Record crowd watches Sandbach come from behind in local derby

SANDBACH UNITED 3
ALSAGER TOWN 1
(North West Counties Football League
First Division South)
Local rivals Sandbach and Alsager faced off at Hind Heath Road on Friday night to kick off the NWCFL groundhop weekend (writes Jack Beresford).
The record crowd of 455 who flooded through the gate were treated to a classic under the lights.
Not only was the game a local derby but there was also the added extra of the visitors having eight former Sandbach players in their squad and coaching staff.
As expected, the game got off to a cagey start. With the pitch being bobbly and heavy, both sides were struggling to adjust to the tough conditions.
In the 10th minute, the game saw its first shot as former Northern Ireland international Steve Jones found former Sandbach United fan favourite Josh Lane who was in behind but he dragged his shot wide of the left post from just outside the box.
Seven minutes later, the ball fell to Steve Jones following an Alsager corner. He turned to find more space but was halted by a push from Sandbach midfielder Scott Evans in the box. Jones used his experience and went down, leaving the referee no choice but to point to the spot. Jones dusted himself down and dispatched the spot-kick into the top left corner, sending the keeper the wrong way and putting the visitors in the lead.
Five minutes later, the visitors should have doubled their lead as George Archer won the ball off Sandbach centre half Declan O’Riordan before racing down the left side. As he got to the byline, he pulled it back to Jones who blazed over from wide yards out.
Sandbach were really struggling to get a foothold in the game but found a leveller against the run of play in the 31st minute. Danny Bartle got on the end of a cut back from the left byline but his shot was scuffed and looked easy for the keeper.
However, the keeper parried it into the path of Will Saxon who fired home into the empty net.
Sandbach didn’t really deserve to be level. They now had the momentum and looked more likely to take the lead.
As the referee blew for half-time, the game was very much in the balance.
In the second half, Sandbach were the better of the two sides and they came agonisingly close to going ahead. Once again Bartle latched onto a cutback but this time he crashed his effort off the post.
Sandbach were dominating possession and were moving the ball nicely on a tough pitch.
Jack Hart was the next man to come close for United as he let fly from 25 yards but it was straight at the keeper.
The home side have been guilty in the past of being made to rue their missed opportunities. However, in the 68th minute on loan Nantwich Town striker Valdermar Schousboe took matters into his own hands. He picked up the ball on the left side before bursting into the box, evading the dangling legs of the Alsager defenders and slotted it under the keeper and into the net, completing the turnaround for United. It was an excellent piece of individual play from Schousboe, one that I’m sure would have impressed all the groundhoppers in attendance.
To get back in the lead was just what first team coach Jason Doggett would have wanted. It meant that his side were now able to dictate the tempo of the game. Whereas, Alsager had to fight for an equaliser.
Bartle was guilty of missing some good chances for the hosts. He had squandered another opportunity in the 70th minute. He initially did well to close down the Alsager keeper and force him into blasting his clearance straight at the back of Bartle. The ball luckily ricocheted into the path of Bartle who was now one on one with the keeper. However, McLenaghan did really well to get back and superbly save Bartle’s strike.
Three minutes later, Will Saxon had a brilliant opportunity to seal the win for Sandbach. Good work from Jack Hart on the edge of the box allowed him to square to Saxon on the right side of the box. He then did well to create an angle for the shot but could only fire straight at the keeper.
Sandbach very nearly let Alsager back into the game when Archer fired in low across the face of goal from the right side towards Jones but a combination of Booth and Rowntree somehow prevented the ball from going into the net. After the game, it was revealed that Sandbach keeper Sam Booth suffered a broken finger in the process of making this save.
The visitors were slowly coming back into the game and Sandbach knew that they had to get another goal to make the game safe. When Will Saxon was sent flying in the box, the referee showed no hesitation in pointing to the spot for the second time in the game.
Despite missing three golden chances so far, it was Bartle who was on penalty duties. He blasted the freekick towards goal but the keeper saved it, however, luckily for United striker the ball fell back to him and he fired home from close range, leaving the keeper with absolutely no chance, sealing the win for United with just moments of the game left.
Sandbach could have had five or six goals if they were more clinical. It was a fantastic game to kick off the groundhop weekend and it would have left a lot of punters with a big smile on their face.
Another man with a big smile on his face was United first team coach Jason Doggett.
After the game, he said: “Our players were outstanding and the score reflected this. I personally want to thank our amazing volunteers that worked tirelessly both in the build up and on the evening of the game — you symbolise what our club is about.”