Appreciate the comment .. thanks! Chance is also still trying to figure out his team, which is taking a distressingly long time in certain areas of the XI.
Chance wanted the right tone.
The runup to the third match day of the season was a special one for a variety of reasons. First, it was against a rival. Second, it was against THE rival.
FC United of Manchester would be the visitors, three points ahead of Salford having played one more game – but for the Class of ’92, this was a big match.
Of course, the “Red Rebels” were created as a protest to the Glazer family’s ownership of Manchester United, for which all five members of the Class had so proudly labored for many years, even if all of them hadn’t finished their careers at Old Trafford.
So that made the preparation extra special. With a week to prepare, and a bumper crowd expected, Chance wanted to leave as little to chance as possible for his part-timers.
And while he had nothing personally against longtime boss Karl Marginson, the fans certainly had something against each other. Or so it appeared, anyway. Having them at Moss Lane first would be a big help.
As the team arrived at the ground in one, twos and threes, Jessica Granger was waiting for Chance. “Hope you like the music,” she smiled as the boss headed into his small stadium office.
“Do I have a choice?” he asked, and the younger woman smiled at him.
“Of course you do,” she grinned, “but not if you know what’s good for you.”
That sounded ominous, so Chance simply told her that he’d plan to enjoy the pre-match playlist.
Salford City (2-0-0, 4th place) v FC United of Manchester (3-0-0, 2nd place)
Vanarama Conference North Match Day #3
Moor Lane, Salford – Referee Anthony Backhouse
The team took the pitch for warm-ups and Chance had to admit, the lady knew how to cook.
Salford City v FC United of Manchester
Clap Your Hands – Parov Stelar
Sorry I’m Late – Kollektiv Turmstrasse
The Max – Prince and the New Power Generation
Head Like A Hole – Nine Inch Nails
Billy Jean on the Storm – Michael Jackson vs. The Doors
Can’t Stop the Rock – Apollo 440
Mercy – Duffy
Delirious – Steve Aoki & and Chris Lake & Tujamo featuring Kid Ink
Cleanin’ Up The Town – The Bus Boys
Starting with Stelar proved to be a popular choice for the fans, many of whom had arrived early looking for a reason to do what the title of his song suggested. Before long they were really into it, to the point where Chance had to caution his players not to use too much of their own energy while warming up.
The atmosphere was terrific, and as the match kicked off Chance looked over to the owners, standing in their accustomed corner. Salford City had gone from a very small local club to a side capable of putting 2,000 fans into a newly updated ground.
There wasn’t a seat to be found anywhere, and the standing areas behind each goal were filled as well. That left the corners and the railing Gary Neville had expressly forbidden anyone to remove.
Chance had other things on his mind by this time, though, and watched with some satisfaction as his team pressed the Red Rebels all over the park.
The breakthrough came through Skapetis, who did a great job to find space at the right side of the FC United penalty area to drive home a half-volley in seventeen minutes. Ninety-five percent of the fans – the visitors had sold their allotment of 100 tickets – rose as one and cheered the home team to the rafters.
That sparked some very bright play by their heroes, and it was only by the hardest that the visitors avoided conceding a second. That is, until Green’s strike four minutes from the interval which not even a Manchester United keeper could have stopped.
Green’s placement was perfect, the goal was solidly and professionally scored, and the home team took a two goal lead to the changing room.
“Let’s learn from last time,” Chance demanded. “I want to see you switched on in the second half no matter what the score is. If you let these fans down, I won’t need to tear a strip off you because the supporters will do it for me.”
“I had never seen that side of you,” Morley said as the teams took to the pitch for the second half.
“Nobody ever tried to bring it out,” Chance replied, taking his seat on the bench.
Morley realized that Chance had a point. Nobody had tried to bring out his competitive side when he was at the club the first time. It was almost as though he was changing before their eyes.
The second half began and the inevitable riposte from FC United was not long in coming. Chance had dialed back the pressure a bit to sit behind the ball for the first ten minutes of the second half, expecting opportunities to counter would abound.
They got through the first fifteen minutes of the second half all right, but in the 61st minute Jerome Wright ghosted between the central defenders and lashed home to cut Salford’s lead to 2-1.
The traveling fans finally had something to cheer about and Chance frowned as the teams headed back up the park. “Suppose it was inevitable, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it,” Chance growled.
At that, Morley looked at Chance, who nodded. The former co-manager headed to the touchline.
“Stay switched on, lads,” he yelled, pointing to his forehead. “They get nothing else today!”
At that he returned to the bench and sat beside Chance.
And at that, Salford started to play better. The veteran David Norris, who was proving to be quite deadly indeed from range at this level of play, restored Salford’s two-goal cushion only four minutes later, with an unstoppable volley to the top left corner of the goal for 3-1.
