Curzon Ashton 2 AFC Telford 1 - Report and pictures
The clocks may have gone back two weeks ago, but any Bucks followers at this game may have been forgiven if they thought they’d gone back 12 months.
On their last visit to Curzon Ashton, a defensive calamity led to a scrambled, close range winner for the hosts, and it was to be the case again this season.
A winner deep into injury time from Andy Halls after an expensive error from keeper Matt Yates condemned the Bucks to defeat on a ground where they have collected just one point in five seasons.
To rub salt into the wound, this was Curzon Ashton’s first victory since August, an opening sequence of four games without defeat being followed by eleven games without a win.
Set against that backdrop, it shouldn’t be a surprise that for some fans, their faith in manager Gavin Cowan is being tested, and the Bucks boss has been in football for long enough to understand how it works.
For all that the Bucks were the better footballing side in the second half, their inability to convert their own chances and failure to manage the game to its conclusion scripted a scenario that too often ends in the same way, and so it proved.
Conceding two late corner kicks, the Bucks spurned their opportunity to secure at least a point, and when Yates caught but then spilled the ball at his far post, Halls had the simplest of tasks from close range to roll the ball home and write the final chapter.
The first half was a scrappy affair, with Curzon seeking to turn the Bucks defensively by getting the ball to their forwards as quickly as possible, then seeking to pick up the pieces.
Their up-and-at ‘em style meant the Bucks were guilty of conceding free-kicks that gave the hosts another avenue from which they sought to put the Bucks under pressure. Cowan’s side were in a metaphorical street-fight, and it took them a while to adjust to the reality of the situation.
Brendon Daniels and Ryan Barnett, the latter having returned for a second loan spell from Shrewsbury Town only this week, looked the Bucks most likely avenue of success, with Barnett wasting little time in picking up where he left off last season.
It was Daniels who created the game’s clearest chance on 22 minutes, crossing from the left for Matty Stenson to connect, six yards out. That would normally result in the net rippling, but typifying the Bucks current fortunes. Stenson contrived to steer the ball over the crossbar.
The travelling fans didn’t have to wait long, however; on 27 minutes, Daniels was again involved down the left and when Darryl Knights put the ball across goal towards Stenson it appeared to take a final touch of Curzon defender Mo Ali before it passed keeper Cam Mason.
The hosts weren’t immediately deflated and maintained their tactics of putting the Bucks under pressure.
Yates saved well from a James Baillie free-kick on the half-hour, but Curzon weren’t to be behind for long. A ball played to the back of the penalty area from the left was touched back to the busy Rob Evans, and when the midfielder stepped inside a challenge he went down, referee Jonny Urwin awarding a penalty.
Curzon’s top scorer Sean Miller despatched the spot-kick past Yates and the Bucks were back to square one.
Curzon’s Mike Calveley dragged a shot wide from 25 yards, Daniels then tested Mason with a free-kick from 30 yards. In the last act of the half, the Bucks’ Aaron Williams headed over the crossbar in injury time.
The second half was closer to resembling a football match than the first, as Telford sought to impose their own style.
Barnett was busy again, even connecting with a header from a corner as the Bucks started to ask more questions of the hosts. Daniels had to give way to Arlen Birch on 65 minutes, with what looked like a hamstring injury, and Barnett swapped to the left side to accommodate Birch’s arrival.
It was from that flank that Barnett cut in and onto his right foot on 76 minutes, fizzing a shot narrowly past Mason’s far post.
Stenson, who worked hard but had a frustrating afternoon, made way for Marcus Dinanga, and Curzon made their own changes, taking off Isaac Sinclair, son of former Manchester City and England striker Trevor, and bringing on Callum Saunders, son of ex-Liverpool and Wales striker Dean; he almost made an immediate impression when he directed an overhead kick wide after a Curzon corner wasn’t dealt with on 84 minutes.
With Adam Walker trying to drive the Bucks on, Williams missed a great chance when he headed Birch’s right-wing cross over the bar on 87 minutes, but the late sting was to come from Curzon.
After spending much of the half penned in their own half, the hosts burst down the left and Ross White was forced to concede a corner.
The initial kick resulted in some panicky defending and an almighty scramble, and from a second corner time seemed to stand still as Yates claimed and then lost the ball, Halls tapping in.
Curzon celebrated wildly, and the Bucks barely had time to restart before the referee brought down the curtain on a day and outcome that seemed scripted to end only one way.
AFC Telford United: Yates, White, Daniels (Birch 65), Walker, Sass-Davies, Streete (c), Barnett, McQuilkin, Stenson (Dinanga 80), Williams, Knights.
Unused Substitutes: Lilly, Barnes-Homer, Martinez.
Goal: Ali (OG 27)
Curzon Ashton: Mason, Baillie, Ali, Wroe (c), Halls, Shaw, Miller (Baningime 90), Evans (Trickett-Smith 80), Sinclair (Saunders 76), Calveley, Davies.
Unused Substitutes: Askew, Merrill.
Scorers: Miller (38 penalty), Halls (90+4).
Referee: Jonny Urwin.
Assistants: Martin Parker, Gareth Thomas.