AFTER a month on the road Formby returned to Victoria Park for a North West Counties Football League Challenge Cup first round tie against high flying Nelson.
Since they came in August and won 3-1, the Admirals have only got stronger
They arrived as the most in-form side in the league, having won their last five games and racked up an eye-watering 30 goals in the process. But having reached the cup final last year and lost tamely to Runcorn Linnets, Formby were determined to progress.
Before the game started there was a treble presentation. League Secretary John Deal gave September’s Manager of the Month award to Formby’s dynamic duo of Jim Shirley and Kev Dally, and the First Division Player of the Month honour to Marvin Molyneux.
There was a further presentation of a fans’ award to Luke Holden for his hat-trick at Selby Town in the FA Vase.
The opening minute set the tone for what was to follow. First a Paul Speed cross was cleared as far as Molyneux on the edge of the area.
The in-form defender hit a measured drive that flashed just wide of Ben Woodhead’s upright.
Mark Kirby was already giving his marker Jake Lloyd a torrid time and in the fourth minute ran onto a shrewd Speed pass, skipped into the area and pulled the ball back to John Edgerton who, lacking a bit of composure, was unable to hit the target. A minute later Tom Simpson had to be at his best to save from Christopher Turner eight yards out.
The game had already settled into an end-to-end attacking encounter with both sides prolifically creating, yet not taking, their chances.
The deadlock was eventually broken in the ninth minute by Molyneux. Speed swung a corner into the box, Molyneux collected the rebound and this time he made no mistake, striking a powerful drive through a crowd of players and into the net.
In keeping with the attacking nature of the game, the Admirals’ response was a good one. They maintained a spell of concerted pressure that really should’ve produced an equaliser but for profligate finishing, a smidgen of good fortune and some outstanding Formby defence.
Formby finished the half on the front foot as a Molyneux free-kick, conceded for a foul on the hard-working John Prescott, flew wide of the Nelson goal.
Nelson started the second half pressing Formby back and snapping into tackles.
They still created chances but still Peter Wright, Brandon Barski and Liam Boswell couldn’t find the finishing touch.
In the 70th minute Formby doubled their lead.
Nelson lost possession from a corner and a Formby clearance downfield was allowed to bounce between the centre-half and goalkeeper.
Possibly deceived by the bounce, Woodhead hesitated, allowing Kirby to nip in, take the ball round him and plant it firmly in the net.
The goal effectively killed Nelson’s challenge off and Formby took full advantage. With seven minutes left Kieron Brislen, who has had a superb first two months of the season, broke from right-back and hit an unstoppable drive across Woodhead and into the far corner of his goal.
Holden may not be fully fit but, as he’s proven before, he came off the bench to add a decisive bit of fizz to the final minutes.
He replaced Speed and made his mark, instigating an attack that saw Prescott round off the scoring in added time.
It had been a richly rewarding game to watch, skilful, frenetic, committed and sporting on both sides. There is no doubt that Formby deserved to win, even if the scoreline was harsh on Nelson.
Indeed there was much for Formby’s managers to be pleased with, not least the fact that Prescott and Edgerton both looked comfortable at this level, having stepped up from playing youth football last season.
Kirby’s return has lifted the whole club whilst the defence has proved to be all but impregnable.
Even without totemic defender Josh Essery they formed a yellow wall that was able to keep out the division’s best strike force.
Over their last six matches Formby have scored 21 goals and conceded just three. A 7:1 ratio is impressive whoever the opponents have been, but the last two games were against two of the division’s top three sides and yet nothing was conceded.
The Squirrels have truly marked themselves out as promotion challengers.
Mention must be made of the referee Danny Sims who booked a total of nine players, six of whom were from Nelson.
It fair to say the bookings were questionable and as each yellow card was brandished the frustration of the players on both sides grew.
This wasn’t a physical game and there were no bad tackles, so why were nine players booked?
But take nothing away from Formby whose superb defence was matched by some clinical finishing that deservedly booked their visit to Premier Division side Silsden in the next round of the competition.
FORMBY return to league action on Saturday when they visit Atherton LR in the North West Counties League First Division. The match kicks off at 3pm.