They were starting to look comfortable, and Green made it four eight minutes from time, his fourth goal in the season’s first three games. He was already looking the best player in the league and it certainly showed.
Now when the Salford players came off for substitutions they had a genuine crowd to applaud, and the majority of the 2,000 strong in attendance ate it up. This was the kind of performance that might bring some of them back, even if Jason Gilchrist pulled one back for the visitors to help the scoreline.
It had been a terrific win. As Backhouse blew for full time, Chance looked at Morley and grinned, extending his hand.
“I think we understand each other, Bernard,” Chance said.
Morley only smiled in reply.
The PA system had one more song to play. The old cowboy, Roy Rogers, sang “Happy Trails
” with his wife Dale Evans, as the defeated Red Rebels left the pitch and the fans waved goodbye in rhythm.
Cold? You bet. Satisfying? Absolutely.
Salford City 4 (Skapetis 17; Green 41, 82; Norris 65)
FC United of Manchester 2 (Jerome Wright 61, Jason Gilchrist 84)
A – 2,000 (100 away), Moor Lane, Salford
Man of the Match – George Green, Salford City (MR 8.8)
# # #
The win had moved them to second place, one point behind Tamworth with a match in hand. Everyone at the club was delighted at the quick start.
Training sessions, whenever the part-timers could get together, were starting to go better. Morley wanted more time for tactical training – one of the reasons Phil Power had been dismissed two years before was a perceived lack of tactical nous on his part – and Chance agreed.
However, there was only so much that could be done in the time available to the players. As a result, away days were actually an opportunity for Chance and Morley to talk tactics with the players.
In the very low league days, players were responsible for getting themselves to the ground. Now, there was at least a motorcoach – not a first-class one, mind, but enough for sixteen players, a manager and two coaches to get where they needed to go.
So it was that the trip to Liberty Way gave Chance the opportunity to drill the players in the nuances of the 4-3-1-2 he was asking them to learn. When it worked, it worked very well, but there were times when it didn’t seem to work at all and when that happened, the ball wound up in their goal almost every time.
The trip to Nuneaton was important for more than one reason. It was an away day, but it was also an opportunity to go top, and that doesn’t happen every day.
It was also Chance’s 34th birthday. He wanted a happy day and before the team left, no less a personage than Bernard Morley approached him.
“We’d like to get you blotto after the match if you’d like,” he said. “The coaches are buying.”
Chance looked at him quizzically. “Where’s Jonno?” he asked.
“Well, he’s my mate, yeah, but it’s your birthday, not his,” Morley explained. That kind of logic was hard to argue. The two were still virtually inseparable off the pitch but the team’s fast start had to stick in Jonno’s craw a bit.
This was the kind of team he would have loved to be around – gritty, some skill, but coachable. And he wasn’t there.
Chance decided to be magnanimous. “Tell him to come along if he’d like,” he said. Morley’s face turned into a frown, but not necessarily a bad one.
“All right,” he finally said. “That would be grand.”
Chance was genuinely trying to build a positive relationship with Morley, and he had made some real strides in recent days. He figured this would be another way to help in the process.
So as the team headed out for the trip to Nuneaton, things seemed just fine in Ammie country.
Nuneaton Town (2-1-0, 7th place) v Salford City (3-0-0, 2nd place)
Vanarama Conference North Match Day #3 – Liberty Way, Nuneaton
Referee – Jake Collin
The first quarter-hour was normal service, as the phrase goes. The visitors came out brightly, as you’d expect a team in form to do, and even made an early breakthrough.
It was that man again, Skapetis, doing what he already seemed to have shown a real knack for doing – finding space between central defenders in a zonal marking scheme and making his shot count. The visitors led and that was a nice birthday present.
Salford was doing very well in possession and generating more chances than their hosts, which was a second good thing. But Billy Daniels equalized for Nuneaton just after the half hour and at a stroke, the momentum of the match switched from visitor to host.
Chance didn’t like the signs. So he sat with Morley and asked for advice.
“Get them forward,” he urged as the first half entered added time. Chance saw the wisdom in that idea, showing the players that he wasn’t about to sit back and let Nuneaton take the match to them. So he stood up, walked to the touchline and whistled for Green’s attention.
He pointed forward, got a nod of recognition from the attacking midfielder, and turned back to the dugout.
Almost immediately, Nuneaton caught them on the counter, and it was Daniels again, sweeping home unmarked to put Nuneaton ahead at the break.
Red-faced, Chance didn’t look at Morley, who had been right in his judgment. It was his players who had been lacking in application, leaving their responsibilities at the door when they moved forward.
“Well, at least we have that our of our bloody systems,” he snapped as the team sat for the team talk. “Just not good enough, gentlemen. Not good enough. You hear me? Not good enough!”
He was wound up. Morley then stood as well and gave the kind of blistering talk only he could give, since Jonno wasn’t in the room.
