by | Apr 27, 2024

Where on earth to begin!

Which word do we use? Frustrating, disappointing, poor, disheartening, unexpected, baffling?

I could go on, but the season has not produced the returns that we had hoped for when we kicked off on a sunny afternoon in Wythenshawe last July.

We viewed this first game as an indicator of what we could expect. We had been relegated, and Wythenshawe promoted. So, after being two divisions apart last time round, these two teams would meet on equal terms as we returned to a league we had left eleven years previously.

At half-time, we went in one goal behind. An unlucky deflection off the back of the keeper. Just bad luck really, but, oh boy, would that bad luck follow us round for the rest of the campaign.

A late collapse saw us go down to a dis-spirited 0-4 defeat.

From then on, it’s been a story of inconsistency, injuries and questionable officiating.

Whilst appreciating that every club suffers a number of injuries during a season, I can only shake my head at the number that we have suffered, way above the normal. We’ve had to use seven different goalkeepers, with outfield players going down on a regular basis, preventing a run of unchanged line-ups and the subsequent chance of a successful set of results.

Manager Steve Wilkes has had to dig into his black book of players names throughout the campaign to bring in reinforcements. A lack of a settled squad is hardly the recipe for success.

Two officiating errors in particular stand out. At Lower Breck we went two goals up in the first ten minutes.

Or so we thought. Alas, former Bury player Glyn Hurst was the linesman who decided to chalk off the second goal despite the header to a Rams forward coming from a Lower Breck player. You would have thought an ex-pro would have known the laws of the game! After that the game became farcical and we returned on the back of a result that would not have been possible had the correct decision been made.

Fast forward to West Didsbury and Chorlton away, and desperately seeking a win to end a poor run of results, we thought we had gone 3-1 up with just minutes to go, as Matty Birchall fired in an unstoppable shot. Up went the linesman’s flag. When questioned afterwards he insisted that two players were in front of the keeper.

Credit to the keeper who stated that had there been five players in front of him, there was no way he could have saved it!. We then let in a late equaliser!

To be fair, back in August after the Wythenshawe game, we settled down pretty well. Five wins, two draws and just one defeat in the next eight games, that defeat coming away to Mossley in the FA Cup.

After that, however, the inconsistency that has plagued us all season, kicked in.

An easy win at Worsbrough Bridge set us off on a mini run in the FA Vase, a competition we last competed in back in 2011/12. Victories over Euxton Villa, Pilkington and Bottesford Town had us drawn at home to NCEL side Hallam.

Then we experienced the first real challenge that this wet and miserable winter would throw at us. Twice the game was postponed at home, then, under the questionable rules of the competition, the game was moved to be played at Hallam, losing us our home advantage. The irony here is that the two postponements would have happened if Hallam had been the home side. They were as badly affected as us. It spelt the end of the run unfortunately.

League form had seen a mixture of good and bad. Cheadle Town were sent home pointless before a motorway-disaster trip to meet unbeaten Kendal Town had the supporters dreaming, as we returned down the M6 with their record in tatters.

Days later saw us travel to Prestwich Heys for the first league game against them in ages. Buoyed by the Kendal result, we were full of confidence….until the final whistle, following a dire second half performance and a 0-3 reversal.

An inspiring 6-2 demolition of Skelmersdale United at Burscough soon had us back on track, then after two draws and a defeat, our best run of the season arrived. Three successive wins!

We hammered Pilkington at the HWRS 5-1, knocked Nelson out of the Macron Cup then enjoyed a return game against Pilkington in the FA Vase….well, at least until half-time.

Having been completely in control, the second half was a disaster, and we had to rely on an injury time equaliser and penalties to overcome a side we had demolished just seven days earlier.

That sinking feeling was back, and enforced by a pathetic performance at Charnock Richard and a justified 1-5 hammering. Kendal Town arrived in Ramsbottom and eked out revenge with a 4-2 win, before Longridge Town arrived and earned a draw as some sort of compensation for the dramatic last gasp winner we had celebrated at their place earlier in the season.

A break from the league saw us welcome our near neighbours Bury for the first-ever competitive game between the two teams, in the Macron cup. A crowd of 1,699 turned up for a cracking match which was eventually settled in favour of the visitors via a penalty shoot-out.

Two wins in the next two league games offered a glimmer of hope that a promotion push was still on.

Burscough were comfortably dispatched in front of our lowest home gate for many years, and just before Christmas, a trip to Irlam had us playing possibly our best football to date, coming away with a deserved 3-0 win.

All smiles as we headed into the Christmas and New Year period. Alas, it was not to last.

Five defeats and one draw from the next six had us all wondering just what had gone wrong. A 1-5 Boxing Day defeat at Padiham was our nadir. Feeble and embarrassing.

It set the tone of what was to follow. A brief respite came with two home games, and a revenge win over Lower Breck followed by an unexpected, but much enjoyed 5-1 hammering of Litherland REMYCA.

The winter, which had already seen a number of games postponed, began to hit hard, with matches called off at a regular interval. Five of the next six fell victim before a trio of home games brought a trio of defeats.

Another trip to Burscough, this time to compete against the hosts, saw us turn things around, well at least for forty-five minutes. We went in for the break three goals to the good playing some delightful football. Not for the first time, though, we were to experience the phenomenon of “a game of two halves”. Burscough turned the game on it’s head in the second half and grabbed a draw thanks to another goalkeeper injury and another red card.

That point was one of only two acquired in a run of nine matches, a dreadful run that was finally ended thanks to an unexpected, but most welcome, performance at in-form Cheadle Town and a much deserved 1-0 victory.

Our first ever visit to Gigg Lane in front of the largest crowd ever to watch a Ramsbottom United match, 3,776, saw us return on the back of a narrow defeat, but any disappointment was soon binned as a superb 5-1 win away at Pilkington followed.

Then a couple of home defeats before the season ended with a home draw against Bury and an away point at Barnoldswick.

So how do we sum the season up?

Certainly disappointing overall. We had high hopes of mounting a challenge to return to the NPL, but despite a reasonable start, it never materialised due to our poor mid-season form.

There were highlights. Excellent away wins at Kendal, Skelmersdale, Irlam and Pilkington. Comprehensive three-pointers at the HWRS against Pilkington, Burscough and Litherland REMYCA. Overall however, there were some really poor games. Wythenshawe, Prestwich Heys, Charnock Richard, Padiham and Colne away stand out, as do the home games against strugglers Skelmersdale United and Squires Gate.

We enjoyed a run in the FA Vase, and certainly, from an entertainment point of view, supporters cannot moan at the lack of goals. Of the 55 games played, there have been a total of 193 goals, with just the last home game against Bury ending goalless, an average of almost 4 per game.

The general consensus is that the football played has been more attractive than in the last couple of years, despite the points tally being below expectations.

We have finally, after much chopping and changing, assembled a talented squad that, with one or two experienced additions, look likely to lead the club into a brighter future.

We have to grind our teeth and accept that 2023-24 was not the best campaign, but look forward in typical football supporters’ style to a much better 2024-25.