Manager Michael Dunwell got a couple of early Xmas presents with the addition of James Risbrough and the return of club skipper Adam Nicholson to the squad after 7 months out with a serious knee injury. Liam Jordan replaced Michael Arthur (holidays) in goal, Alan Cossavella dropped to the bench and Chris Stockton came into an attacking looking line up which made for an entertaining game on a bitterly cold day at Bishopton Rd. Stockton produced an excellent second half attacking performance and created enough to deserve the result with another stunning Max Craggs free kick sealing the win for the Anchors
Ryhope started the better and looked a strong well organised and determined side but it was the strength of Dale Mulligan that got him on the end of a Craggs corner and his powerful header brought a brilliant reaction save from Ball only for OWENS to slot Home the rebound after 10mins. Ryhope took a while to recover and Kyle Davis looked likely to score on 30 minutes but Jordan saved his shot with his legs. A Jamie Owens header in the 43rd minute went just the wrong side of the post and in the last action of the half Ellis was put in by Davis for Ryhope, but dragged his shot wide. A pretty even first half although Stockton always looked dangerous.
Second half saw Stockton take a little more control of the game, mercurial winger Kev Hayes came to life and began to cause lots of problems for Ryhope. He cut inside from the right on 55 minutes and played a reverse path into Woodhouse who found himself free in the box, he slid the ball under the onrushing keeper and turned away to celebrate only to see defender Lay slide in and somehow lift the ball onto the roof of the net for an amazing clearance. From the corner Tom Coulthard who was stood all alone in the 18 yard box powered a header past Ball but it was hooked off the line. The introduction of debutant James Risbrough proved crucial as he ran onto a great Woodhouse pass to fire a ball across the box to HAYES who finished well to make it 2-0 in what was an identical move and chance to one 2 mins earlier.
Ryhope were still in the game and had two great breakaway chances just before the second goal, Liam Jordan saving with his legs denying Braithwaite who had time and space to equalise and he will be disappointed he didn’t do better. However the dangerous WIERS who’s cross a few minutes earlier had floated beyond Jordan and clipped the bar did manage to get Ryhope back in the game after 74 minutes when he finished neatly at the back post.
A nervy last 10 minutes was avoided when the increasingly influential Hayes went on a typical mazy run on 81 minutes skipping past 3 defenders before being brought down cynically 25 yards from goal. Up stepped free kick specialist CRAGGS, with the crowd expectantly pointing their mobile phones in his direction to capture the effort, he delivered a wonderful dipping swerving powerful free kick which Ryhope keeper Ball could only watch ping back out of his net. Ryhope lost Lays to a soft Red card for a last man offence on Coleman right on the edge of the box but what was more surprising than the card was Craggs missing the target from the resulting free kick, Stockton had done enough and move above their opponents on goal difference. Full Time 3-1
The Manager will be pleased with this result, it shows how far the team has come since being bulled out of a result in the away game. His intentions were obviously to attack Ryhope and not try to match their power and size and it worked, although Ryhope had opportunities, the pace and movement of Wooodhouse, Owens, Stockton, Hayes and Risborough caused lots of problems for them, especially second half. Man of Match could have been any of those mentioned above Fred Woodhouse was excellent and looks at home playing in the No 10 role. Kev Hayes was unplayable for the last 30 minutes and is a nightmare for full backs in that mood. Liam Jordan gave an assured performance and made 3 terrific stops but although the attackers shone on the day my vote goes to Dale Mulligan who was excellent again, powerful and sharp, he’s starting to show the sort of form and class he’s shown for years in the Northern League.