Thus energized, the players had no choice but to absorb the reality check Nuneaton had given them in the first half. Determined to do better, they came out with an attacking mindset in the second and almost immediately made things happen.
Though not in a good way. The Salford players looked like they had never heard of a counterattack, and after two narrow misses, Rees Wedderburn couldn’t miss in 65 minutes. And he didn’t. Now it was 3-1 and Salford was up against it.
It’s at times like this that teams see what they have on the ball. The answer in this case was “not very much.”
Chance had learned something about his team that was most alarming. It was that in the offensive style he craved, they could be carved open with ease by a pacy opponent.
Happy birthday, Chance.
Nuneaton Town 3 (Billy Daniels 32, 45; Rees Wedderburn 65)
Salford City 1 (Skapetis 16)
A – 831 (101 away), Liberty Way, Nuneaton
Man of the Match: Billy Daniels, Nuneaton Town (MR 8.8)
# # #
“We’re still going out,” Morley insisted.
The team had nearly two hours up the A5 and M6 to think about their first defeat of the season, and it was pretty silent on the coach during the trip. So while Morley was insistent, he was quiet about it.
Realizing that a brew might not be the worst way to wash a disappointing day out of his thoughts, Chance agreed. He had received text messages from Gary Neville, who seemed to live and die with Salford, and Scholes, who attended most home matches but didn’t have quite as much to say.
“Happy birthday,” Neville offered. “Wish things would have gone differently today.”
“We need to figure out how to defend a counter,” he had replied, “and thank you.”
Before long they were at the Waldorf, just a couple of miles out of the city center, and a favorite haunt of some of the local footballers. As a recently married man, Morley didn’t get out much either and as an unattached man, Chance didn’t either.
The group gathered starting at 8pm. The squad was off the next day so nobody was looking at a clock. Morley, volunteer assistant Phil Priestley, goalkeeping coach and third-choicer Craig Dootson and chief physio Val McCarthy were all present.
Then Jonno walked in, and looked around. He found what he was looking for and approached the group.
“Happy birthday, old man,” he said, extending his hand to Chance, who shook it. The squaddie had an iron grip, as you might expect, and he sidled in next to Morley at the table as the pints began to flow.
“Wish things would have gone better today,” he offered, though without sarcasm.
“He’s taking this well,” Chance thought, taking a pull from a Holt Diamond Extra Cold that was a nice cap to what had to this point been a rough day.
“Me, too,” he finally said. “We won’t win them all but we do have to look like we’re trying.”
“You’ll find that’s the hardest part,” Jonno replied. “We can yell and scream all we like but they have to listen, yeah?”
So far no other club had come in for Jonno’s services and that was a source of angst for him. A proud man, he wanted to get back into the game to show the owners that he could not only run a team, he could do it without Morley, who remained his best mate.
The two of them talked quietly – they were going to do that whether or not Chance was present – and the manager struck up a conversation with Dootson.
Then the waitress arrived, and Chance did a double take. The girls from the car park had just entered and that little blonde Chance had admired was with them. No doubt about it.
He smiled to himself and took another drink.
Just then he looked up and his blond-haired friend was standing next to him.
“Pardon me for intruding, but I just wanted to say I was at the match today,” she said.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Chance immediately replied, and she smiled in return.
“Can’t win them all even if you want to,” she said, “but I wanted to tell you that I’m a supporter and I hope you can have a good season for the fans.”
Chance smiled, but before he could answer, Morley did it for him.
“That’s grand of you,” he said. “We’re celebrating Mr. Morrison’s birthday despite it all.”
The lady’s face flushed bright pink. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…”
Now Chance spoke. “Not at all,” he replied. “I’m glad you stopped by. What’s your name?”
“Sara. Sara Copeland.”
“Thank you, Sara Copeland,” he replied, extending his hand. “Chance Morrison. Pleased to meet you.”
# # #
They got Chance banjoed up and even poured him into a cab to take him home. That was neighborly of them.
The Sunday was spent nursing an understandable hangover but after that it was right back to business to prepare for a crunch clash with AFC Fylde.
There was going to have to be better in these players than they had shown against Nuneaton – Fylde had three wins and a draw from four matches and sat second behind Tamworth – but at the teams’ Monday training session, the only one before the Tuesday match, Chance made his feelings clear.
“We need to let the last one go,” he said. “Yes, we were s***e against Nuneaton. Yes, there will be days where we will be s***e again. That’s part of football. But one of those days is not going to be Tuesday.”
The fixture list called for them to travel again, this time to Kirkham. This wasn’t as long a trip – Mill Farm was located almost exactly on a straight line between Preston and Blackpool in Lancashire – so the coach left in the afternoon so the team could get off the bus and play.
