Clitheroe lose out in final to Southport

CLITHEROE were condemed to 25 years of hurt at the Reebok Stadium on Wednesday night as their quest to land the Co-Operative LFA Challenge Trophy for the third time in their history ended with defeat.

Thursday, 22nd April 2010, 9:28 am

Not since 1985 at Deepdale have the Blues lifted the coveted trophy when Eric Geldard’s extra-time strike saw the Ribble Valley outfit beat Barrow AFC 1-0. And even that victory ended a 92-year wait from when the club first won the competition in 1893.

Peter Smith’s side had already ousted tough opposition en-route to their showing at the Premier League arena including AFC Fylde and Leigh Genesis as well as higher ranked teams in Fleetwood and Marine which suggested a cup upset could be on the cards.

However, it wasn’t to be for the Unibond First Division North side as Conference-bound Southport proved too strong and one hurdle too far.

The threat from the Blue Square North leaders was evident as early as the sixth minute when Alan Moogan forced Blues keeper Danny Hanford into a fine save at full stretch as the midfielder’s curling effort from the edge of the box looked destined for the top corner.

The 600 travelling Southport fans were then on their feet as Hanford looked to upend Daniel Lloyd-Williams inside the box but referee Paul Kettlewell ignored the protests. But Clitheroe’s dogged resistance was eventually shattered when Ashley Winn’s sublime 30-yard strike, fitting of any Premier League stage, broke the deadlock.

A Southport attack in the 27th minute looked to have been thwarted when a free-kick was cleared by the Blues defence but Winn caught everyone by surprise as he drilled the ball through a crowd of players and into the back of the net before Hanford had any time to react.

And lightening certainly struck twice for Clitheroe as they conceded the second goal in as many minutes which broke Blues’ hearts. A cleverly threaded through ball caught the Clitheroe defence napping and Steve Daly latched onto it before driving into the penalty area and calmly slotting past Hanford to double the advantage.

Young Clitheroe prodigy Nathan Taylor came close soon after when his volley from the edge of the area just fizzed wide of the target but the Blues were dealt a cruel blow right on the stroke of half-time when an uncharacteristic Hanford mistake following a Southport counter-attack presented man of the match Chris Simm with the simple task of nodding in from three yards out.

That effectively killed the game off as Southport took a 3-0 lead into the interval but all credit to Smith’s side who dominated possession in the second half and more than matched their opponents. It could have been a case of ‘roll over and die’ for the Blues but they held their heads high and gave a spirited performance which the vocal Clitheroe faithful could be proud of.

But chances were few and far between after the break and the Sandgrounders wrapped up victory with 20 minutes remaining when Kevin Brown’s back pass was anticipated and intercepted by Simm whose experience and cool head allowed him to bend the ball around Hanford and into the bottom corner to wrap up the win and the trophy.

Simm went close to sealing his hat-trick in the closing stages but was denied when one-on-one with Hanford while substitute Ciaran Kilheeney’s rebound was cleared off the line.

Clitheroe assistant player/manager Kenny Mayers said: “We’re obviously disappointed with the result being 4-0 but if you take away that we made one or two mistakes which has gifted them goals, put them aside, then it could have been a lot closer. I thought the boys did a lot better in the second half and committed themselves and applied themselves a bit better. They passed it well all night but against a team of Southport’s calibre; they’re a class side.

“The lads gave us everything they’ve got. They were quite a physical team which is what you’d expect from a side gunning for the Conference. They are a top side and top of their league but our boys gave as good as they got. Southport just had that bit more experience, they play at a higher level and it showed but we expected that.

“You wouldn’t think there was such a gulf between us both based on tonight’s game which is the pleasing thing. In spells we passed it well and I think some of their players and their coach said ‘you matched us football wise’ and it would be interesting to see the possession stats. Who got the most? They will have edged it but it’s good that our lads kept their heads up.”

He added: “With the third goal going in just before half-time we could have just crumbled but they kept going and gave as good account as they could. Apart from the result it’s been a nice occasion and to come and play at a stadium as nice as this and on a class pitch, it’s just a buzz for the lads to be out there. At the end of the day somebody has to win and somebody has to come second. It was our turn to come second unfortunately.”