By Javier Mercadal
Lancaster City drew in their match against Droylsden FC, 1-1, and extended their winning streak to seven games without losing. The Lancastrian side is now seventh in the table, with the play-off positions only two points away. City are in good form, reflected in the mood around the club.
Last Thursday, the captain of the Dolly Blues and local legend, Neil Marshall, announced his decision to leave football at the end of the season, sadly battling cancer. The news sent shockwaves around Giant Axe, with all concerned offering their good wishes to Marshall. What better tribute than potentially being promoted in his final season.
Nicknamed ‘El Capitano’, Marshall has played more than 400 matches for the Dolly Blues wearing the shirt with pride, an achievement which is proudly commemorated with a plaque at the Shed End of the Lancaster football ground. Marshall has battled cancer for several years and has finally decided to end his career in order to spend more time with his family.
“Over the last 10 years I have put a lot of time and effort into training and playing so now I need to spend some quality time with my young family”, said Marshall in an open letter published in his weekly column in the Lancaster Guardian.
However, there is still work to do this season. The skipper, Lancaster born and bred, has decided to carry on until the end of the season, and certainly did that on Saturday versus Droylsden, leading his team on the pitch as always.
It was an unexpected tough match for the Dolly Blues. There was a crowd of 266 at Giant Axe and a supportive atmosphere against a rival struggling to avoid relegation. The scene was set for a fifth consecutive victory for Lancaster City, however, from the first whistle, it became clear that this wouldn’t be an easy match for the hosts.
The home team manager, Phil Brown decided to start the match with a 4-1-4-1formation, with midfielder Jacob Davis acting as a third centre back when the opponents had the ball. This was clearly a defensive tactic which was reflected in Droylsden’s tentative approach, also not effective in what City were perhaps aiming to achieve, as they lacked dominance and control. In the first half, Lancaster resorted to long ball tactics, continually trying to free striker, Tom Kilifin, and a wide range of set-pieces, almost all of them delivered by Ryan Winder with various outcomes.
The best attempt by the hosts came in the 13th minute, when central half Ricky Mercer connected to a cross from Winder following a foul on the halfway line. Unfortunately, the header went over the bar.
At the other end, goalkeeper Mike Hale had a fabulous game in what was a man of the match performance. In the 21th minute, following a dangerous foul by right back Rob Henry on the visitor’s captain Domaine Rouse, Hale saved a free-kick curled in by Billy Hasler-Cregg which was heading to the corner of the net. Only 10 minutes later, Hasler-Cregg had another chance, this time with a powerful shot from inside the six yard box which Hale saved brilliantly.
“We’ve got the best keeper in the League”, chanted the crowd at the Shed End. Certainly, they had a point.
In the second half, City manager Brown decided to change his strategy. He brought on Tom Watson as a substitute for Terry Cummings, and moved Winder from the right wing to the left reverting to a 4-3-3 formation. This was a significant decision, as, Lancaster’s football became more fluent and chances started to be created.
In the 54th minute, Billy Akrigg split Droylsden’s defence with a through pass to Winder. The winger drove the ball into the box, dribbled past two opponents and crossed to Kilifin, who hit the net but was offside. City were starting to turn the screw as they tried to win the three points. Brown brought on striker Zach Clark for defensive midfielder Davis, a gamble which paid off as in the 75th minute, Craig Carney pounced on a mistake, crossed the ball and supersub Clark found the net to make it, 1-0.
Disapointingly for the locals however, Droylsden managed to equalise a few minutes later, thanks a penalty kick converted by Hasler-Cregg. It could have been worse, but Hale made another miraculous save off the line and the match finished all square. Lancaster keep themselves in sight of the for the play-offs, a worthy reward for captain Neil Marshall.