AFC Fylde (3-1-0, 2nd place) v Salford City (3-0-1, 5th place)
Vanarama Conference North Match Day #5 - Mill Farm, Kirkham
Referee - Peter Gibbons
The match began with Salford in the same lethargy they had been in the preceding Saturday. However, part of that was by design. Chance’s intention was to do to Fylde what Nuneaton had done to them – absorb pressure and hit on the counter.
Fylde was a good, strong, organized side that was rugged and clearly built for Conference football. But midway through the first half, Chance and Morley realized that in attack, Fylde wasn’t exactly what the scouting report had claimed.
Salford grew a bit more adventurous as the half wore on, with Josh Hine working up front with Skapetis to try to make something happen in the Fylde defensive third. Nothing did in the first half, though, but by the time referee Peter Gibbons had blown for halftime, the visitors had seven attempts at goal to two for the home team.
Yet the breakthrough hadn’t come and Chance had a choice to make in the changing room. He chose to be the good cop.
“This is winnable,” he insisted. “It just takes one, now who’s going to be the one to get it?”
The teams took the field for the second half and just after the hour, Skapetis made the breakthrough. Hine was the provider, acting as a target man in Chance’s 4-3-1-2 look. With his back to goal he took a pass from Green, spun to his left and slid a delicious lead ball onto the diagonal run of Skapetis. His rising shot beat Rhys Taylor to his short side.
It was a goal that was especially special at this level, just a fine piece of skill between two strikers who were trying to build an understanding.
There were two areas where Chance couldn’t seem to find synergy: the central defenders and the strikers. It was a matter of finding out who worked best with whom and that was all there was to it.
The problem was that nobody seemed willing to step up and be part of either of those tandems except for Skapetis, who had been excellent. Club captain Simon Grand had started slowly in defense but had more or less come on, but the problem had been finding a partner for him.
As such Chance was watching Steve Howson closely. A Salford lad, the 6’1, 200-pound defender moved like an ice wagon but once he got set he was the Conference North's version of Yip Yap Stam -- "get past him if you ****ing can".
While Fylde huffed and puffed, Howson and Grand were right in the middle of the action trying to stop them.
It wasn’t pretty. But it worked, and when it was done Chance had the rebound his team craved and as importantly, a potential center half partner for his captain.
AFC Fylde 0
Salford City 1 (Skapetis 61)
A – 1,346 (83 away), Mill Farm, Kirkham
Man of the Match: Simon Grand, Salford City (MR 7.9)
# # #
Great win there mate. Love the detail you put into every update, it's something very unique to the site.
Thank you, sir ... the detail is sort of a trademark of mine!
More than anything, Salford City needed a few days off.
Like all the Conference North teams, they had played a heavy schedule in the opening weeks while the weather was good. But on the other side, the season was over by the end of March, which made the early season hard work worthwhile.
But for now the games were coming thick and fast. The Ammies had gone top with the win at Fylde, but led Nuneaton by two points with one more match played so the lead wasn’t exactly secure.
The feeling was good, though – with the exception of the Nuneaton match, the Ammies were playing like they belonged in the league they were in. They were explosive in the attack and not nearly as good in the defense but these were things that could be worked upon.
Next up was a home match against Gainsborough, a team already settling down to mid-table but one against whom Chance thought his players could work on a few things they needed to improve.
Right back in action on the Saturday, the Ammies would be at home before an enthusiastic crowd and Chance knew it would serve them well. They had been very good at home in his short experience and the friendly confines of Moor Lane would undoubtedly be good to them again.
But the thing of it was, Chance was happier with the one-nil at Fylde than he had been with the 5-1 pasting of Gloucester in the opening match of the season. He was starting to identify weaknesses in his team and as such, the clean sheet was very satisfying to him.
Gainsborough was the next item on Salford’s agenda, a team that had lost only one of its first five matches, just like the Ammies. However, they had two draws, which is why Salford was first and Trinity was tenth.
Chance gave the team two full days off to rest tired legs. He could sense a weariness among the regular players that he wanted to nip in the bud, especially this early in the season. The matches came thick and fast in the early going and without the squad size to truly rotate players effectively, off days were the only method Chance had of keeping players like Green fresh.
The squad was rounding into match shape nicely – being a part-time team hurt with fitness – but even five matches into the season, Chance would need to play players out of necessity who weren’t fully fit. So far, knock on wood, the injury bug had avoided them.
Salford City (4-0-1, 1st place) v Gainsborough Trinity (2-2-1, 10th place)
Vanarama Conference North Match Day #6 - Moor Lane, Salford
Referee Ian Hussin
Gainsborough started the match the same way Salford had at Fylde – cards held close to the vest, and looking for a chance to counter. Thinking that the Ammies would be set out to attack – and they weren’t wrong in that – the Trinity backliners invited the pressure and looked to counter.
