In the 7th and final game of the highly successful NWCFL Groundhop, (where fans watch consecutive games over a single weekend) Ilkley Town AFC played out a rare goalless draw against Garstang FC. The Baht’atters looked the most likely to break the deadlock, with Kevin Gonzalez and George Gomersall ruing missed opportunities, whilst some excellent defensive play from Matt Swift and Josh Parker ensured the visitors rarely threatened Tim Edney between the sticks, writes Matthew Lambe.
The Groundhop inevitably would unite fans from far and wide, but few could’ve predicted a whopping 455 spectators at the MPM Stadium.
Sam Dexter’s side started explosively, with full-back Joe Edmonds dancing past Garstang’s defence before keeper William Kitchen gathered his low shot, whilst Gomersall saw his speculative strike whistle just wide.
Ilkley enjoyed a large portion of possession throughout, with captain Harry Brown dictating the tempo of the game in the centre. He won a free kick on the byline, and as the resulting cross floated in, Garstang were lucky to escape a penalty after Gonzalez was brought down.
The hosts continued to litter the box with chances, with Gomersall displaying neat skill to feed through Gonzalez, but his close range effort couldn’t find the target.
On the stroke of half time, the visitors almost nicked a goal through player-manager Zach Clarke. He muscled through the defence before flashing an attempt into the side netting.
Following the interval, the final 45 resumed where the first half had left off, with the Baht’atters looking more ambitious but with the opposing defence standing firm.
Tom Smith marauded into the box before squaring to Gonzalez, who could only fire wide from close range. Minutes later, Smith accidentally denied an opener for his side, blocking a goalbound header from Gomersall’s inviting delivery on the line.
Kitchen produced a couple of impressive stops, ensuring his eventual clean sheet. Firstly he denied George Pearson from what would’ve otherwise been a magnificent solo goal, before preventing substitute Charlie Nixon from a one-on-one after he was teed up by Gonzalez.
Perhaps Ilkley’s closest opportunity yet arose as Gomersall connected sweetly to a loose ball, which soared past the keeper and tantalisingly wide of the far post.
At the other end of the MPM Stadium, Edney was called into action; he palmed away a threatening cross that was inches away from Clarke.
With the last kick of the game, Swift’s pinpoint header was blocked on the goalline, whilst Nixon couldn’t quite keep the rebound down as it sailed over.
Despite registering more opportunities and controlling the possession, Ilkley won’t feel this is two points lost, putting in a valiant performance against strong opposition, and simultaneously extending their unbeaten streak. Additionally, they accumulated a valuable point as they pull away from the relegation places.
Next up, Town face none other than Garstang again, this time for the 2nd round of the 1st Division Cup (on Wednesday 9th) after previously defeating Steeton, before hosting Pilkington in the league on Saturday 12th.
Finally, a huge thank you to all the groundhoppers present for ensuring a vibrant 450-strong crowd, the second highest of the campaign.