CONGLETON TOWN 1 IRLAM 1
(NWCFL Premier Division)
When the wild winter weather withdrew, the Bears were in fine form, a promising League position, a lengthy winning run, assorted Cup successes.
Three sterile performances later, two draws and a defeat, they urgently needed immediate impetus and precious points (ITALICS writes Mike McLaughlin).
Form is such a tenuous, ephemeral quality, so elusive at times.
Irlam FC came to town on Saturday as an opportunity to revive fortunes.
Founded in 1969, members of the NWCFL since 2008, they were in 12th position in the League with an 8-10-10 record and in modest form.
Earlier in the season (27th September) they beat the Bears 3-0 after “a game of chances taken and chances missed”, but a disappointing performance, nevertheless.
The home line-up was again sound. Duffy replaced Read in defence and Hartshorn, Sankey, Johns and Fregapane occupied the bench.
The day was overcast and grey, but not unpleasant. The air was mild and still. It was a good day for football.
The Bears faced upbank as the visitors kicked off.
Beaumont and Pope looked a beefy unit up front as their team built attacks down the right.
Arnasalam was immediately prominent, busy and aggressive, and even threatened through the centre.
Pope was winning headers when the aerial route was chosen but no teammates could capitalise.
Needham was blocked in the act of shooting from close in front.
The Bears were on top.
On 11 minutes, a free kick from right midfield reached Chadwick at the far post. He headed the ball back across goal and Duffy, with a close-range header put the Bears ahead; 1-0. A neat, clinical goal.
Irlam responded with several threatening attacks, one of which resulted in Parton on the receiving end of an unpleasant challenge under a high ball.
The game, without exploding, was end to end, each side threatening to take control without managing to do so.
The home side was busy, but close control and particularly passing in midfield, were too sloppy and inaccurate.
Pope ran clear down the right, pulled the ball back into the centre, but Needham shot wastefully high.
Pope again, flicked on a header, Arnasalam this time, skied his effort.
The Bears were missing too many chances in a quiet, low-key game. They were working hard, threatening to breakthrough, but fading at the last.
Jones-Griffiths hit a long, scudding shot, the keeper fumbled it but the tap-in went unclaimed.
Arnasalam battled and battered his way down the right, setting up Beaumont but his close range effort hit the keeper.
Nsaka flowed forward down the left and was flattened. Over came the free kick but Arnasalam headed over.
The half had been reasonably entertaining, but very frustrating for the Bears. They missed so many chances. They looked on the verge of clicking, but somehow didn’t.
Both sides opened brightly in the second half. Both sides attacked, but neither threatened to finish.
Offside was proving a real problem for the Bears as they pressed forward. They were toiling valiantly, prodigious effort evident across the pitch, but little was clicking.
Jones-Griffiths excelled in snuffing out an Irlam counter, but on 64 minutes a low overhead shot bemused Parton and it was 1-1.
This visibly rattled the home side – so much effort, so many chances and yet only level so late in the game.
Irlam grew in confidence, looking more assured and even in control briefly before judicious substitutions helped tilt the game back to the Bears.
They attacked but it all looked such hard work, so laborious. They won a succession of corners but even they were mis-directed or ill-conceived.
The Irlam defence was compact and resilient, and they countered whenever they could.
They withstood the ponderous home attacks with few real alarms, leaving the Bears frustrated, weary and worried.
The game had largely been as grey as the weather. The Bears had expended a great deal of effort, but individually and collectively, they were lacking touch and confidence. Creativity and sparkle had been in short supply.
Manager Richard Duffy, mildly perplexed by his team, summed up the frustration succinctly: “We did enough without doing enough.”
Saturday’s FA Vase round five game at Castlecroft, Wolverhampton against AFC Wulfrunians looms large, historic territory for both teams. There will be two coachloads of fans travelling to support their team in pursuit of a little history.
The next home fixture is on Tuesday, 14th February against title-chasing Bury AFC. Your support would be appreciated, perhaps needed.
(Photos: Judie Tingle).