“At least we know they look at match video,” Chance commented to Morley midway through the first half. Taking down the league leaders required a bit of effort these days and clearly Gainsborough had spent a bit of time looking at Salford.
Chance continued his search for a second striker who could play well with Skapetis, who was one of the few names, along with Green’s, to almost be guaranteed a spot on the team sheet. Today it was Mike Phenix’s turn and the two of them huffed and puffed against the Trinity back line for the entire first half to the tune of two shots on target.
That was two fewer than the visitors, which earned the Ammies a warm reception when they returned to their changing room for the halftime team talk.
“We don’t look like we know where the goal is,” Chance said quietly. He was trying a different tactic with the players – since yelling wasn’t his style and he was trying to stay true to himself.
Whatever it was Chance was trying to do, it didn’t exactly translate. The second half started as the first half had ended – a staid, dull affair that was a very poor advertisement even for this level of football.
That was, until the breakthrough. An inch-perfect square ball found the foot of the striker who powered home from ten yards – but it w as Gainsborough’s Nathan Jarman on the receiving end rather than Skapetis, and the home team trailed in the 65th minute.
That put Salford into the position Chance hadn’t wanted to see them in – needing to chase a game and being vulnerable to a counter game at the same time. Yet this time, the result was different.
It came through Phenix, who latched onto a great little chip pass from Green seven minutes after the first goal to level the match eighteen minutes from time.
Moor Lane was about 75 percent full for this game and the good-sized crowd showed its appreciation. That was better stuff.
That was, until referee Ian Hussin put Gainsborough on the spot through a penalty awarded against Wassi in the 78th minute.
The defender reacted like the referee had shot his dog, and Jarman stepped to the spot to the loud whistles of the home fans. They made no difference, though, as Jarman sent Albinson the wrong way for a 2-1 advantage.
“Well, I’ll be wildly f***ed,” Chance announced to no one in particular.
“No sense getting your mad up,” Morley said, trying to mollify his boss, who would have none of it.
The annoyance Chance felt was matched only by his team’s inability to find a response. This one hurt – it was at home and as far as Chance was concerned, the referee had decided the points.
Salford City 1 (Phenix 72)
Gainsborough Trinity 2 (Nathan Jarman 65, pen 78)
A – 1,484 (41 away), Moor Lane, Salford
Man of the Match – Nathan Jarman, Gainsborough (MR 8.6)
# # #
Disappointing result there. Nathan Jarman is a good little striker though!
He is. My slow central defenders had a very hard time with him.
Chance tried to avoid Hussin after the match. He wasn’t happy and didn’t want a sanction. He told the team what he honestly felt – they had been hard done by and the players seemed to take that well.
He was also glad there was no media covering the match – Salford wasn’t yet at that level where they could demand regular coverage – so he had no outlet to say what was on his mind. In this case, that was a blessing in disguise.
So he chose Morley as his target, a known referee-watcher in his own right. He needed to vent and Bernard showed a great deal of understanding.
“Bloody shambles,” he agreed. “But now’s the time you tell the lads these things even out.”
“Maybe they do, but that’s cost us two spots in the table,” Chance snapped, looking at his phone for the day’s results. They hadn’t gone well.
Salford had dropped from top to third place – still great and still far beyond expectations, but still not what Chance wanted to see. He was in a very bad mood as he headed out for a drink, his laptop in tow to watch video of the day’s setback.
Soon he was sat in the corner at the Duke of York with his Diamond in hand – but after you lose, even the drinks don’t taste as good.
He replayed the penalty over and over, looking for a foul against Wassi that he never found. Surely it was red-and-black colored glasses he was wearing, but that didn’t make it hurt any less.
He looked up to see Sara standing beside him. “You’re going to have a heart attack if all you do is look at video after you lose,” she said, nearly in a teasing fashion.
“Why is it I only seem to see you after we lose?” Chance asked, returning the lady’s smile.
“Just lucky, I guess?” she asked. “Mind if I sit down?”
Ordinarily Chance would have refused, but this seemed different. She sat and Chance simply admired her soft good looks.
“It looks to me like you could use a friend,” she said. “It’s no fun obsessing over a lost match, even if you are the manager.”
“You know, there are some fans who would disagree with you,” he said, taking a pull of the Extra Cold Lager. It was starting to taste better.
“There’s also more to life than football,” she said, which to Chance was nearly sacrilegious.
“Really? What else is there?” Chance asked. “I mean for me, there’s roofing…”
“You aren’t very good at this, are you?” Sara asked, her ready smile showing she meant no offense. “Come dance with me and I’ll show you.”
# # #
He felt better. The song had at least been slow. No matter Sara’s thoughts on winning and losing, the manager being seen getting down with his bad self after a home loss wouldn’t have gone over well.
They hit it off well. Chance had even gotten her mobile number, which he hadn’t anticipated.
