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Hurray For Hollingworth
Written by Mike Madden   
Thursday, 05 May 2016 21:02

Whaley Bridge Under 17s climbed to the top of the mountain with a narrow victory at home to Hollingworth Juniors. The reverse fixture had seen Whaley win 5-1 with two Hollingworth players dismissed, but from the off this was always going to be a different affair. Victory for Hollingworth would see them leapfrog their hosts into second place. Victory for the Bridge would guarantee them at least a share of the championship. It was a scrappy start, with the Whaley midfield seeming lost in a sea of red shirts and surprisingly green grass. Eventually the game settled into a rhythm, though Alfie Hodges, released into a more advanced role, struggled with his touch in the face of fierce pressure. Rhys Bowen brought a calmness to the play, whilst Kieran Connell started to find space down the right. Jack Howell fell into the offside trap on a couple of occasions, but it was clear that his pace was a dagger in the heart of the visiting defence. Whaley suffered from wayward touches and poor finishing, but at the other end they looked secure. Jake Young and Ole Madden always seemed to have time to put their foot on the ball, whilst on the flanks, Zain Saeed and Bruce Glover constantly looked to overlap Ethan Williams and Connell respectively. Other than the odd goal kick Ash Blackham could have read the paper in the opening 20 minutes, as the game drifted into a toothless phase. Nathan Wild found his mojo and started to wreak havoc but still no breakthrough. Saeed had fluffed his lines on a couple of occasions at the corner flag, so Williams took over. He floated one across for Howell to head in, and the champagne was put on ice. Sunday's hero Dan Burt and Will McIlveen replaced Bowen and Wild, and gave the home side a different look in the middle of the park. The chess pieces were shuffled again as Hamaad Chaudhry and Ben Pickard replaced Glover and Connell, and it proved to be an inspired move. Within a minute Pickard burst into the box. Is he really going that far? Is he really going to shoot? He is you know, and he unleashed a shot that was parried into the path of the grateful Chaudhry, who lifted it into the roof of the net. Half time was a welcome relief in the sultry spring sunshine, but the warning signs were there that the two goal cushion would not be enough. Charlie Kitchen came on for Williams, and although Whaley surged forward with menace, the goal didn't look like being breached. Hollingworth got a well deserved foothold in the game, and Ben Williams demanded more substitutions. Wild came back on for Burt, then a triple change saw Pickard, Chaudhry and Kitchen, who it has to be said has good feet for a big man, replaced by Williams, Connell and Glover. Whaley went on the offensive again, with Glover and Connell linking well. Howell, McIlveen and Williams all tried their luck without success, then the final change came as Young was replaced by Bowen, with Hodges slipping into the back four. Whaley kept the lead into the final ten minutes, but it was a nervous time. Hollingworth had chances, and Blackham saved several times. Inevitably the goal came, and with a 2-1 lead going into the final five the Sword of Damocles was dangling by the finest of threads over Whaley's championship hopes. Nerves were frayed, fingernails were chewed, whilst Connell, Williams and Howell opted to keep the ball in the corner. Two minutes into injury time and the visitors received a free kick. They launched it forward, but McIlveen, Wild and Hodges saw to it that no danger came. The excellent referee blew for time and the celebrations could begin, but they were still somewhat reserved. Whaley now sit joint top of the league, but to take the crown outright they must secure at least a point at home to Stockport Vikings on Sunday.

 
 
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