It was the same old story for Clitheroe. Another cup final, another heartbreaking defeat.
In two decades the Blues have featured on centre stage five times, only to lose on four of those occasions.
A 3-0 reverse to Brigg Town in the club’s famous FA Vase tie at Wembley triggered the sequence though a 2-1 victory over Kidsgrove Athletic in the Floodlight Trophy final followed under the guidance of Steve Parry.
Former boss Lee Sculpher oversaw the 2-1 loss to Mossley in the League Cup final at Bury’s Gigg Lane while Simon Garner has now played and managed in a couple of Lancashire FA Challenge Trophy defeats.
Garner lambasted the display of his players in the latest outing, a 3-0 loss to his former club Chorley at the Macron Stadium. But his criticism spoke volumes of the midfielder’s burgeoning ambition and the belief he has in his talented squad.
The Magpies, 51 places above their opponents in the football pyramid, and pushing for the play-off spots in the Conference North, were obvious favourites to claim the silverware. However, Garner believes his side played in to Chorley’s hands.
We weren’t expected to come here and win the game but I’m disappointed because I wanted to win.Simon Garner
“It’s disappointing because as a team I know we’re better than that,” he said. “Chorley played to their strengths and you can understand how they’ve gone through the leagues and why they are where they are. Fair play to them because they’ve deserved to win the game.
“But they haven’t killed the game. We’ve killed it ourselves really with three sloppy goals. It’s a big uphill challenge. We’re playing against a club two leagues above us anyway so they have that bit of superiority. We let ourselves down.”
He added: “It’s shambolic defending. I’m really disappointed with the three goals. We needed every man to step up to the plate and we didn’t. The occasion got to some of the lads and others maybe gave the opposition a bit too much respect. They made us pay and they deserved the result.”
The Blues, who overcame Lancaster City, Nelson, Bamber Bridge and Atherton Collieries to earn the tie against Garry Flitcroft’s men, had their challenge heightened within five minutes. Chorley skipper Andrew Teague towered above his mark to guide James Dean’s cross in to the corner following an Adam Mathers set-piece.
Louis Mayers cleared the bar with a free-kick from 20 yards out after being upended by Jake Cottrell, but on the quarter-of-an-hour mark Clitheroe’s high and open defensive line was punished.
Dean slipped between Danny Morton and Danny Brady to race on to Mather’s incisive pass and was eventually impeded by Zach Hibbert. With Seydou Bamba covering, referee Simeon Lucas pointed to the spot and brandished a yellow card for the Blues goalkeeper. Dean picked himself up and swept the ball to his left hand side, sending Hibbert the wrong way.
Chris Almond forced a low save from Hibbert as Chorley looked to compound their opponents’ misery while the Clitheroe stopper raced off his line to foil Dean who had once again breached the backline.
Paul Jarvis smashed an effort over the bar as Chorley continued to probe before Josh Hine fired in to the side-netting from an acute angle after infiltrating the space behind full back Bamba.
Chorley’s superior athleticism was telling and the presence of the front two coupled with the movement of their wide players continuously pulled holes in the Blues defence.
That was the case when Jarvis broke down the left and his delivery behind Clitheroe’s rearguard was inexplicably skied by Hine, though his blushes were spared by the linesman’s flag.
Teague was proving a menace from set-pieces and he posed another aerial threat from Mather’s corner, though he failed to hit the target on this occasion.
After Chris Almond tested Hibbert with a volley from Mark Ross’s knock down, the Blues crafted an excellent chance to reduce the deficit.
Skipper David Lynch, leading by example, battled for possession deep inside the area and picked out Cory Bent who had the goal at his mercy. However, the winger miscued and defender Matt Flynn was able to recover in time to block subsequent efforts from Lynch.
Flitcroft’s men, assisted by former Blackburn Rovers striker Matt Jansen, then capitalised as they extended their advantage.
With Bent still scratching his head, Almond raced on to a lofted pass and coolly lifted the ball over Hibbert to make it 3-0.
Garner demanded a response, with cries of “get on the game”, and it almost arrived when Gonzalez thumped the foot of the upright from James Walker’s assist just before the break.
The Blues improved significantly after the interval, their efforts deserving of praise, but as Garner stated in the aftermath the game was gone by that point.
The underdogs pressed, were energetic and worked hard for each other, and should’ve found the net when Gonzalez was released from Danny Morton’s penetrative pass but the striker struck the legs of Aaron Grundy.
Garner drilled a set-piece just wide and Mayers fired over on the turn as Clitheroe sought a route back in to the tie. And Lynch attempted to bend an effort in to the top corner from the angle of the box, though Grundy plucked the ball out of the air.
But the night belonged to Chorley and it is they who’ll be transporting the silverware back to Victory Park.
“We weren’t expected to come here and win the game but I’m disappointed because I wanted to win.” said Garner. “It’s gone now and hopefully they’ll learn from that experience.
“They need to as individuals and collectively if they want to play any higher. They’ve got to understand that it’s not all about playing football. You’ve got to do both and you’ve got to do it at the right times and in the right places on the pitch.
“We’ve got to regroup with 10 games to go and build for next season.”