The next day, though, it was back to work. Preparations began for a trip to Ashton-under-Lyne and a battle with nominal rival Curzon Ashton, which wasn’t off to the best of starts.
It was the kind of match Chance craved, to see how far his team had come, especially on the back of a disappointing loss at home. Getting on the road was a good thing for them, even if it was only a few miles.
But above all, the match gave Chance a chance to remind his players that hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard, and that you make your own breaks. Once he had run out of clichés, he sent a transformed eleven onto the pitch.
Curzon Ashton (2-1-3, 15th place) v Salford City (4-0-2, 3rd place)
Vanarama Conference North Match Day #7 - The Tameside Stadium, Ashton-under-Lyne
Referee David Richardson
The Nash seemed bound and determined, almost from the opening kickoff, to show why they were 15th in a 22-team table.
The first fifteen minutes were dire on both sides of the ball, but especially from the home team, which seemed unacquainted with the idea of stringing two passes together. They couldn’t blame the pitch – it was in decent shape and it was a nice early autumn day – but they could blame a lack of skill, because it simply wasn’t on display.
Skapetis finally made them pay for it twenty-one minutes into the match, and in the most ridiculous of ways. He stole a short back pass and went in one v one. The keeper had no chance and Salford led away.
That was the stuff Chance was after, but even as he implored his team forward for a second goal that would surely kill off the match, it just never came.
The match dragged to halftime still at one-nil and looking for all the world like it would stay that way well into the second half.
That was enough for Chance, who would have loved a one-nil win away, until his central defense made an error that made him question the new partnership between Howson and Grand. Neither one of them noticed Ian Heffernan standing between them and neither one of them noticed him latching onto a through ball that had the score tied in 68 minutes.
“Nice finish,” Chance moaned. “Too bad nobody on our back line noticed.”
Instead, the two men stood next to each other, one arm raised in a feeble protestation of offside. That wasn’t helpful.
The idea now was to get men forward and to try to restore the situation, but with the team playing as lethargically as it seemed to be playing now, that was almost as difficult as Curzon Ashton trying to pass between themselves in the first half.
On a rare foray forward, the ball wound up at Green’s feet, and the player went down on a shoulder charge from Danny Shaw.
Then there was referee David Richardson, pointing to the spot. Chance couldn’t believe it.
“That’s an awfully soft penalty,” he hissed to Morley, standing to his right.
“They can’t hear you, Chance,” Morley replied, over the boos and whistles of the crowd assembled behind the benches.
The manager simply smiled, and watched as Skapetis whipped a perfectly taken penalty home to get Salford back into the lead twelve minutes from time.
And in a match as dire as this one, that was enough. Chance was left to remark that yes, sometimes the game does even things out – and sometimes it does so sooner than you might expect.
Curzon Ashton 1 (Ian Heffernan 68)
Salford City 2 (Skapetis 21, pen 76)
A – 324 (84 away), The Tameside Stadium, Ashton-under-Lyne
Man of the Match: Peter Skapetis, Salford City (MR 8.6)
# # #
Wow, it's been a long time since I read one of your stories 10-3, I guess today's the day to invest some time in this, always found you an inspiring read through this source or the next! Flying with Salford so far, keep it up!
Much appreciated .... thanks for reading along, and yes the team is in acceptable form at the moment!
“Top again,” Chance said, looking at his phone on the brief coach ride home.
Worcester was now the second placed team in the table, with Gainsborough a point back. The win had been timely, and it now put the team on fifteen points.
And, to be fair, it had been a nice answer to the most recent loss – but the team was hardly firing on all cylinders after its purple patch to start the season.
“Long season,” Morley said from the seat across the aisle.
“No doubt,” Chance replied, both men trying to play the Captain Obvious role to perfection.
“We’ll get them put right,” Morley offered, reading Chance’s mind. Right now, Salford was that most rare of anomalies – a table-topping team which wasn’t playing as well as it was capable.
“We can’t give teams a chance to climb on top of us or they will do,” Chance mused, flipping through the day’s scores a second time, as if wondering whether some of them would change.
The day’s matches over, Chance could put his thoughts on other things for a few minutes. One of those things (or was it two of those things?) was Sara, who had texted him regularly over the preceding days and seemed interested in a relationship.
“Bang tidy,” Chance thought to himself as he looked at a selfie she had shot of the two of them on the dance floor. She looked like she belonged there. Chance looked like he had been dragged there. But no matter – they looked good together and for now, that was enough.
His phone buzzed and he saw a text message from Sara waiting for him.
“Great job today,” she offered, “and congratulations. Manager of the month!”
That seemed odd. Yes, his team was in first place at the turn of the month but he hardly considered himself to be the award-winning kind, especially not in his first full month at Salford’s helm. Yet, as the Americans say, “ball don’t lie,” and ball certainly didn’t lie here.
