Picking themselves up after back-to-back defeats, ActiveWin FC prepared to take on top team PH Media at Salford Sports Village.
Player-manager Adam Jackson was back in action. Plus, AW were boosted by the return of Liam Tyler, who had been sidelined with a knee injury. Jackson had also called in a reinforcement, with friend of the club Phil Pole replacing Dave Bates in goal.
It wasn’t all good news, however, once again the team lacked depth, with not a single sub available.
As the two sides warmed up and AW got a look at PH’s bench – complete with reserve goalkeeper, plenty of substitutes and even a physio – it became clear that this was going to to be a David and Goliath clash. Yet ActiveWin almost pulled it off!
A stunning comeback could have seen AW take at least a point, if not snatch victory, but it wasn’t to be and the game eventually finished 3-4 to PH Media.
Still, it was a magnificent team performance and each and every ActiveWin player can hold their head high.
Given the available personnel, ActiveWin had elected to play three at the back, with ubiquitous defensive duo Captain Eddie Jordan and Eliot Jacob joined by relative newcomer Ben Skeer.
A strong 5-man midfield consisted of Jackson, Josh Gamble, Adam Rowley, Liam Tyler and Sam Benson, with Ashley Leith and Allan Stevenson up front.
Despite the daunting prospect PH Media posed, ActiveWin made a positive start. Tyler, and Stevenson, in particular, were working hard to cause the opposition problems from the get-go.
At the other end, Pole made a good save, before his excellent distribution facilitated a quick counter-attack through Stevenson, although it came to nothing in the end.
Rowley then linked up with Leith to get the ball back up to Stevenson, but Stevenson saw his shot blocked.
Jackson did well to get the ball to Stevenson, but the latter couldn’t find Leith.
1-0 GOAL! It wasn’t long before AW’s offensive attitude paid off. Rowley opened the scoring with a lovely 40-yard volley.
PH tried to test Pole, but he dealt with it easily.
Jackson and Gamble were keeping the PH midfielders busy and doing a good job of pushing them back.
1-1 PH GOAL: PH equalised from a corner.
PH carved out another opportunity soon after, but the ball rolled harmlessly past the ActiveWin goal.
Benson and Gamble stopped PH midfielders in their tracks, and when they did eventually force their way through, they wasted chances.
Gamble’s ball was just too far for Leith. Jackson soon triggered a good passage of play, passing to Stevenson then getting himself into space. Stevenson shook off three players in order to get the ball back to Jackson, but then shot well over the bar after regaining possession.
1-2 PH GOAL: AW were working well as a team, so it was disappointing when PH scored again.
Looking for another equaliser, Rowley released Stevenson, but he took far too many touches and the PH keeper eventually snuffed out the danger.
The back three were coping well, and were being helped by Benson and Tyler when needed.
Stevenson went down and appeared to be struggling, but, with no subs, he was soon up and running at the PH keeper.
PH were pushing for a third, but Pole remained unphased.
1-3 PH GOAL: When the third goal did come it was a stunning strike, a real exhibition goal, not that that was much comfort to ActiveWin!
PH began the second half hungry for more, forcing Gamble to clear off the line to prevent AW falling further behind.
AW weren’t giving up, Rowley made a great run, showing strong determination to retrieve the ball. Leith delivered an absolute peach into the box, but Tyler couldn’t quite turn it in.
1-4 PH GOAL: PH shot over the bar, but ActiveWin failed to clear the danger and PH found the net once again.
The goals against them and the lack of subs were beginning to take their toll on the AW players, but they continued to battle to get back into the game.
Stevenson was trying to get the ball in the box, and Rowley won a free kick, but Leith hit the PH defensive wall.
The back three weren’t giving up either, Jacob stayed glued to his man, making it difficult for him to get into the game.
Leith attempted a curling shot, but it didn’t trouble the PH keeper.
At the other end, PH were wasteful in front of goal. In truth, they could have killed off the game much earlier.
Stevenson was clearly struggling with injuries, but delivered a decent ball into the box for Leith, he then passed to Rowley, who hit the crossbar.
AW were getting closer, but still required Jordan to keep his composure at the back, and another good save from Pole, to prevent another PH goal.
Leith pitched another free kick into the box but Rowley couldn’t get under it.
PH were getting cocky, and one of the players very nearly turned the ball into his own net!
2-4 GOAL! Soon after, the PH keeper made the mistake of inviting Stevenson to take a shot, then giving him all the time in the world to do so. When the keeper didn’t come out to meet him, Stevenson eventually just nipped round him to stroke the ball home.
3-4 GOAL! The goal galvanised AW and PH once again underestimated the attacking threat. This time it was Rowley who was given far too much time to execute a shot he was never going to miss.
ActiveWin were fully in the ascendancy and, had they had a few more minutes, would almost certainly have found an equaliser.
It wasn’t to be, and the final whistle blew.
Man of the Match: With only the starting 11 in the entire squad, there was nowhere to hide, and, to a man, ActiveWin left everything on the pitch. There were numerous candidates, but whilst Ashley Leith often catches the eye with his individual skill, this was undoubtedly his best team performance, and he just edged it.
Verdict: Although, in the end, ActiveWin failed to snatch even a point from the encounter, they played as a team and showed immense character to mount such an impressive comeback. A few more minutes or a sub could have made all the difference. Fingers crossed the team will have gained confidence from the game and can end their losing streak when they play again later this month.