Clitheroe rekindle play-off hopes

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In recording a deserved victory over Bamber Bridge, Clitheroe produced a performance which rekindled early season memories and reignited their play-off hopes.

Chris Dykes, Danny Mahoney and second-half substitute Isaac Kusaloka scored for the visitors after Brig, who saw Matt Mahoney dismissed in the first-half, had drawn level immediately after the break.

Lee Pugh was back after injury while Adam Birchall and Dykes were also restored to the starting line-up, with Will James playing alongside Jack Higgins at the back.

The hosts made a lively start and were almost ahead within seconds of kick-off as Daniel Wilkins struck a post from the edge of the penalty area.

Clitheroe recovered their composure and took the lead on eight minutes when Dykes’ left-footed effort from the edge of the box found the net via the underside of the crossbar.

The lead was almost doubled after quarter of an hour as former Irongate favourite Danny Mahoney saw his goal-bound shot turned behind by Lee Dovey.

Mahoney again came close ten minutes before half-time only for his powerful drive to flash wide after a deep cross from Daley Woods was only partially cleared.

Moments later the home side were reduced to 10 men after an unnecessary flashpoint saw an already cautioned Matt Mahoney sent off.

The former AFC Fylde midfielder launched into a two-footed challenge on Pugh before inexplicably lashing out at the Clitheroe skipper with a red card inevitable.

In the opening stages of the second period, Matty Kay released Gregg Johnstone clear on goal only for Hakan Burton to stand tall and deny the forward.

However, from the resulting Ryan Thompson corner, a combination of Andy Bell – fresh from scoring a hat-trick the week before – and Chris Smalley forced the ball over the line.

Two minutes later Woods found himself bearing down on goal after latching onto Mahoney’s forward ball and outpacing the Brig defence but he failed to beat Dovey.

The Blues restored their lead in the 53rd minute as the referee pointed to the spot for a push on Higgins as the centre-half attempted to connect with Smalley’s cross.

Mahoney remained calm to smash the ball home and score his fifth goal for the club and the first since his wonder strike at New Mills in November.

Shortly before the hour mark, recent signing from GAP Connah’s Quay Dean Canning came close to opening his Clitheroe goalscoring account but fired wide after a superb pass from Dykes.

The Blues looked much more like their usual selves after an indifferent couple of weeks and enjoyed some good periods of possession as the game wore on.

Kusaloka, who had replaced Woods, was the next to go close after 69 minutes, latching onto Birchall’s clever pass before swivelling and shooting, only to be denied by Dovey.

Clitheroe continued to look comfortable as the match entered its final stages and substitute Chris Mason had a great opportunity to seal the points with a couple of minutes remaining.

Mason robbed Luke Atherton of possession and advanced on goal but could not apply the necessary finish.

The points were sewn up moments later as Kusaloka scored an excellent individual goal.

The 21-year-old picked up the ball just inside the Brig half and glided past Rob Henry before outwitting Atherton, cutting inside and lashing home.

Clitheroe seemed to recapture the spark which has been missing over the last few fixtures and manager Paul Moore will be hoping this result signals a run of positive form.

The Blues entertain Salford City on Saturday (kick-off 3 p.m.) and will look to stem the flow of three successive defeats at Shawbridge.

Clitheroe: Burton, Smalley, Pugh (c), James, Higgins, Birchall, Nangle, Mahoney (Dent 85), Canning (Mason 72), Woods (Kusaloka 66), Dykes. Subs not used: Calvert.

Attendance: 214