Article: Jay Rowland
A wet afternoon in Cheshire matched Sandbach moods after Winsford United won 4-2 at the Barton Stadium on Saturday.
Ramblers’ manager Andy Hockenhull was happy to welcome defender Kieran O’Connell back to the starting line-up following his absence in midweek, although first choice goalkeeper Danny Hamlett missed the trip through illness.
Both teams had lost only one of their four games played so far in the St Luke’s Cup, so a win was vital to both sides in their quest to secure a spot in the cup final.
Winsford started much brighter than the visitors at the Barton Stadium, scoring the opening goal in the 6th minute when Joe Duckworth intercepted a poor pass from Kieran Garner-Knapper, and took the time to steady himself before firing a low shot into the bottom right corner. They then almost doubled their lead moments later but for a very sharp save from Eric Merner.
Sandbach looked to try and make their way back into the game immediately after and came close twice through Robbie Hatton and Bobbie McDonnell. Winsford were potent in their counter-attacking threat though and won a penalty in the 17th minute. In-form striker Sam Madeley stepped up from the post but struck the post.
The Ramblers instantly punished the missed penalty kick with an equaliser in the 20th minute through Hatton. Fresh from his brace over Winsford on Wednesday, he got his name on the scoresheet once again when he timed his run in behind the defence perfectly before sliding the ball under the keeper.
The visitors then took the lead through Aaron Knight after a defensive mix-up for Winsford saw the creative midfielder presented with a goalscoring chance from just inside the box, which he effortlessly took.
In the 30th minute, it was Winsford’s turn to equalise after a cross-cum-shot found its way into the far corner via a deflection from the glove of Merner. Despite some good scoring chances falling to McDonnell, the scores remained level at halftime.
Winsford took the lead 7 minutes after the restart through a Madeley header, who made no mistake when he found himself free in the six-yard box. They extended their lead three minutes later after a good save from Merner rebounded to Matt Russell, who slotted into the goal.
Sandbach were desperate to try and get back into the game, and Hockenhull turned to dangerous forward Josh Lane off the bench to inject some life and creativity into a Ramblers attack that looked bereft of ideas. Despite the visitors controlling much of the proceedings late into the game, Winsford stood firm to win all three points in the penultimate game of the group stage.
This result all but confirms Winsford’s place in the St Luke’s Cup final barring major wins for Skelmersdale and Sandbach in their final games, whilst Sandbach can ensure they are in the final by bettering Skelmersdale’s result against Winsford. The Ramblers host Runcorn Town in the final game of the group stage on Saturday 15th May (behind closed doors).