visitors, looking to improve on last season’s 9th-place finish (include asterisk as appropriate), dominated possession in the early exchanges as West struggled to find their rhythm. Andrew Jones made a couple of smart stops before Chris Rowley’s side began to stamp their authority on proceedings.
Heathcote, increasingly West’s talismanic figure, opened the scoring with the home side’s first clear opportunity of the afternoon. Stephen Hall’s dinked through ball found the West centre-forward, who shrugged off his marker before seeing his effort deflected into the air by Piper. Heathcote reacted quickest, though, and from a standing start powered his header from 12 yards past a retreating Stockport defender and into the net.
An increasingly-confident West had an opportunity to double their lead immediately afterwards, but Joel Swift fired wide after good play to rob the ball from a Lions defender. Heathcote then had a shot blocked at close range, but Rowley’s side did take a two-goal lead into the interval thanks to left-winger Gabidon. Hall was again the architect, finding Gabidon on the left side, and the West number 11 cut inside onto his right foot before bending in a shot that had Piper beaten from the moment it left his foot.
The cushion was snatched away seconds after the interval, with former West forward Grimshaw alert enough to capitalise on hesitant West defending before beating Jones. But West continued to push for a third, and Marcus Dibble almost cancelled out Grimshaw’s goal a minute later when he headed Stephen Hall’s free kick too high.
Brookburn Road became increasingly nervy as three points appeared on the horizon, and even more so when West spurned two golden chances for a third goal in the last ten minutes. The excellent Hall was denied what would have been a deserved goal when, after superb play from substitute Aarron Grewal, he was foiled on two occasions by Piper. Grewal then had his own opportunity but shot over after bringing the ball down in the box.
The visitors carried a threat until the closing moments, with Grimshaw firing over and Aaron Knight a constant threat. But the game ended in controversial circumstances – Lions substitute and former West favourite, Dylan Moloney, endured a miserable return to Brookburn Road and saw red in stoppage time for a wild challenge on Josh Tinker. The referee sounded his whistle for the last time seconds after dismissing Moloney and West could celebrate beginning the season with a hard-fought three points.
West: Jones, Tinker, Westall, Taylor, Dibble, Clarke (Gavin 61), Swift, Hall, Heathcote, Davis, Gabidon (Grewal 70). Not used: Delaney, Dale, Kidd.