What was nice was that Chance hadn’t heard of his honor until Sara had told him. That counted for something and he liked the thought.
“You may be too good for me now,” she teased in a second text.
“Hardly,” he replied. “Meet you for a pint this evening?”
She had accepted surprisingly quickly and before long they were at the Duke of York at their accustomed table, with Chance walking through the day’s events at the Tameside.
This was more like it, he thought, as the two simply learned about each other. Football was nice to talk about, and she certainly seemed a knowledgeable supporter, but for this evening it was on the back burner.
# # #
Great update. Congratulations on the SoTM nomination also!
Much appreciated, sir! Nice to see people are reading along :)
“So, is she your girlfriend?”
Morley could afford to tease Chance. The team was top of the table with the 18th placed team, Alfreton Town, coming in for the next match. Things were going well.
“She’s a friend,” Chance smiled. “That’s all you need to know.”
And indeed, she was. Sara and Chance had gone out a couple of times in the intervening period, once to catch a movie, and once for a drink. To some people, that was enough to make a relationship Facebook-official, but for Chance at least, it was a chance to unwind with a friend who happened to be rather distressingly gorgeous.
But Morley wouldn’t let go of the idea. “Really, Chance, she’s lovely and you should … well, you know … you just should.”
Bernard Morley had never been one to spare the language when he felt strongly about anything, so his sudden burst of decorum was as humorous as it was effective.
“I’m not that kind of a guy,” Chance smiled, as the players began a tactical drill.
“The hell you aren’t,” Morley laughed in reply. “I’ve learned a lot about you in the time you’ve been here and if there’s one thing I’m sure of it’s that you’re terrible at lying.”
“It’s not for a married man to rate women,” Chance reminded him, and Morley just grinned.
“I’m married, not dead,” he deadpanned. There was certainly no arguing that point.
But there was a point to what he was saying. He had seen quite a bit of Sara in recent days – not as much as some wags would have suggested he wanted to see, even if that kind of talk was fashionable nowadays – and he liked the feeling.
He liked winning more, though, and for the time being that was the top priority.
Salford City (5-0-2, 1st place) v Alfreton Town (2-1-3, 18th place)
Vanarama Conference North Match Day #8 - Moor Lane, Salford
Referee - Peter Wright
Coming home was just the right thing to clear Chance’s head. Alfreton had been indifferent through their first six matches so Chance was hoping to jump on them early and keep them that way.
The visitors were up for it, though, as Terry Kennedy wound up in Peter Wright’s book after only eight minutes with a thundering challenge on Skapetis which left the Salford man needing the magic sponge.
Moor Lane was just over three-quarters filled for the occasion and the fans were thus brought fully into the match. Salford responded well, throwing men forward with dash and style, but coming up with nothing until the player who started it all – Skapetis – found a way to goal just before the half-hour, launching a searing drive past German keeper Fabian Speiss and home for the breakthrough.
There was quite literally nothing to be upset about with the home team’s play, so Chance decided to sit back and enjoy a few minutes of football from a team that was playing well. Alfreton couldn’t get near the goal in the first half, not registering a single shot, much less getting one on target.
“More of the same,” Chance demanded at the break. “Let’s see how long you can keep them off frame.”
Three minutes after the restart it was reserve midfielder Sam Walker who doubled the advantage. He was supposed to be playing behind the likes of Norris, Barnes, Green and Haughton, but the problem was that whenever Chance put him out there, Walker played like he was possessed. This time it was just a simple sidefoot home from five yards, but the midfielder had arrived late, gotten to the right position, and taken his chance for two-nil to the home team.
Chance admired Walker’s ability to get to the point when he was out there, and as such was a highly useful substitute – or even as a starting player when he wanted to get someone’s attention. Walker got it, and that meant a lot at this level.
Yet it was the veteran Craig Westcarr, playing for his thirteenth club despite being only age 31, who made things interesting just after the hour with an impressive effort from the edge of the Salford penalty area. Sometimes the other guy just beats you, and that had been the case here.
Yet Alfreton Town hardly troubled anyone the rest of the way – curious for a team looking to move up the table. Their failure to place pressure on the Salford goal was one reason why they were a mid-table team and looked likely to stay that way.
Salford City 2 (Skapetis 28, Walker 48)
Alfreton Town 1 (Craig Westcarr 61)
A – 1,567 (89 away), Moor Lane, Salford
Man of the Match – Patrick Brough, Salford City (MR 8.1)
# # #
A tidy win there, interesting developments in the potential Chance and Sara thing.
Not many people drop what they’re doing in order to follow the FA Cup Second Qualifying Round Draw, but while sat on a rooftop in Hale, that’s exactly what Chance was trying to do while staying out of the view of his foreman.
