For only the third time this season, Hall Road Rangers won back to back games in the NCEL, as skipper Steve Gawthorpe converted two penalties in the final five minutes to earn his side a 3-1 victory at Armthorpe Welfare.
Rangers’ joint boss Jamie Barnwell had opened the scoring in the second half, before Armthorpe striker Henry Sibenge levelled with 15 minutes to play. But Ray Ford and Joe Cooper were both bundled over in the box late on, with Gawthorpe despatching the spot kicks well to seal back-to-back wins for Rangers.
Hall Road made four changes to the side that beat Nostell last weekend. James Fossdyke replaced the suspended Mike Burley in goal, whilst Steve Graham, Dane Mortimer and Joe Cooper came in for Jamie Heard, Michael Gregory and Martin Thacker. Lee Parker, who was impressive against Nostell, kept his place at centre half and produced another Beckenbauer-esque performance at the back.
It was evident almost immediately what 11th-placed Armthorpe’s primary tactic for the 90 minutes was going to be. With the 6’4 former league footballer Leo Fortune-West leading their attack, Welfare’s long ball game was cut out by Hall Road on numerous occasions. Rangers, in contrast, preferred a passing game, with goalkeeper Fossdyke only choosing to kick long on a handful of occasions throughout the game.
Within the first two minutes, Hall Road went close. Steve Graham advanced inside from his full back position and played a looping ball into the path of Danny Ricketts, who capitalised on a defensive lapse but couldn’t direct his lobbed effort goalwards. Adam Crane then combined well with Joe Cooper on the left to get the ball to the byline, only for his shot to be blocked away. Cooper’s resulting corner fizzed across goal without a touch. Graham produced another driving run inside the first ten minutes, and picked out Cooper’s well-timed run. The young midfielder tried to round the goalkeeper but the ball was snatched from under his feet.
The first time Armthorpe threatened – on 16 minutes – they should have been 1-0 up. A mix-up in the corner between Dane Mortimer and Graham led to Henry Sibenge nicking the ball and striding into the box. He rounded Fossdyke but saw his shot blocked on the line by Paul Wilson. The same player, who was the Welfare’s main threat, received the ball on the right a few minutes later, and cut inside onto his left foot before firing an effort inches over the crossbar. At the other end, Steve Gawthorpe played two inch-perfect balls in the space of a couple of minutes. The first one picked out Mark Griffin’s run, whose first time shot was blazed over the bar, and the second one found Crane, who lobbed wide.
The best move of the first half from Rangers came on 38 minutes. After some excellent build-up play involving almost every player, Wilson played the ball into the feet of Barnwell on the edge of the penalty box. The Hall Road joint boss flicked it into Ricketts, who in turn nodded wide to Griffin. The winger allowed the ball to go across his body before unleashing a shot that unfortunately went wide. Barnwell had a chance of his own four minutes later, when he headed the overlapping Wilson’s cross wide of the far post. Two late long range attempts from Armthorpe’s Beriran Kurde brought the half to an end without score.
Into the second half, and Griffin and Ricketts had early chances, scuffing a shot wide and volleying over respectively. A Wilson foul on the edge of the box then gave Armthorpe a free kick in a dangerous position, but Sibenge’s set piece could only find the wall. On 58 minutes, Rangers’ endeavour paid off. Some good work going forward by Gawthorpe allowed Ricketts to stride into the box and cross from the left, with the onrushing Barnwell on hand to poke in from inside the six yard box for his second goal in as many games. Armthorpe brought on Abdulla Sanalla as they searched for an equaliser, and he injected some much needed flair into the Welfare team, and looked dangerous. Similarly, Ray Ford replaced the goalscorer, Barnwell, on 65 minutes.
Armthorpe were denied a leveller by a fantastic save by Fossdyke, who spectacularly batted away Richard Smith’s header to maintain Rangers’ lead. Steve Chapman then replaced Graham, who had picked up a knock, with Griffin dropping to right back and Chapman slotting in on the right of midfield. Meanwhile, Darrel Thompson was brought on for Danny Ricketts, as Hall Road looked to see out the game. But with 15 minutes left on the clock, Armthorpe pulled level. Smith charged down Dane Mortimer’s attemped clearance in the corner, and crossed for the unmarked Sibenge, who headed past Fossdyke from close range. Rangers responded brilliantly, though. Almost immediately, they went up the other end and were nearly back ahead, but Crane’s prodded attempt was gathered by the goalkeeper.
Into the final five minutes, and the energetic Ford was played through down the middle. As he tried to skip past Jamie Green, the Welfare’s goalkeeper, his legs were taken from beneath him. The referee awarded Rangers a penalty, and Green earned a yellow card. Steve Gawthorpe converted the resulting penalty, though Green guessed the right way, to nudge Rangers ahead. Unbelievably, less than three minutes later, Rangers were awarded another spot kick. This time, Chapman broke down the right and squared to Cooper, who was in acres of space. Just as the midfielder was about to shoot, an Armthorpe played came in from behind and bundled him over. It was another sure-fire penalty, and Gawthorpe despatched this one in style, powering an unstoppable effort past Green for what was his tenth goal of the season. Leo Fortune-West was gifted with a free header in the final moments, but somehow nodded over the bar to end a grim afternoon for Armthorpe. Rangers, though, recorded their first back-to-back wins in the league since November, and take the momentum into Monday’s clash with Brighouse.
HALL ROAD: James Fossdyke, Steve Graham (Steve Chapman, 67), Paul Wilson, Steve Gawthorpe, Dane Mortimer, Lee Parker, Mark Griffin, Joe Cooper, Jamie Barnwell (Ray Ford, 65), Danny Ricketts (Darrel Thompson, 71), Adam Crane. Subs not used: None.
Big thanks as always to Hall Road’s Press Officer Alex Blackburne for this report. All the relevant links are below.