United raise survival hopes with brilliant performance at Irlam.

By Martin Stewart

After a lot of rain in the days preceeding this game the pitch was in a great condition for this one on a fine dry night near to the Manchester Ship Canal.

Mark Bollongino contuned his recovery from injury to start the game upfront alongside the welcome return of Andy Mandjoba. Also back in the starting lineup was Haris Bouraima preferred at right back to Kristian Knowles.

The blues started the match with Mandjoba, Bollongino and Claudio Da Costa as a high pressing front three and it took just 20 seconds for the german to send an early sighter just over the bar. On four mins, the same man broke in from the left, but screwed another shot over.

Three mins later and Utd continued their bright start when Mandjoba had a go from 35 yards which didn’t trouble Lee White in the home side’s goal. All three of these moves had involved key passes from the highly impressive Tom Smith.

The hosts were neat and tidy in possession but offering nothing to trouble a solid looking Skem defence with just a shot from Alex Francis from a tight angle which was straight at Ben Barnes all they had to show for the opening 20 minutes.

Meanwhile Da Costa set Bollongino clean through on goal and White had to be out quick to the edge of his area to close the chance down.

On the half hour mark Mandjoba’s pace and directness took him clean through the opposing defensive line. His powerful shot would have been a goal of the season contender had he been able to keep it down.

Irlam rallied and finished the half strongly but still a resolute Utd defence kept them mostly at bay HT 0-0.

After so much good work in the opening half, Skem had their tails up early in the second as Bollongino got inside the box to play a ball across the area which was narrowly ahead of Mandjoba

Just 6 minutes after the restart and Smith went on a surging run from just inside the opposition half. He got into the box and was upended by a defender just as he shaped to shoot. The ref pointed to the spot. Mandjoba assumed responsibility for the penalty and made no mistake to send the visitors into the lead.

The goal made the home fans restless, they could sense their team wasn’t playing too well and after beating Bury away at the weekend most had surely turned up in the hope of an easy victory against the bottom side.

The response from Irlam was short-lived though, Skem continued to hit on the break and on 66 mins Mandjoba turned provider, after getting into the box to lay the ball back out to Yacin Amarzou who’s precise shot from the edge of the area found the bottom corner of the net.

Two minutes later it was game over as Bollongino capped a tireless performance by stealing the ball 25 yards out, before running towards the byline and laying off a simple tap-in at the far post to Mandjoba.

The hosts threw on three substitutes in a vain attempt to get themselves back into this match, but Skem were never going to let this one slip from here.

Continuing to dominate in defence, they had their opponents right where they wanted them and were able to bring on youngsters Layton Baines and Jacob Rodrigues to run at them whenever the chance of a break came.

In the 95th minute Barnes made a smart save with his feet from Kaiden Barlow but even a consolation goal would have been harsh on Skem who celebrated a fine win after one of their most complete performances of the season FT 0-3.

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