Back on familiar turf, we played host to our visitors Widnes for a much needed dose of home comforts. It has been a topsy turvy season to say the least!
The Rams have amazingly already listed close to 40 different names on their team selection sheets so far, collectively, but the lineup has appeared to be on the verge of settling down again in recent weeks.
Lee Donafee has now moulded the squad to match his own vision, and it is definitely his own team now, not Chris Willcock’s. Though there has been some frustration in the camp over a few concerning results, the overall feeling amongst supporters has been positive, and most do appear to feel that the tide will shift. The 4-0 mauling of Newcastle Town in the recent home game was a good signal of that, even though we couldn’t quite match the performance away in Northwich regrettably.
There has been call in some quarters for a switch to 4-4-2 to see how John Murphy and Hugo Rodriguez could work together as a pair. The good news today is they were to get their first start together, albeit within the framework of the existing system, with Murphy pushed out wide in place of Tom Hartley on the left, and Rodriguez playing the lone centre forward role.
Less expected was the impressive young defender Will Hall dropping to the bench, with Donafee favouring a full debut for former Blackburn Rovers youngster George Wyatt at centre back, and then Tom Kennedy continuing in centre midfield (probably due in part to the good form of Luke Barlow and Owen Collinge at full back).
The players were marvelously fast out of the blocks today, and it showed – only taking seven minutes for a wonderfully flighted crossfield pass to release Jake Thompson on the right, who was then able to drill a dangerous ball right across the goalmouth to find Jamie Rother free at the back stick to head it into the opposite corner for 1-0.
A near free header for Widnes shortly afterwards sailed somehow just wide, but we continued to pile the pressure on, and it wasn’t long until we doubled our advantage. A floated cross from the left landing on a plate for 6 foot 6 striker Hugo Rodriguez in the centre of the box, to power home another header, for his second goal in Rammy colours! What a start!
Some sloppy defending following Luke Wall’s cross for Widnes in the 20th minute did then let the away side back in, as the seas parted and Greg McCaragher was free to almost walk it over the line. Both Widnes players involved in the goal were making their debuts.
The visitors were getting more of the ball now and trying to force us into mistakes, definitely starting to feel some wind in their sails after pulling the goal back. There was a little bit of miscontrol also, which could well be down to the wetter pitch – with studs getting occasionally caught in the mud. At one point, Wyatt stumbled in the box letting an opposition forward in, but luckily Tom Stewart came to the rescue in goal with a smart save – to which he held on to convincingly at the second attempt.
We ended the half on a bright note, and overall were well worth our lead. A scramble in the box could only be hit straight at their keeper. Then, John Murphy’s shot following a corner was only just parried, and the resulting looping cross sailed just wide with nobody close enough to making contact. Finally, a cracking kick out from goalkeeper Stewart out to Jake on the right wing, and a terrific cross across the face of the goal saw Murphy power in with our third headed goal of the game!
3-1 we went in at, and not a complaint from anyone in the crowd. We just couldn’t underestimate the visitors in the second half.
There were a couple of early second half chances for Widnes, but our keeper was more than a match – Tom Stewart demonstrating exactly why he is so crucial to this Rammy side, and proving so on numerous occasions throughout the game. With an inferior goalkeeper we could have lost this one.
The visitors continued to press, and there some uncomfortable moments, the young George Wyatt in particular having a difficult match, but he and the team as a unit weathered the storm. As players began to tire there were calls from the crowd to get Will Hall and Eddie Cooper on to help close the game out – there was a lot of surprise beforehand that neither had started, so we wondered whether one or both had picked up some kind of knock, or whether it was tactical. Tom Kennedy is also definitely a conundrum for us at the minute, as it is difficult to leave out either full back with them playing so well, but Tom is our captain and his quality and experience is so vital to us as well. But, is his place in the midfield? That one’s for you, Diego!
Things began to get a bit scrappy as the time drew on, possibly due to Widnes frustrations that they hadn’t managed to turn in any of the decent chances they created, but it definitely hadn’t been a one horse race and, at times, it is fair to say that they had been unlucky. A fine finish from Ryan Jennings at a narrow angle in the 75th minute put pay to any suggestions of an easy win, but he perhaps shouldn’t have been allowed the space.
It appeared that it was going to be a nailbitingly tight finish but with three substitutions Rammy stepped it up a gear, bringing on Hartley, Hall, and then Cooper. Immediately solidifying us at back, it was a relief to see Will Hall back out on the pitch, as he swiftly cleared a couple of Widnes attacks with no nonsense at all! And Hartley and Cooper probably offered us the fresh legs going forward, with no drop in quality.
Another John Murphy header forced Owen Wheeler into an impressive fingertip save, that would have been “game over”. And a perfect through ball out wide from player of the month Steve Hoy to Tom Hartley saw the ball pulled back to Kennedy who looped a shot narrowly over from outside of the box.
At the final whistle the Widnes keeper Wheeler booted the ball high out of the ground in frustration and off into the River Irwell, much to the dismay of an onlooking club official and some neighbouring home supporters, who were less than impressed with the behaviour. Sour grapes or what!
3-2 win then, and a toot of approval from the driver of a passing train on the ELR!
Well done the lads!