The first league game back on home soil after two seasons of COVID cancellations was always going to be an eagerly anticipated occasion. Even more so when the fixtures were eventually announced – we would be competing against last year’s FA Cup heroes from Merseyside, “Moneybags” Marine.

Catapulted to league title favourites by many, this was never going to be an easy task. Quite as easily as they managed to control the first half, however, was not necessarily what was expected. Amidst what felt like wave after wave of relentless attack, one spectator joked that neck ache was going to be a bit of an issue here, as we were only ever looking in one direction and that was back to our own goal!

They were physically dominating, and players like Cummins and Kengni a real handful. If it were not for heroics from our ever reliable number one Ollie Martin, or the seriously impressive on loan Altrincham centre back Will Hall (himself a Rammy lad) then we could have easily been 4 or 5 behind by half time.

Several smart saves, and last ditch blocks and tackles kept us in it. One uncharacteristic rush of blood from Martin however could have seen him sent off on any other day – he was undoubtedly fortunate to see only yellow as he clattered into Kengni just outside the box.

As it stood we went in at 0-1, the netting finally rippling just before the break through Ben Hughes. It was coming.

The half time whistle was a timely one (albeit about 3 minutes too late) – I say timely as things could have definitely taken a turn for the worse if the clock ran on any longer. We had also lost Jamie Rother to injury not long prior to Marine’s opener – hopefully nothing serious. Time to regroup methinks.

Word then proceeded to get around the Riverside mid-interval that Rammy 365 forum favourite Hackers had nipped home briefly for a soothing bubble bath and calm down. What a good idea!

Thankfully, the team re-emerged brightly, and we set about knocking the ball about a bit on the deck. Passes were beginning to find their man, and the Rammy faithful could begin to sniff the faint whiff of an equaliser in the air. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.

In the 53rd minute, Neil Kengni hit a sweetly struck second for Marine, slightly against the run of play, and the game was unfortunately now looking like it would be the visitor’s for the taking.

A further injury blow for The Rams then saw the impressive loanee Hall forced off around the 64th minute mark, but in a quick reshuffle on came Jack Grealish (erm, Joel Earps) in midfield, who shone as brightly as anyone – in his neon pink boots.

After a brilliant breakaway from the home side which saw our lads 2-on-2 with the Marine defence – the ball was released through to second half substitute Jake Thompson who had cut into space with ease from the right flank only to drag it narrowly wide of the far post. Excruciatingly close, and it was to be United’s last real chance of the encounter.

The final painful nail in the coffin came as a defence splitting pass from the away side’s keeper looped over the top and in behind our back four, finding it’s way through to chief tormentor Niall Cummins, the Marine captain and big number nine. An exquisite volley on the spin made the final score an unflattering 3-0 to the visitors. Ugh!

FA Cup day next up on Saturday, and a visit to (fairly) nearby Barnoldswick Town. It could be a welcome distraction as we look to press reset and recharge batteries in time for the next league fixture which will be away at Kendal Town (or at home to Market Drayton, if the cup tie goes to replay). Fingers crossed for a happier outcome next time around.