Clean Sheet And Gonzalez Brace Secures Survival

Concluding their maiden season in the North West Counties Football League, Ilkley Town AFC earned a resounding 2-0 victory over promotion-chasing AFC Blackpool. Goals either side of the break courtesy of Kevin Gonzalez put the Baht’atters in the driving seat, before another solid defensive performance ensured Ilkley’s status as a semi-professional outfit for another season, writes Matthew Lambe.

A win was necessary, as fellow relegation candidates Ashton Town and AFC Darwen both earned three points, meaning anything other than a win would’ve resulted in Sam Dexter’s side finishing in the bottom three - and subsequently needing a reprieve to guarantee survival.

Knowing a win was needed, the Baht’atters pressed forward straight from the whistle, and were nearly rewarded with a goal only five minutes in. After outmuscling the centre back, Josh Bowers was through on goal, but keeper Daniel Hall parried his effort out for a corner.

From the resulting corner, Gonzalez opened the scoring. George Gomersall whipped a pinpoint delivery into the six-yard box, where Gonzalez’s towering header found the roof of the net, for his 25th goal of the season.

Gonzalez almost added a second in quick succession, controlling Gomersall’s volleyed long ball, but his powerful strike soared narrowly over.

At the other end of the MPM Stadium, Ilkley were lucky not to concede; a Tim Edney clearance was intercepted whilst he was out of his goal, but the visitors dithered for too long, allowing the hosts to get defenders back before eventually taking the shot.

The squandered opportunity gave the Mechs momentum, and they should’ve capitalised, but Joshua Winder saw his close range effort trickle wide, whilst Ryan McLean’s attempt from 30-yards flew out of the MPM Stadium.

Due to Blackpool’s sustained pressure, there were more than a few nervous faces in the crowd heading into half time, especially with the knowledge that Darwen and Ashton were ahead.

These nerves were vanquished almost immediately after play resumed, as the Baht’atters scored within a minute of kickoff, gaining a two-goal cushion. Bowers nutmegged a defender inside the box, then selflessly squared to Gonzalez, who couldn’t miss as he rolled the ball home.

In the midst of the goal, the visitors’ Ryan White was sin-binned for abuse aimed towards the officials.

The Mechs looked threatening in the following few minutes, but skipper Harry Brown and Matt Swift calmly dealt with the danger, whilst also setting up a counter-attack.

A spell of Baht’atters possession culminated with Gomersall’s long range strike, which stung the palms of Hall, but he was able to palm the ball away to safety.

Perhaps in frustration, the previously sin-binned White tried a speculative volley, but it sailed out of the ground.

Tim Edney pulled off a string of saves to maintain his clean sheet – his 6th of the season – before another effort scuttled just wide.

This action concluded the game – and therefore the entire league season – leaving Sam Dexter’s side on 40 points from 36 games, including an impressive 10 wins at home out of a possible 18.

Remarkably, Town finished the season with a neutral goal difference (scoring and conceding 73) which saw them finish 15th in the league.

Next up, our efforts turn to the Cup, where we are still competing in both. We travel to Bacup Borough on Saturday 9th in the Macron Cup, and if we prevail there another away trip awaits us, this time at Avro FC. In the 1st Division Cup, we are away once again, at fellow Yorkshire outfit Golcar United in the 3rd Round, once they have finished their play-offs.

Finally, thank you to the players, the coaches, the volunteers, the fans, and anyone else who has supported our team in this rollercoaster ride of a season.