Blues get back on track

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Clitheroe dispatched basement side Garforth Town and returned to winning ways after successive defeats had threatened to take the gloss off an otherwise excellent first-half to the season.

Chris Mason and Bret Mbalanda traded first-half strikes before an Andy Villerman own goal and a Chris Smalley header secured maximum points for the Blues.

Lee Pugh made a welcome return to the side after injury and there were recalls for Mason and Mark Buchan, while Danny Mahoney and Danny Bell missed out through illness.

Louis Edwards was named among the substitutes after a long absence with a hamstring problem, having recently played a couple of games on loan at Rochdale Town.

Clitheroe were immediately on the offensive and after being sent clear by Sean Pearson in the seventh minute, Mason was denied by the legs of Garforth keeper Chris Senior.

Moments later, Senior again came to the visitors’ rescue as he turned away Will James’s firm side-footed effort from Pugh’s driven cross from the left.

Chris Smalley was the next to go close to opening the scoring only for his header from a Pugh corner to be cleared off the line by Josh McLean.

Paul Moore’s side continued to dominate possession with Garforth camped in their own half, content to defend in numbers.

On 28 minutes the Blues made the breakthrough as Mason scored this third goal in Clitheroe colours since joining the club last month.

The former Guiseley forward latched onto Chris Dykes’ through ball, rounded Senior on the edge of the box, and remained composed to fire past the covering defender on the line.

Mason almost made it two shortly afterwards as he engineered space for himself in the penalty area only for his effort to be parried by Senior.

Despite appearing in complete control, the hosts took their foot of the gas in the final stages of the half and allowed Garforth back into the game.

The Miners equalised on 38 minutes as Dom Blair found the lively Mbalanda in the box who calmly finished past the previously untroubled Hakan Burton.

Clitheroe began the second period with a renewed sense of purpose and after Buchan had headed an early Pugh corner narrowly wide, the Blues regained the lead on 58 minutes.

Pearson, making his first Shawbridge appearance since signing from Runcorn Linnets, combined with Smalley down the right before the full-back’s low cross was turned into his own net by Villerman.

Two minutes later, Smalley’s name was on the scoresheet as he planted a header past Senior after being teed up by Pugh following a short corner by Simon Nangle.

Clitheroe were relatively comfortable for the remainder of the game and continued to put the visitors’ defence under pressure.

Smalley, Jack Higgins and substitute Marcus Calvert had opportunities to extend the lead before Garforth rallied in the latter stages.

Firstly, Villerman stabbed wide after Burton parried a Miles Smith effort from range.

And as the clock ticked past the 90-minute mark, Josh Greenhalgh was denied by a combination of Burton and post after Dan Sheriff’s free-kick from the left.

The final kick of the game saw Clitheroe have the ball in the net only for substitute Daley Woods to be denied by an offside flag.

Senior decided to make his presence felt in the Clitheroe box for a late Garforth corner but was exposed following the breakdown of that set-piece.

After a swift counter-attack, Calvert’s initial effort deflected into the path of Woods who finished coolly but the linesman’s flag rendered his joy short-lived.

Nevertheless, this latest three-point haul sees Clitheroe handily placed in the league at the halfway stage, having now surpassed last season’s final points tally.

Clitheroe make the trip to Farsley on Tuesday evening (Kick-off 7.45pm) for a Doodson Sport Cup second round tie before heading to Burscough next Saturday (Kick-off 3pm) for a league fixture.

Clitheroe: Burton, Smalley, Pugh (c), Bodie, Higgins, James, Nangle, Pearson, Buchan (Woods 79), Mason (Calvert 70), Dykes (Bakkor 63). Subs not used: Smith, Edwards. Attendance: 164

ROSS MCLEAN

l Pictured, Chris Mason and Lee Pugh in action against Garforth Town (s).