Skelmersdale Utd 2 – 1 Bury

By Martin Stewart

On the fixture list at least, this always looked like the biggest game of the season.  The former EFL club regularly bring upwards of 600 on their travels and on a dry, sunny Saturday afternoon in November they didn’t disappoint.

After the disaster of Tuesday night’s performance against Colne, Chimbonda made several changes to his team.  Kristian Knowles was brought back into the number 9 spot whilst Mark Bollongino was restored to 10.  Jack Grimshaw replaced Omar Mbowe at the heart of midfield and Omar Ibrahim was moved back into defence to replace the injured Anis Zaknoune.

After a scrappy first five minutes, Skem had a shot that whistled way over the bar.  This was met with joyous chants from behind the goal of “we’ve had a shot”, typically summing up the Skem fans expectations of their own team for this game.  Bury quickly started to show why the home fans were right as their classy looking side started to get going soon after.

United weren’t in a mood to just stand back and let them play though and earned a free kick 40 yards from goal when Yacin Amarzou was fouled. Knowles’ went for the direct shot but it sailed over.

Just a minute later and Bury earned a free kick of their own in a far more dangerous position wide on the right.   It was cleverly played in low and hard but Samuel Burns couldn’t control his shot in the box.

On 15 minutes a lovely chipped ball found Burns free again in the box but Nelson Digbeu was alert to it and expertly nicked the ball off his foot before he had a chance to shoot.   Bury were now doing most of the attacking and limiting Skem to put shots from distance, one such effort being a loose ball played out by Harry Wright for the visitors that found its way to Amarzou. He tried to return it back over the stranded keeper, but was high, wide and not so handsome with it.

After 20 minutes of keeping their opponents at arms length, Skem started to grow in confidence and knocked the ball around well themselves, a breakaway from their own area was led by the speedy Yasir Salim, he came in off the left and tried to beat the keeper from just inside the area but it was comfortable for Wright.

Connor Comber was the standout player for the visitors and he started and ended a good move in the 36th minute, coming inside his man to shoot just wide.  Five minutes later William Reeves lofted a free kick on the left edge of the box to the far post, where Comber met it on the volley with a ferocious effort into the side netting.

At the other end Salim was the standout player for Untied and he was just about to make his mark on the match permanent.   Taking the ball just outside the area, he jinked his way past his man and into space, slightly too wide to get a shot off, he played a dangerous ball into the centre where Mark Bollongino was on hand to volley it home from 3 yards out.  HT 1-0.

The second half  had barely got underway when Skem were granted a gift of a goal.  Amarzou chased a nothing ball out on the right hand touchline and with two defenders in tow, there seemed to be no danger at all.   Gareth Peet played what should have been an easy back pass to his goalkeeper, but inexplicably Wright let the ball roll under his foot, he desperately tried to scramble back and clear the ball off the line, but the assistant ref waved his flag and the goal stood, Skem were now 2-0 up.

Bury now had to turn up the heat, and so they did.  On 54 minutes Benito Lowe went in on Ben Barnes and needed treatment.   The big man doesn’t go down easily and as if affronted by accusations of play acting by the visiting supporters, Barnes was about to show why he is still the best around at this level. Reeves sent in a dangerous free kick that was met by the long arms of the law as the Barnes punched clear.   The ball back in bounced awkwardly but Barnes dived on it quickly.

It was all Bury now and on 71 minutes they were offered a way back into the game when Gareth Peet was brough down in the box by Omar Ibrahim,  the Skem man receiving his second yellow and Bury had a penalty.   Burns sent Barnes the wrong way to make it 2-1, game on now.

Bury now laid siege to the Skem goal, with just 10 men the home side were wobbling, but every one in the team was working as hard as they could to protect the lead.  As the game drifted into its final ten minutes Bury had already squandered three good chances to equalise then in the 83rd minute an Andrew Briggs header hit the post.   Two minutes later Barnes made a glorious save as Lewis Gilboy tried to find the bottom corner.

Into stoppage time and hearts were in mouths behind the Skem goal as first Barnes kept out Burns with another brilliant save and then cleared off the line when a goal looked certain.   Eventually the ref blew for full time and those hearts could start singing. FT 2-1

This was a massive result for Skem and despite the fortune of the second goal and the desperate defending of much of the second half it was well deserved.  As professional a performance as you’d hope to see against an expensively put together side and light years away from the meek surrender of midweek.

As much as the players deserve their plaudits though, the same must be said for the Skem fans who kept their faith in their team and turned up in numbers today to support them throughout.  Despite being outnumbered six to one by visiting supporters, the Skem fans had outshouted their opponents the entire match. For the many Bury fans in attendance too, it wasn’t their day but they were a good spirited bunch and it must be said a great credit to their club.

With thanks to Frank Hughes, Sarah Shuttleworth, James Hughes and Philip Hill (Bury) for the photos.

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