Against high-flying Pilkington FC, Ilkley Town AFC played excellently and were desperately unlucky not to come away with at least a point, in an entertaining spectacle which was a great advert for the league, writes Matthew Lambe.
Kevin Gonzalez gave the Baht’atters the lead at the interval, before three goals from set-pieces gave the visitors a two-goal cushion. Sam Dexter’s side pulled a late goal back to spark a tense finale, but a quality display from the three Pilkington centre backs ensured they left with the three points.
The Baht’atters began brightly - unfazed by the calibre of opposition, and could’ve easily scored within the opening 10 minutes. George Gomersall’s delivery was agonisingly close to finding Gonzalez, before Gonzalez himself was through on goal but misplaced a pass intended for Tom Fleming.
Nevertheless, the hosts’ sustained pressure paid dividends around the half hour mark. Alfie Dean was tripped inside the box whilst on a marauding run, allowing Gonzalez to notch his 12th goal of the season with a composed finish that sent Pilkington keeper Jake Hilton the wrong way.
On the stroke of half time, the visitors squandered an opportunity to restore parity. A cross was whipped in towards talisman Callum Laird, but he failed to make connection to guide the ball home.
Not resting on their laurels, the Baht’atters pressed forward in search of securing a two-goal cushion. Within the space of two minutes, both Dean and Gonzalez had efforts denied off the line, Gomersall almost scored directly from a corner, whilst George Pearson came tantalisingly close to doubling the advantage with a drilled effort, forcing Hilton to make a late stop.
Despite Ilkley piling on the pressure, Pilkington withstood and were able to level the scoring in the 55th minute. Town failed to clear their lines from a corner – resulting in a goalmouth scramble – and Scott Sephton volleyed into the top corner.
Only a couple of minutes later, the league leaders had overturned the deficit. Laird found the back of the net from 12 yards, with notably a carbon copy of Gonzalez’s earlier penalty.
Gomersall nearly drew level immediately from a set-piece; his free kick looked destined to arrow into the roof of the net, but Hilton was on hand to parry the ball out for a corner.
At the other end of the MPM Stadium, Pilkington extended their lead as Christopher Lomax nodded home a corner.
Worryingly, Gomersall was forced off injured following a late sliding challenge, with Tom Smith coming on to replace him.
Approaching injury time, the Baht’atters gave the supporters hope of a comeback when Dean’s inviting cross was turned in by a Pilkington player.
Ilkley threw everything they could at Pilkington during the final few moments, and Matt Swift’s goalbound header almost sparked pandemonium at the MPM Stadium, but Hilton denied the hosts again.
This was to be the last action, concluding an enthralling game which was a great advert for the NWCFL, although the Baht’atters will feel hard done by the outcome.
Town are without a game on Saturday 25th February, so the next fixture is away to Garstang FC on Saturday 4thMarch, before hosting Chadderton the following week.
(Photo Credit: Paul O’Brien)