Skelmersdale United 3-3 Chadderton

By Martin Stewart

On Remembrance Day, a game it would be hard to forget.

Well, where do you start with a game like this?  How about with the simply beautiful Remembrance Day service laid on by the club and members of the Skelmersdale Veteran’s Association beforehand.   Under bright winter sunshine, veterans marched in perfect sync onto the centre of the pitch accompanied by local MP Ashley Dalton.     On the referee’s whistle the crowd rose as one and maintained impeccable silence whilst a lone bugler played the Last Post.   Ms Dalton laid a wreath from the club on the centre circle and then just as smartly as they had entered the remembrance party made their way off the pitch, it was a fitting display that everyone involved in should be highly proud of.

Since the arrival of Pascal Chimbonda Skem fans have gotten so used to seeing new faces in the lineup that they now ask at the gate ‘anyone new today’ and the team sheet didn’t disappoint.   Mohammed Jabir made his debut at centre half, whilst Yasir Salim made up part of a midfield trio in a 4-2-3-1 formation.   Omar Mbowe was moved up to partner Andreas Bianga in the engine room.

For a game that ended with a such a scoreline the opening 25 minutes were strangely subdued.  Perhaps with a respectful nod to the occasion, like the Western Front in the Great War it resembled two powerful sides sizing each other up without much ground being conceded on either side.  Mbowe and Bianga were already showing signs of a formidable partnership for Skem as they dominated and dictated the play, but Chadderton are the league’s in-form team, and their well drilled defence was giving nothing away to Skem’s attackers.   There was a clever free kick rolled in by Krisel Prifti for Chadderton that was just too clever for everyone else as it rolled right through the Skem penalty area and into touch with nobody quick enough to do anything about it and an attempted overhead kick by Mark Bollongino at the other end that went well over the bar but not much else to get fans on their feet.

As confidence grew, Skem were owning more of the ball, and they were playing some wonderful football with it.   Bollongino got in again on 29 minutes but his shot from a narrow angle didn’t trouble the keeper, three minutes later he worked himself an opening inside the box, but his shot was deflected wide.  On a rare foray up the pitch Adam Dale let fly from distance with a shot that flew agonisingly wide of the right-hand post with Ben Barnes stranded.

On 37 minutes and brilliant interplay between Omar Ibrahim, Yacin Amarzou and Bianga put Ibrahim into space wide to the left of goal, his fierce shot just fizzing past the far post.  Another fantastic move just three minutes later ended with Dana Amaral just shooting over, this game was starting to hot up, all it needed was a goal.

There was a good penalty shout turned down as another Amaral shot seemed to hit the hand of a defender on 43 minutes and then the game exploded into goals.    As the clock ticked into stoppage time a counter attack down the left for Chadderton ended with a cross being played into Adam Dale, his shot was well saved by Barnes, but the ball came back out to Connor Hughes inside the six yard box, his first shot again rebounded off a defender but the ball fell kindly again to Hughes who made no mistake with his second effort, it was a sickener for Skem having dominated so much of the game.

From the restart Skem attacked once more and with three minutes of added time played, Bollongino did a bit of ball juggling in the box before laying it off to Bianga, he was fouled and the ref pointed to the penalty spot.   Bianga picked himself up and calmly levelled the scores  HT 1-1

The visitors started the second half brightly and 4 minutes after the restart worked themselves a good chance that went wide.   At the other end Amaral had a good header from a floated cross, the game was starting to stretch, and the action became end to end as the half rolled on.

On 65 minutes Skem had plenty forward for a corner, the ball was smuggled out of defence by Chadderton but only as far as Bianga standing just outside the penalty area.   His measured shot curled past all the players ahead of him and bounced in off the post to make to 2-1 to Skem.

Affronted by going a goal down to the bottom side it took Chadderton less than a minute to equalise, repeating the move from their first goal, a cross from the left wing headed home by Dale in the middle.

Undetered United got straight back on the front foot and soon a 40-yard run by Salim took him towards goal but his shot flew over the bar.   A couple of minutes later Amarzou had a half-volley at the far post well saved by Morgan Bacon and then a swift break up the pitch drew a brilliant save from Barnes with Dale threatening to double his tally.

As the 90-minute mark came up, the assistant referee signalled 6 minutes of injury time and someone, who shall rename nameless to protect their identity, uttered the ominous words ‘Skem don’t draw matches’……They were receiving daggers from all around as four minutes later Sean Kgwakgwa poked the ball home for what seemed like a totally unjust winner for Chadderton.

This team aren’t going to lie down and accept injustice though and for the next two minutes laid siege to the visitor’s goal.   A corner brought Ben Barnes forwards and as it floated in towards him, he had two stabs at being the unlikely hero of the day but couldn’t get a clear effort of goal in an area packed with desperate defenders.   One flung a loose leg at the ball, and it spun out to Omar Ibrahim, outside the area.   He instantly struck it straight back through the crowded area and into the back of the net to spark pandemonium all around the ground.

The ref blew for full time just seconds later and there it was, after 73 previous encounters, a match that involved Skelmersdale United ended with the spoils being shared between the two teams, the first time since way back on 19th March 2022.   Four managers, three Prime Ministers, two grounds, one promotion and one relegation have been witnessed in between.

Despite deserving much more from the game, a draw felt like a win for Skem, conversely it felt like a loss for title chasing Chadderton and there was much anger and shouting between their players as they left the field for letting such a gift horse slip.   But this is a new United now, one that doesn’t go to pieces when things don’t go their way, no matter how unjust they may seem.  This team has leaders and winners all over the pitch, surely more good results can’t be far off now.

Next up are Pilkington next Saturday, a side that have twice gotten away with victory they really didn’t deserve against Skem already this season, so a chance perhaps for revenge?  Even if you don’t support Skem or Pilks, if you just enjoy good entertaining and sometimes exhilarating football, you’d do well to get yourself down there to watch it.

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