Shropshire Star

Telford 1-1 Southport - report

It’s not unreasonable to think that if manager Kevin Wilkin was caught speeding, he’d probably only get one point instead of three.


A sixth game without defeat represents one of the Bucks best runs in recent seasons, not just this one; however, they have collected a single victory in those half-dozen fixtures.

There are undoubtedly positive signs emerging. The Bucks look more solid, and they are using the ball better, but having had the lead in three of the five games they’ve ended up drawing, Wilkin’s men could be six points better off had they been able to kill off their opponents or defended their advantage.

This draw fell into the former category. Having benefitted from what was either a stroke of luck or an outrageous piece of skill from Adam Livingstone, the Bucks couldn’t follow up with a second goal.

Although they have shed the annoying habit of throwing at least one defensive calamity into every performance, they aren’t absolutely watertight either.

Wilkin made a single change to the starting XI that began their last match eleven days earlier. Prince Ekpolo dropped to the substitutes bench and Jamie Allen started in what looked like a more attack-minded selection. There was a defensive unit of five, with Livingstone and Brendon Daniels operating as wing-backs, and new signing Rackeem Reid was on the bench, along with a fit-again Jordan Piggott.

Neither side appeared willing to let the other settle in the early stages, which resulted in a game with lots of endeavour but not too much quality.

Southport, managed by former Bucks boss Liam Watson, came into this game on a run of three consecutive defeats. A combative and energetic unit, they matched each Bucks attack with one of their own, and Liam Nolan had to be alert to cut out a low cross from Connor Woods after Watson’s son Niall played him on the left of the penalty area.

A ‘Port free-kick 25 yards out gave defender Connor Heath a chance to strike at goal and his uncomplicated wallop of the ball was deflected over home keeper Joe Young’s crossbar by captain Robbie Evans.

Bucks striker Lewis Salmon, on loan from Nottingham Forest, was a willing runner, although lacking the physical presence of Southport duo Adam Anson and Chris Doyle. Salmon struck a shot against the physical barrier presented by the pair after twisting away from them to find space.

After 34 minutes the game’s best chance up to that point came Salmon’s way. Southport was caught out and the Bucks quickly turned it into a two-against-one breakaway. Salmon collected a through pass from his right and took the ball around the advancing Tony McMillan; however, a heavy touch took him too wide of goal and as the angle grew more acute Salmon simply wasn’t able to direct the ball towards the gaping net.

Having spurned the chance, opportunity was soon to knock again, but in a hugely unexpected way.

There looked no immediate threat when Evans found Livingstone wide on the left-hand side with a backheel, but the Scot seized the moment, darting past a defender and then striking the ball towards goal. McMillan, Southport’s 41 years old keeper and also their goalkeeping coach, was caught unawares by the ball’s direction and sheer speed and seemed to stagger backwards a little as Livingstone’s cross-shot flew overhead, struck the inside of the far post and rebounded into the net.

In the few minutes that remained, both sides launched some frenetic attacking moves, none of which came close to changing the scoreline.

Half Time: AFC Telford United 1-0 Southport FC

Within the first minute of the half, the Bucks might have doubled their lead. Allen, who looked lively in wide areas, got past a ‘Port defender and pulled the ball back towards Moore at the near post, only for his shot from 7-8 yards to be charged down.

Alas, Wilkin’s side soon paid the price for not making that opportunity count.

On 51 minutes, Watson’s cross from the left eluded the Bucks' back line and was collected calmly at the far post by Connor Woods. The attacker showed commendable composure to slot the ball across Young with a deft, side-footed finish from a tight angle, the ball caressed into the far side of the goal.

Having seen their hard-won advantage wiped out, the Bucks stayed calm and built a response. McMillan, who was Southport’s keeper in the 2008/09 season when they won this division, belied his veteran status with a smart stop low to his right to hold a Daniels shot from the edge of the box, then denied Daniels again a few minutes later by tipping his firm, low shot around the post.

It may have been as a result of the home side’s rather frantic attempts to restore the lead, but referee Ben Wyatt then appeared to lose his grip on the game somewhat. A series of free-kicks were given against the home side as the Sandgrounders, as Southport are known, began to go to ground a little unnecessarily, whilst some challenges that appeared to be fouls weren’t called.

Allen and Harry Flowers both collected bookings during this spell, and Salmon made way for Reid before Southport went close, a shot creeping through a crowd of players and trundling just wide of Young’s far post with the keeper unsighted.

McMillan had to improvise to punch the ball away at waist height following a Daniels free-kick, and then Josh O’Brien, the scoring hero at Buxton a fortnight earlier, almost repeated the feat. His shot from an angle was blocked and when Reid retrieved the ball in the six-yard box and gave it back to O’Brien his second effort was stopped on the line.

The wave of Bucks pressure couldn’t be maintained, and in the final 10 minutes, both sides traded blows without truly threatening. The best chance to win the game fell to Southport’s Watson, but when the ball dropped invitingly in the penalty area he got underneath his volley, fell backwards, and skied the ball over Young’s crossbar.

A couple of corners for the home side in the fourth minute of added time offered an opportunity for a late winner, but that hope was snatched away as Moore found himself unable to get the ball out from beneath his feet in the six-yard box, and the moment was gone.

There was plenty to admire about the Bucks' performance; they didn’t look like losing this contest, but neither did they truly look like winning it.

On a day when most other teams in the relegation battle lost, collecting maximum reward could have closed the gap to safety. At half-time, the gap stood at six points, although by full time it had stretched back out to nine.

Critics will nod towards those three recent draws where they have held a lead as six points dropped. Wilkin needs to maintain his side’s self-belief, and turn that into a positive, as evidence of how quickly they could improve their prospects if they could just turn those Ds into Ws.

Referee: Ben Wyatt.

Assistants: Joe Cunningham, Simon Robinson.

Attendance: 1,239.

Telford: (5-3-2) Young, Livingstone, O’Brien, Flowers, Evans, Nolan, Rowe, Daniels (Williams 80), Moore, Allen, Salmon (Reid 61).

Subs not used: Oliver, J. Doyle.

Scorer(s): Livingstone (39).

Cautioned: Flowers, Allen.

Southport: McMillan, Heath (Hmami 71), C. Doyle, Anson, Carberry, Quansah, Munro, Walton (Archer 60), Bainbridge, Woods, Watson.

Subs not used: Piggott, Ekpolo, Blissett.

Cautioned: Anson, Munro.

Scorers: Woods (51).