Steve Halford and Paul Phillips mark ‘Bridge dugout debut with home win

National League North, Tuesday 06 September 2016.

Stalybridge Celtic 3 (Chippendale 38; Owens 60, 90+4 (2 penalties)), Gainsborough Trinity 2 (Bailey-King 14; Reid 64).

They say in relation to the arrival of a new person that a new broom sweeps clean. In the case of Stalybridge Celtic, it was an industrial vacuum cleaner. A petrol powered one that swept away a miserable run of seven straight defeats after an opening day win.

The difference compared with Saturday’s fixture was unbelievably stark. Prior to taking their positions proper in the Home dugouts, the reports they received of the Nuneaton Town game were appalling. I was similarly appalled having bore witness to the non-event (and one of the ‘Bridge’s stalwart fans left early). Saturday afternoon was lifeless with all the atmosphere of a public library. Two hours after closing time.

Over to Tuesday night: plus ça change, an atmosphere more reminiscent of the Steve Burr era. There was commitment by the bucketload from Stalybridge Celtic. For the fans, something to shout about, a new era that was neatly framed by the previous night’s Meet The Manager surgery in the Jack Thornley Suite sponsors’ lounge. On the field, there was home débuts for Jay Gorton and Danny Wilkins.

The ‘Bridge began the first half attacking towards the Town End with some good moves and a sense of urgency. Fourteen minutes into the game, Darnell Bailey-King scored with an easy shot. Phillips wasn’t too impressed. For a split second you could be forgiven for thinking ‘here we go again’.

Not so. The ‘Bridge plugged away giving the Trinity ‘keeper, Jonathan Hedge something to do. In the 38th minute, their tenacity paid off when a sweeping volley came from Aidan Chippendale. Both the crowd and the ‘Bridge’s first XI were in rapture. Firstly for Chippy, back after an injury. Secondly, that Stalybridge Celtic increased their goal tally by 20%. Prior to kick-off, the ‘Bridge only had four goals to their name – an average of one goal every three hours.

With the scores level at the start of the second half, neither side were going to sit back. Thanks to a vicious tackle on Danny Pilkington by Jake Scott, Trinity were down to ten men. Even so, both sides stuck to their game plan; Trinity’s plan was win at all costs, Celtic’s was though with emphasis on passing and keeping the ball on the pitch. After Matt Wilson brought down Wilkins, the ‘Bridge were awarded a penalty.

Taking the spot kick on the hour was Andy Owens. After driving the ball towards Hedge’s left, Celtic were 2-1 up. The lead only lasted four minutes after Darnell Bailey-King crossed the ball to James Reid. Trinity were level yet plugged away for a possible winning goal. There was no nerves from the ‘Bridge defence nor any of the silly mistakes that had in previous games led to sloppy goals.

The tenacity of both sides made for a slightly edgy half hour since Reid’s goal. Given recent form, a draw would have been seen as an improvement. A fair few of the ‘Bridge faithful – stood at the Mottram Road end by then would have been happy with the single part.

That attitude wouldn’t have dared to enter Phillo’s and Acker’s playbook: win, win, win, and strive for the best have always been their mantra. From their time as YTS trainees for Bury FC to their present position. On the odd occasions I have seen them at Hurst Cross and Seel Park before then, their ‘never say die’ attitude was apparent.

Exemplifying this was their approach to Stalybridge Celtic’s second penalty of the night. Again, Wilkins was brought down in the box, this time a nudge from Adam Quinn. In the 94th minute, Andy Owens scored again. Phillo emerged from the main stand tunnel in jubilation. As soon as the second penalty decision was made by referee, David McNamara, he left his technical area to hide in the tunnel. Acker was ecstatic. The main stand and the Mottram End erupted.

After the full time whistle, a massive cloud was lifted from the shoulders of the ‘Bridge faithful. Leaving Bower Fold for the first time in several games was a joyous experience. The feeling, akin to winning promotion or scalping a Football League side in the F.A. Cup.

Referee: David McNamara (Preston).

Attendance: 321.

Next up…

For Messrs Halford and Phillips, Tuesday night was only the beginning. Next on the calendar is a tough trip to The Shay Stadium where they face F.C. Halifax Town. The Tuesday after sees the ‘Bridge face high-flying and high-spending Harrogate Town (ouch!). The tail end of 2016 sets out to be a most exciting one.

F.A. Cup Second Qualifying Round: Giving the ‘Bridge some respite on the following Saturday is The Mighty ‘Bridge’s F.A. Cup adventure. On the 17 September they take a trip to Wincham Park, where they shall face Witton Albion. The last time they met in the F.A. Cup was 1976 – 77 in the Preliminary Round where they lost 3-1 at Bower Fold. The last away tie between the two sides in this competition took place in 1965 – 66, where the ‘Bridge lost 4-0 at the Central Ground.

As Sainsburys has been on the site of the Central Ground since 1989, this will be the first away F.A. Cup tie between the sides at Wincham Park. The last time the two sides met in a national competition was in the F.A. Trophy, in the 2000 – 01 Treble Winning season (a 2-0 home win). The previous occasion in that competition was the 1991 – 92 season. The season where Chris Camden more or less won the Northern Premier League title, and promotion to the GM Vauxhall Conference.

Cheshire Senior Cup draw: in the Preliminary Round of the Cheshire Senior Cup, Stalybridge Celtic have been given a home tie against Cammell Laird 1904. This shall be contested on any given Tuesday after the 31 October 2016 (details shall be announced nearer the time).

Manchester Senior Cup draw: Stalybridge Celtic will be away to Droylsden on the 03 October 2016.

S.V., 07 September 2016 (video clip courtesy of Stalybridge Celtic F.C website).

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