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City of Liverpool FC progressed in the FA Trophy after a spirited and gutsy performance at Buxton was lit up by a last-minute wonder goal from Jack Hazlehurst to win the tie.
It was the Purps’ first fixture since the previous round where they demolished Atherton Collieries, owing to the second Coronavirus Lockdown restrictions.
Purps manager Michael Ellison used the downtime from matches to continue fine-tuning his squad, which saw Zac Aley, Morgan Homson-Smith and Connor McCarthy all sign for the club in the run up to the fixture.
Ellison opted to include Homson-Smith and Aley in the matchday squad, with both players taking a place amongst the substitutes. In the starting XI meanwhile, Mitch Bryant continued to lead the forward line alone after a very impressive debut in the previous round whilst Ethan Devine was rewarded with a starting berth in midfield alongside Nathan Burke after also shining against Atherton Collieries.
The fixture at Buxton’s Silverlands Stadium was unfortunately played behind closed doors due to Tier 3 Coronavirus rules preventing crowds.
The match started in a slow and cagey manner as both sides sought to feel their way into the game. The hosts did have the ball in the net in the opening exchanges although this was correctly called back for offside.
City of Liverpool were happy to absorb pressure as Buxton looked to build space out wide for marauding full backs Connor O’Grady and Warren Clarke to exploit. However, the visitors were more than equal to the challenge, with Kai Shorrock and Louis Corrigan impressing early on, and Jordan Barrow continuing a commanding partnership alongside skipper Jay McCarten.
The Purps had plenty of counter-attacking joy in the opening exchanges, with Mitch Bryant once again a physical and ever-present thorn in the side of the opposition defence. Buxton had former Leeds United, West Ham and Sunderland defender Matthew Kilgallon in their ranks, and Bryant looked more than comfortable as he held the ball up expertly for Hazlehurst, Rigby and Reid to join attacks.
The hosts were restricted largely to long range, with the Purps keeping them at arms-length, but did threaten from distance when James Hurst struck narrowly wide with a fierce right footed effort.
The Purps defence had to be on their toes to keep livewire forward Diego De Girolamo quiet, and keeper Theo Roberts was out quickly to claim the ball just ahead of the advancing former Italy youth international, after a lofted ball over the visitors’ backline almost left the goal exposed.
Moments later City of Liverpool took the lead as a devastating five pass move saw the visitors take full advantage on the counter-attack. Ethan Devine played a neat one-two with Nathan Burke before lofting a neat long pass for Hazlehurst to deftly play Mitch Bryant in down the right of the area. Bryant’s pace left Kilgallon trailing in his wake and he rounded the onrushing keeper Tommy Taylor before selflessly squaring for Hazlehurst to tap home from close range.
Just before the interval the hosts almost had an equaliser in fortuitous fashion as Chris Dawson’s right footed effort from the edge of the area took a huge deflection to wrong-foot Theo Roberts but cannoned back off the post and to safety.
HALF TIME: Buxton 0-1 City of Liverpool.
The hosts made a double change early in the second half with Brogan and Whitehouse entering the fray. It was clear in the opening exchanges that The Bucks were looking to overload in wide areas, with midfielders flooding the Purps box looking to be fed.
The second period started in strange fashion as a number of bizarre calls from referee Alexander Kelly incensed the Purps dugout and threatened to see him lose control of the match. Both Warren Clarke and Diego De Girolamo were unpunished for petulantly leaving the foot in on Purps keeper Theo Roberts, whilst the latter was allowed to constantly attempt to block the custodian kicking out of hand.
The theme of bizarre calls continued as Jay McCarten’s fine sliding challenge smashed the ball out off Reece Styche’s midriff only for the winger to come away with a corner, much to the consternation of the visitors.
The hosts continued to look for a way back into the game and almost had it when lively substitute Billy Whitehouse beat Corrigan with a mazey run down the right wing. The wide-man stood up an inch perfect ball for Reece King but Roberts produced a brilliant stop from point blank range to palm over the bar.
Moments later Diego De Girolamo should have received his marching orders for a dreadful challenge through the back of Nathan Burke which came after the referee had stopped play for a free kick. This again incensed the Purps dugout and sparked a melee which saw Jordan Barrow booked for explaining to the Buxton forward in no uncertain terms what he though of the tackle.
Astonishingly, Mr Kelly brandished a yellow card for De Girolamo which summed up the referee’s performance on the night.
Typically, De Girolamo took full advantage of his unexpected continuation on the pitch by grabbing a late equaliser for Buxton. The lively forward bundled the ball beyond Roberts and into the net as Reece Styche’s through ball initially looked to have evaded everyone.
Dom Reid should have had a penalty late on after being played in on goal, only to be cleaned out by goalkeeper Tommy Taylor. Predictably, the referee pointed for a corner whilst Reid lay prone on the deck in need of treatment. It was another astonishing decision which left everyone bemused
However, The Purps didn’t read the script and after defending manfully for the remainder of the game grabbed a late, late winner in glorious fashion.
Louis Corrigan’s long throw was flicked on acrobatically by Jack Hazlehurst looking for Stephen Rigby, Bucks defender Matthew Kilgallon only half cleared and Hazlehurst chested the ball up before volleying emphatically into the top corner, leaving Taylor with no chance.
The visitors held on to secure another memorable result against higher tier opposition and it was no more than the Purps deserved after such a spirited performance on the night.
The Purps progressed to the FA Trophy Second Round where they will play Darlington away on Wednesday 16th December. The match is expected to be behind closed doors at the time of writing.
FINAL SCORE: Buxton 1-2 City of Liverpool
City of Liverpool XI: Theo Roberts, Kai Shorrock (Tom Stephens ’77), Jay McCarten (c), Jordan Barrow, Louis Corrigan, Ethan Devine, Nathan Burke, Stephen Rigby, Dom Reid, Jack Hazlehurst (Jack Hinnigan ’90), Mitch Bryant (Zac Aley ’78)
Subs not used: Homson-Smith, McEllin
Man of the Match: Jordan Barrow was imperious in defence alongside the excellent Jay McCarten. Barrow’s exceptional performance saw him read the danger expertly and deal with everything Buxton threw at The Purps goal. From now on he will be referred to as Franco Barrowsi.
Manager’s Interview: We spoke to Michael Ellison at full time to get his thoughts on an fantastic evening’s work from the lads. (Click link to play)