The morning’s job was simple – he was reshingling an old home in one of the more fashionable areas of the district – but he was wondering who his team would get upon their entry into this year’s knockout competition.
The Class of ’92 had set the goal of two wins in the competition for Chance – which was to say, reach the Fourth Qualifying Round and we’re all good. That made the draw important.
Eventually, he liked what he saw. It was AFC Bridgnorth of the Counties League, at home, on the 17th September. His team would be fancied in that match and that was just fine with Chance.
The way they were playing, they should have been fancied. Almost immediately, as he got back to work, he started thinking about ways to get different players into the mix to increase match sharpness and as he did, his phone buzzed again.
It was a text from Gary Neville. “My mate in Hale says he can see you on that roof checking your phone,” he joked. “Get to work!”
Then the phone buzzed again. “And nice draw, BTW. Good luck.”
The fixture list had Salford home again, this time to FC Halifax, and the home cooking certainly was good for the team. So was a good, if short, week of training with a focus Chance really liked seeing.
Bernard was a 4-4-2 man and wasn’t really shy about saying so. Chance preferred 4-3-1-2 and wasn’t shy about playing it.
At that time, the Ammies trained three alignments – Chance’s preferred team, a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-5-1 related to the second alignment in that it could become 4-2-3-1 at the drop of a hat or the whim of the manager.
As such, since he didn’t have his way in terms of formation, Bernard wanted tactical preparation. And this week, the players really seemed to get it for the first time. When a team trains only twice a week, that can be quite a nuance, and as such Chance looked forward to seeing the results.
Salford City (6-0-2, 1st place) v FC Halifax (3-2-3, 12th place)
Vanarama Conference North Match Day #9 – Moor Lane, Salford
Referee: Simon Barrow
Five minutes into the match, all the focus had been thrown on the scrap heap, as Liam King headed off to the small aggregation of away supporters, pulling himself along by the badge on the shirt, while Albinson fished the ball out of his goal with a look of utter disgust on his face.
It had been far too simple. King found space – way too much of it, in fact – in the left hand channel and given the keeper practically no chance despite shooting from an angle.
“Sometimes we look like we’ve never seen a football when the opposition has it,” Chance snapped at Morley, who for the moment remained a stationary target.
Then the assistant was up on the touchline for a moment, pointing angrily to his head while gesticulating in the direction of the back line.
Back he soon came, taking his seat on the bench while the home team tried to climb back into the match before a crowd that was suddenly as restless as it was large.
They needn’t have worried long, though, as Skapetis equalized from near the penalty spot in 22 minutes to get Salford level, at which time the pitch seemed to tilt in the direction of the visitors’ goal.
The goal from the poacher galvanized Salford, which suddenly began to pour forward with confidence and energy, of the good kind.
It was Green who put them ahead, with an effort from distance seven minutes before the interval, and with Chance mollified in terms of his team talk, Hine found a way to sneak into space to add a third just before the match ticked into first half added time.
That changed Chance’s team talk for the third time. Now it was a whole different game.
“Pour it on them,” he urged. “Don’t let them off the mat. This match is there for you to grab. Now get out there and do it.”
Green was the first to listen, powering home eight minutes after the restart for a fourth goal that effectively killed the match – or so Chance thought.
Just nine minutes later, Adam Morgan was dancing around in the Salford six-yard box, after leading the central defenders a dance before toying with Albinson to cut the arrears to 4-2.
Chance leaned back and looked at the sky, his exasperation with Grand apparent for everyone to see. Salford’s captain wasn’t having his best day.
But Hine answered quickly, finding space to the short post only four minutes after Morgan to restore Salford’s three-goal advantage. And if Chance was upset with his defenders, he couldn’t hold a candle to Billy Heath, who was up and screaming after every Salford incursion.
They were having a howler, and Heath finally sat down in disgust when Bradley Barnes made it six in 72 minutes by converting an inch-perfect cross from Yvan Wassi.
Now the fans were roaring, and Green did nothing to calm them down when he completed a dominating hat trick ten minutes later with a rasping effort that clipped the crossbar before deflecting down into the goal to make it 7-2.
“Do you think if I took the lot of them off they could leave without falling down?” Heath snarled, loudly enough for the Salford bench to hear them. It was a moment of levity, at least from the home team’s point of view, in a match which rather needed it.
Morgan scored a consolation goal on the stroke of time for Halifax, which was enough to make Chance frown one last time, but by the time Simon Barrow blew his whistle to end the proceedings, the devastation of Halifax was complete.
Salford City 7 (Skapetis 22; Green 38, 53, 82; Hine 45, 66; Barnes 72)
FC Halifax 3 (Liam King 5; Adam Morgan 62, 90)
A – 1,428 (83 away) – Moor Lane, Salford
Man of the Match – George Green, Salford City (MR 9.6)
# # #
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