10-man Blues dig deep to win a place in LFA Final

Simon Garner has warned Lancashire FA Challenge Trophy final opponents Chorley that his players won’t turn up at the Macron Stadium to make up the numbers.

The Blues will face Garry Flitcroft’s Conference North play-off hopefuls after beating Atherton Collieries 2-0 in Leyland, despite seeing Garner dismissed for two bookable offences in the first half.

Clitheroe's Sefton Gonzales in action in the Lancashire FA Challenge Trophy Semi Final at Leyland

Clitheroe's Sefton Gonzales in action in the Lancashire FA Challenge Trophy Semi Final at Leyland

“It’s a massive achievement and the fact that the final is at the Macron Stadium is a huge bonus,” he said. “To play Chorley in that tie is the icing on the cake. I believe we can win it. Why not?

“It’s massive for us and it’s a big achievement to get there. It’s a plus because myself and Ryan (Parr) are inexperienced as managers and we’ve done it in our first season.”

Garner added: “I don’t just want to go there and make the numbers up. We’ve got there but I want to go there, give Chorley a real game and win it. I really believe we can do that.

“It’s a local derby and a big game. I obviously played for them and I know a lot of the lads.

The response from the lads was unbelievable. They were brilliant and we totally deserved to win it. They worked incredibly hard and you wouldn’t have known we had 10 men. I’m so proud of them. They showed great character

Blues boss Simon Garner

“I have massive respect for them (Flitcroft and assistant Matt Jansen) because they had great careers and I was fortunate enough to work with them for a short period of time.”

Kenny Mayers assisted Peter Smith the last time Clitheroe reached the final of the competition at the home of Bolton Wanderers five years ago. This time it was his son, Louis, who helped guide the club to Horwich.

The winger doubled his side’s lead in the 88th minute after skipper David Lynch had stabbed Cory Bent’s pull back home from close range with just 10 minutes of the tie remaining.

But they were made to work for it. The North West Counties First Division leaders crafted the first opportunity of the game when Jake Kenny’s exquisite centre was cushioned wide of the far post by Mark Battersby.

Danny Brady should have done better when finding space from Zac Dale’s corner, but the Blues defender nodded wide of Danny Taberner’s upright.

The Colls keeper was forced in to action midway through the half, however, when plunging to his right to turn Mayers’ effort around the post.

Then, as the game crept towards the half-hour mark, the Blues lost Garner. The midfielder’s first booking for dissent was followed up by another within 60 seconds for a reckless challenge on Ben Hardcastle.

Clitheroe’s response, though, was impeccable and deserved the glowing praise from Garner in the aftermath. The Blues were fitter, more organised and conveyed great balance for a side that had a numerical disadvantage.

Dale tested Taberner with a sweeping volley before the winger turned provider for Sefton Gonzalez who forced the keeper to tip over the bar after towering above his marker to head goalwards.

Michael Clegg’s side penetrated Clitheroe’s backline in first half stoppage time, but Roberto Bonaminio threw himself at Hardcastle’s shot after he’d shared passes with Brad Cooke.

Just seconds before the interval Gonzalez brought Seydou Bamba’s header down on his chest before rifling a left-footed volley inches over the bar.

Lynch stung the palms of the keeper after the restart once Bent and Gonzalez had combined, while at the other end Zach Hibbert made a tremendous stop to turn a rasping Kristian Holt attempt over the top.

Atherton went close with 20 minutes remaining when the width of the upright denied Matt Bowland from close range once Battersby had cut inside past Brady from the left.

Bowland’s effort moments later appeared routine for Hibbert, but the ball squirmed beneath the keeper’s body before creeping past the post.

But, with the tie heading towards a penalty shootout, the Blues finally broke the deadlock.

Gonzalez unlocked the defence with an incisive pass to Bent and his squared pass was met by Lynch to spark mass celebration.

That hysteria and jubilation was then fuelled further when Mayers’s deflected shot left Taberner rooted to the spot as it flashed inside the near post.

Clitheroe were home and dry but there was still time for Hibbert to make an outstanding save on the whistle to preserve his clean sheet.

“The response from the lads was unbelievable,” said Garner. “They were brilliant and we totally deserved to win it. They worked incredibly hard and you wouldn’t have known we had 10 men. I’m so proud of them. They showed great character.”