Chorley made the long journey to Northamptonshire to face eighth placed Brackley Town, keen to bounce back after the New Year defeat at the hands of AFC Fylde writes Paul Metcalfe.
For Matt Jansen, this was potentially a selection headache with forward Jason Walker out for six to eight weeks and Marcus Carver potentially missing after being stretchered off just six days earlier. However the plucky young forward declared himself fit after being ‘signed off’ by a doctor yesterday and so featured in the starting eleven. The game was also to feature debutant goalkeeper Ritchie Branagan, having been signed by Chorley the day after being released by National League side Macclesfield Town.
The game itself was to be a finely balanced affair, however the Magpies were to take all three points back up the M6 thanks to a superb thunderous strike from captain Dale Whitham just before the end of the first half.
The home side, settled down the quickest and enjoyed many of the opening exchanges, In the second minute Branagan was called into action as Jimmy Armson’s shot floated into the box, but the shot stopper caught it with ease. A minute later there was a moment of pressure in the Brackley box, however this came to nothing.
In the seventh minute Brackley won a free kick 20 yrds from the Chorley goal, however the inswinging ball was headed away to safety. On 10 minutes there was another set piece for the home side near the half way line. A superbly arrowed shot arrowed directly at Branagan, however he was equal to it, catching the ball easily.
There was a lovely bit of pressure from Chorley as the ball fell beautifully towards Carver’s feet, however his shot fired over Walker’s top bar. Brackley countered on the break but the forward fell foul of the linesman’s flag. Minutes later it was O’Keefe who fell foul of the flag at the other end, as Carver’s sublime side kick found O’Keefe but he was adjudged offside.
Brackley were to win another free kick in a dangerous position but the ball was headed out for a goal kick. Soon after, a dangerous back kick to Branagan could have given Brackley an advantage but the keeper was able to launch the ball upfield. On 24 minutes, yet another free kick was given to the home side, but Branagan was able to punch the ball clear.
The Chorley defence, back to full strength thanks to the return of Stephen Jordan stood resolute as Steve Diggin made a superb run in, and the ball was soon taken away upfield.
The best chance of the first chance for Chorley came just after the half hour mark as a cleverly placed ball found the midfieder’s head, however the shot arrowed wide of the left hand post.
Just minutes later, Carver went down just outside the Brackley box and a free kick was awarded. The ball rebounded off the Brackley wall and Roscoe’s shot found its way through a sea of defenders, but was scooped up by Walker.
On 42 minutes O’Keefe had attention from the away physio as he went down ten yards from the Brackley area. From the resulting free kick, a beautifully volleyed ball from Whitham foiled Walker and ploughed into the corner of the goal, allowing Chorley to take the lead.
In the second half, Brackley piled on the pressure, determined to find the equaliser. However Chorley put on a defending display as we know they can this season and nullified every move made by the home side.
Armson made a lovely run on goal, but Challoner was able to kick the ball away to safety. On 62 minutes a free kick was awarded against Chorley and the ball made it through the wall. However Branagan was able to gather up the ball easily. Minutes later he comfortably scooped up a ball which fell at pace into the box.
Carver then had a superb chance to double the away side’s lead as Walker was unable to deal with a Chorley ball, however the number nine’s second ball was skied over the bar from five yards out.
Brackley were coming more and more into the game as the clock ticked down. However the league’s leanest defence soaked up the pressure with the man between the sticks dealing with balls coming his way.
Brackley’s best chance came just eight minutes from time as Ndlovu foiled three defenders and sent a powerful shot towards goal, however again Branagan was able to catch the ball easily. On 90 minutes the home side looked almost certain to equalise as ball after ball peppered the Chorley goal area, however this was not to be their day as Chorley made a break, removing the ball from danger.
There was almost a final throw of the dice deep into stoppage time as Brackley won a free kick 30 yards from goal. However the set piece came to nothing and the referee blew for full time.
The Magpies remain in third place in the National League North, on equal points with Kidderminster Harriers, who lost to Salford City this afternoon.
Our next match takes us to The Shay, to face Halifax Town this Tuesday night – KO 7.45pm
Starting XI Ritchie Branagan, Matt Challoner, Adam Blakeman, Scott Leather, Kieran Charnock, Stephen Jordan, Adam Roscoe, Dale Whitham (c), Marcus Carver, Josh O’Keefe, Jake Cottrell
Subs: John Cofie (O’Keefe 75), Andy Teague, Nathan Sheron, Waqas Azam (Carver 82), Will Beesley
Goal: DALE WHITHAM (43)
Chorleyfc.com Man of the Match: Ritchie Branagan – coped with everything thrown at him. Has the potential of becoming a Magpie legend