Despite a full programme of friendlies and FA Cup matches, there is still nothing like the opening game of a new league season to provide a truer indication of a team’s capacity for the long campaign ahead. Unfortunately, this was a match which saw Rammy struggling for long periods of play, unavoidably evoking in supporters’ minds uncomfortable memories from last season when the club had played poorly and sailed so close to the foot of the table.
From the start, Rammy found it hard to cope tactically with a team that literally ran rings round them. Admittedly, newly-promoted and expensively-assembled Hanley Town boasted several players within their ranks with experience of having played at football league level. The difference in class showed itself in practical terms as early as the 4th minute when James Lawrie opened the visitors’ account with a finish into the roof of the net that left the home defence looking shell-shocked, as if unable to work out what had happened.
For the rest of the first half, the visitors continued to dominate play with a brand of clever interpassing skills that by-passed the home team’s defence with alarming ease. Meanwhile, any Rammy attempts at attacking play broke down with similar ease. For the most part, the aim seemed just to hoof hopeful balls downfield with little semblance of constructive build-up or width to their play. In fact, it took over thirty minutes for the home team to register their first shot on goal when Leon Creech, in a lone up-front role, broke away and forced a good save out of the Hanley keeper.
The major surprise was that it took so long for the visitors to build further on their opening 4th minute goal. Countless times the home defence was breached, leaving keeper Harry Turner having to face a regular stream of attackers bearing down on his goal. Remarkably, as the clock wound down towards half-time, it looked as if his shot-stopping heroics might have succeeded in keeping the opposition down to a one-goal lead. However, in the 40th minute, Hanley’s midfield dynamo Chris Dagnall timed his run to perfection to get on the end of a pass that left him clear to slot the ball home to give the visitors the extra insurance of a 2-0 lead at half-time.
Whatever was said in the home changing-room at half-time didn’t have the desired effect with the visitors continuing where they left off and extending their lead barely five minutes into the second half. This third and decisive goal came about when Turner, again exposed at the back, was left with little option but to lunge for the ball, in the process bringing down the attacking player and conceding a penalty. Dagnall calmly stepped up to take the kick, sending the keeper the wrong way to leave the Rams three goals in arrears.
Although Turner earned a booking for the incident leading up to the award of the spot-kick, he was not the only one to be yellow-carded in a match that became increasingly tetchy. In all, eight players received yellow cards, four from each side. Most of these were handed out in the second half. Clutching at straws as it might seem, at least Rammy had it in them to remain competitive and not entirely crumble after going 3-0 down.
Second-half substitutions prompted a late revival on Rammy’s part. Billy Hasler-Cregg proved a tonic down the right wing, weaving his way cleverly into positions of threat on the opposition goal. Temi Ajibola had similar immediate impact, linking up effectively with Tony Donaldson. On one occasion, Donaldson put Ajibola through only for the striker to be checked by a professional foul, earning the Hanley defender a yellow card. Then, in the 82nd minute, another cleverly weighted pass from Donaldson put Ajibola in the clear before steering his right-foot shot wide of the keeper to reduce the deficit to 3-1.
With Hanley appearing to take their foot off the throttle as the final whistle approached, Rammy’s attempt at a fight-back had come much too late though to have an effect on the final outcome. At the end of the day, the clear message from this match was that management needs to take steps to consolidate defensive play and provide greater width in attack in readiness for the next league match away at Clitheroe on Tuesday.
RAMSBOTTOM: Turner, Barlow (Collinge 57), Dean (Hasler-Cregg 57), Fitzgerald, Hall, Holt, Rouse, Rother (c), Creech (Ajibola 66), Donaldson, Radcliffe. Subs not used: Grimshaw, Osi-Efa.
Photo: Jake Horrocks