Hazeldine strike lifts Rams to 9th

The return to the site of their greatest triumph saw the Rams secure another deserved win which while lacking the immediate impact of the win on their prior visit still offers much hope of a return to the NLP.

BAMBER BRIDGE 0 RAMSBOTTOM UNITED 1
Sir Tom Finney Stadium
Saturday 18 February 2017
Evo-Stik Northern Premier League Division One North
Attendance: 276

They are playing with tremendous composure, competence and creativity and with the squad returning almost to full strength the challenge facing the management team will be to settle on their best lineup and set-up for a challenging run in to the end of the season starting with Clitheroe on Tuesday night and then Scarborough on Saturday both at home.

Finding the right balance between solidity through the middle and pace and width is not proving easy.  In recent weeks availability has been the constraining factor.  On Saturday with a deep bench they started out with a conservative 4-3-3 with Nathan Web out on the right and Gareth Seddon an unlikely wide player on the left.  It did not work and it was not until the introduction of Max Hazeldine in place of Joe Rathbone who seemed to to be struggling with a knock that the Rams played with any fluency.  From that point adjusting to 4-4-2 the Rams attacked with fluency running Bamber Bridge ragged down the right and having taken the lead went on to dominate the game.

It took 35 minutes for a game of football to break out.  Bamber Bridge had the balance of possession but were ponderous in their build up and too reliant on balls lumped into the area from out wide - easy meat for the Rams central defenders.  The Rams were disjointed and apart from a good effort from Ryan Salmon sending the ball hit with force from just inside the right hand side of the box just past the far post they struggled to mount a convincing threat on the home goal.  The game then came to life.  A shot hit at pace from just outside the box hit Paul Linwood's arm which was next to his torso.  He was not more than five yards away and at the point of impact was turning his body away so how the referee could determine it was hand to ball is a matter of no little speculation and query.

Martin Fearon's refused to commit himself early to the experienced Jamie Milligan's shot from the spot denying him the opportunity of rolling the ball in the opposite direction of a dive.  Instead he was forced to go further into the corner and saw the ball hit the foot of the post and spin away.  Penalty saving techniques is not all about diving correctly - and  Fearon has now saved three of the last 4 penalties awarded against the Rams - having said that the penalty count against them is a little too high for comfort.  From the goal kick the Rams rebounded forward.  Gareth Seddon was sent clear inside the box but was denied by a brave save from Steve James and with that the half came to an undistinguished end.

The effect of the introduction of Hazeldine was instantaneous.  Immediately he ran onto a Ryan Salmon header but blazed over.  Minutes later he was again released by the same route - this time to keep his composure and shoot low under the body of James.  The goal vitalised the Rams.  Reagan Ogle was electric in defence and rapid in support of Hazeldine.  Together they eviscerated the left side of the Bamber Bridge defence.  Three times in combination they got to the bye line inside the area but could not find the telling final pass.  Then Seddon broke clear down the left and from an audacious distance and angle ripped a shot past a startled James - the ball not dipping quite enough and deflecting wide off the top of the bar.

The Rams made astute substitutions bringing on Darrhyl Mason and Adam Kay to close the game down.  It was inevitable that the home team who were never out of the game would mount some pressure in the closing minutes.  However no amount of coaxing, cajoling or cohersion by Milligan - always on the ball - could muster a clear opening.  Paul Linwood and Luke Thompson, the often unsung heroes who set the tone, were magnificent repelling ever airborne salvo but with thoughts of the last minute equalizer in the playoff match in the forefront of minds it was a relief to hear the final whistle.

This win puts the Rams up to 9th and just four points off the play-off positions.  It is obvious that there is great belief and togetherness in the squad and tremendous connection with the supporters.  With 13 games left. five of which are against teams above them over all of whom they have games in hand the future prospects lie firmly in their grasp - now is the time for no fear football.

TEAMS:
Bamber Bridge: Steven James, Stuart Vasey, George Bowyer, Matt Lawlor (capt), Josh Heaton, Michael Potts, Alistair Waddecar, Sam Freakes, Chris McDonagh, Jamie Milligan, Ryan Riley.  Subs: Regan Linney (for Freakes 60mins), Phil Doughty, Aaron Fleming (for Riley 60mins), Sam Staunton-Turner (for McDonagh 83mins), Adam Dodd.

Ramsbottom United: Martin Fearon, Reagan Ogle, Matthew Atherton, Dean Stott, Luke Thompson, Paul Linwood, Grant Spencer, Joe Rathbone, Ryan Salmon, Gareth Seddon (capt), Nathan Webb.  Subs: Max Hazeldine (for Rathbone 46mins), Oliver Crankshaw, Adam Kay (for Spencer 68mins), Darrhyl Mason (for Webb 77mins), Darren Green.

Referee: Craig Buxton

PICTURES FROM THE GAME (thanks to Frank Crook)
FRANK's pictures are here