Full Match Report
The Lockmen took a good point off a Gornal side who were playing at a higher level last season, but it’s a fair reflection of the game that they were disappointed not to take all three. The Lockmen suffered a first minute injury when Eddie Wilson had to come off after a mixture of turning an ankle and a late tackle that left him with severe swelling.
After lengthy treatment, Wilson was helped from the field allowing the game to restart, a ball forward saw the visitors fail to clear twice, allowing Craig Sudlow to win two crunching tackles with defenders before he then dispossessed the keeper to roll home the first goal of the season from a tight angle.
After the goal, The Reds brought on Ryan Ward, back for his second spell with Willenhall, before the restart to replace Wilson. The Peacocks then won a seventh minute corner and forced another soon after as Tom Turner, one of six starting debuts did well to deny Jason Chilton a strike at goal. Graham Ashton then conceded a corner on 16 minutes when he did well to get across goal and bravely block a fierce low shot. Town were back on the attack on 24 minutes when Mikey Clark broke well down the right, he put in a fine curling cross but it was headed clear.
Ashton then conceded a corner in the 31st minute when his back header to keeper Jordan Spencer almost sneaked into the bottom corner of the goal. The corner was headed wide by the unmarked Matt Vaughan before another flag-kick shortly after also went wide. Ashton then made another quality block as Athletic threatened a leveller. Sudlow then fired at keeper Rich Kennedy on 38 minutes after great work from Jack Pottinger to set him up. However a minute later and The Lockmen had their second goal. Great work down the right again freed Ward and his ball into the box found Pottinger who fired hard and low to double their advantage.
The Reds had a free-kick on 42 minutes which was cleared before Danny Crudgington forced a good low save from Spencer, forcing him to turn the ball away from goal with strong hands, the ball was then cleared from danger. Ward was then booked after a clash with former player assistant manager Josh Skidmore, who managed to escape punishment. A minute into stoppage time and Reds skipper Paul Holden and Matthew Dove both had fierce shots blocked in a goal-mouth scramble before Kennedy made a super low save to turn away a header that appeared to be flying into the bottom corner two minutes into added time.
HT WILLENHALL TOWN 2 (Sudlow 5, Pottinger 39) GORNAL ATHLETIC 0
Kennedy then started the second half as he had finished the first saving a 3rd Willenhall goal on 51 minutes. Three minutes later and The Peacocks then had a ‘goal’ disallowed for pushing at a corner but Town failed to head the lesson. Another corner on 58 minutes was deflected wide at the expense of a corner before an unmarked Matt Vaughan headed home after 59 minutes.
The Lockmen forced a corner on 65 minutes, which was easily dealt with before a superb curling effort from sub Ward smacked against the far post two minutes later with Kennedy well beaten for once. A 69th minute corner for the visitors was well headed behind by Clark and the follow up kick was cleared before Holden became the second Lockman booked, this for dissent after a late challenge on a Willenhall player. Ashton then did exceptionally well to again block a goal-bound effort, clearing for another corner-kick on 78 minutes before a tiring Willenhall finally cracked six minutes from time. A ball slipped into the Reds’ penalty area found Rion Francis-Mills and he cleverly evaded one tackle before sliding home from close range.
However, if Gornal thought that was the signal to win the game they were wrong, and after a booking for Gornal goalscorer Vaughan for a late tackle on sub Joe Noel, they were a little fortunate not to lose when a dipping free-kick from Sudlow appeared to be dropping into the top corner until Kennedy somehow managed to tip the ball over the bar. The Lockmen held out throughout eight nervous minutes of injury-time as Athletic huffed and puffed for a winner without actually threatening a goal.
In the end a point was just about a fair result although Willenhall will be ruing that stunning Ward effort not hitting the target two inches more to the left.
FT WILLENHALL TOWN 2 (Sudlow 5, Pottinger 39) GORNAL ATHLETIC 2 (Vaughan 59, Francis-Mills 84)
WTFC MoM: Craig Sudlow
WILLENHALL TOWN TEAM LINE-UP:-
1. Jordan Spencer,
2. Kingsley Burrows-Field,
3. Andrew Cahill,
4. Tom Turner,
5. Graham Ashton,
6. Matthew Dove,
7. Michael Clark (off 71min),
8. Paul Holden (capt),
9. Craig Sudlow,
10. Eddie Wilson (off 5min),
11. Jack Pottinger (off 64min).
12. Simon Laidley,
14. Matt Dorgan (on 71min),
15. Ryan Ward (on 5min),
16. Jake Morgan,
17. Joe Noel (on 64min).
Chris Burton – Match Secretary