After two disappointing defeats away from home, the last team Mossley would have wanted to play on their return to more familiar soil was a side unbeaten since the opening day of the season. And in Skelmersdale United that's exactly the proposition they had to face on a damp Autumn afternoon at Seel Park.
Like the preceding match at Bamber Bridge where the mobility of the opponents forward line had caused Mossley no end of problems, the pace in United's attack was proving similarly troublesome immediately from the kick-off and, sadly, the deja vu didn't end there. Just as they'd done in Preston seven days earlier, the Lilywhites fell behind to a goal scored from a cross that was finished by an unmarked player on the edge of the six yard box; Adam Birchall this time diving full length to head home in the third minute.
Over the course of the following 20 minutes Skelmersdale created enough chances to win the game twice over. That they didn't was due in no small part to the performance of Ashley Connor in the Mossley goal. Not for the first time this season he produced a string a of outstanding saves that kept the opposition within sight on the score sheet. The pick of a very good bunch being a superb one handed stop that left Craig Noone momentarily stunned as to how his close range effort wasn't nestling in the back of the net.
Other than a lone Lee Blackshaw effort, the home side were struggling to make any headway but that all changed in the 27th minute when a piece of incisive attacking football drew Mossley level. A turn by Gareth Hamlet on the halfway line took his marker out of the game and set in motion a move that finished with Martin Allison striking the ball low under Ryan McMahon in the Skelmersdale goal.
It might have been a goal out of nothing but the Lilywhites play over the next quarter of an hour showed that it had been no fluke. The game became almost exclusively confined to the visitors half of the pitch as Mossley's passing and movement constantly opened up their opponents defence; only a string of saves by McMahon preventing the home side from running up the kind of lead that Skelmersdale had previously threatened to posit.
However, with the interval fast approaching United proceeded to give Mossley a taste of their own medicine by retaking the lead against the run of play. A long clearance up field was misread by Lee Connor and in the race to reclaim possession, Noone beat Ashley Connor by a split second and toe poked the ball into the net.
Unsurprisingly the goal appeared to knock the wind out of Mossley's sails and as in the first half, the visitors could have had the game done and dusted within the opening moments of the second period. That they didn't was again due to Ashley Connor, once more leaving Noone looking on disbelief as he denied the Skem left winger with an outstanding double save in the 50th minute
Eventually the home side began to find their bearings again and a series of interchanges between Hamlet and Garvey ended with the latter forcing McMahon into conceding a corner. Paul Quinn floated the resultant kick over from the right and Lee Blackshaw bustled his way through a group of defenders to power a header into the net at the near post, pulling Mossley level for the second time in the match.
It was another goal that could be argued to have been against the run of play but this time Mossley made sure that the momentum it gave them wasn't wasted. Straight from the restart United were pushed back and from another Quinn corner, Martin Allison ran through a static defence to head the Lilywhites into the lead.
Mossley's fourth soon followed. Picking up a deep, cross field pass, Gareth Hamlet waited for support to arrive before playing the ball along the edge of the 18 yard box. Paul Garvey's step over allowed Blackshaw to curve a shot towards the bottom right hand corner of the goal that McMahon did well to push away. Hamlet reacted quickest to pick up the loose ball and as two Skelmersdale defenders, along with McMahon, dived in front of him to block the expected shot, the former Halifax striker neatly sidestepped to the left and hammered the ball into the roof of the net.
The remainder of the game then became a question of how many Mossley would score as the Lilywhites threatened to run riot. A more emphatic score line wasn't to be though as the away goal led something of a charmed life and surprisingly, it was Skelmersdale who wrapped up the scoring in the fourth minute of injury time (despite only two having been signalled by the referee) when Michael White halved the arrears.
The late goal failed to take any of the shine off what was a very impressive win for Mossley, a victory that moves them into the play-off positions for the first time this season. And whilst there's still some considerable way to go in the 07/08 campaign before the occupation of that spot really matters, similar results and performances to this one should see them consolidate their position in the upper reaches of the league table.
report by SJNR