In a breathless game, Ilkley Town AFC recorded a hard-fought victory against a well-drilled Cleator Moor Celtic side. The pulsating opening set the tone for the rest of the game, with Celtic 1-2 up in the first 10 minutes; despite the early deficit, the Baht’atters recovered and a brace from both Alfie Dean and Tom Smith saw the frantic fixture finish 4-3 in Ilkley’s favour, writes Matthew Lambe.
Straight from the referee’s whistle, it was evident neither team intended to park the bus. Dean opened the scoring in spectacular style, after turning inside of a Celtic defender and arrowing an effort into the top left corner.
The advantage proved to be short lived, with Cleator Moor restoring parity within two minutes. Full back Leon Dmytrowski found the roof of the net with a powerful strike.
Belying their lowly league position, the momentum had swung firmly in Celtic’s favour and they subsequently took the lead within a further two minutes. This time, Conor Hammell beat Charlie Bell from distance with a looping effort.
Sam Dexter’s side almost provided an immediate response, after a foul on Dean set up a free kick in dangerous territory. Gomersall’s strike was agonisingly close, skimming the crossbar.
Nevertheless, Ilkley were able to draw level, bringing the score to two-all before the 20th minute. Dean chipped in with an assist, slipping in Smith who placed the ball beyond the reach of the keeper.
After the hectic period, the game settled down for the next 20 minutes, before becoming action-packed once more. In the last 5 minutes, the visitors had a goal disallowed for offside and barely three minutes later Smith had restored the lead. His initial attempt was saved by keeper Luke McKnight but he reacted quickest to pounce on the loose ball, nodding into the unguarded net.
There was yet more action before the half time whistle, as both teams nearly scored another. Harry Brown shot narrowly wide whilst Charlie Bell saved an effort at the near post.
Early in the second half, the Cumbrian outfit levelled the scoring once again. A low free kick deceived the Baht’atters and Ryley Short finished past Bell from close range.
Following this, a chaotic goalmouth scramble ensued which was somehow kept out by the visitors. Ilkley had several attempts, but the sea of bodies on the goalline were able to prevent the hosts from retaking the lead.
At the other end of the MPM Stadium, it was Celtic’s turn to squander an opportunity. A cross squirmed through every attacker and defender alike, eventually cannoning off the woodwork and cleared in the nick of time by James Nightingale.
It would’ve had to take something special to separate the two sides, and Dean provided exactly that with 15 minutes remaining. After Nathan Hunt won a free kick in a convincing position, Dean’s pinpoint strike sailed over the wall and dipped into the top corner.
In the last action of the game, the visitors whipped a cross towards the six yard box – causing a heart in the mouth moment for every Baht’atters fan – but Matt Swift was on hand to clear the danger to secure a vital three points.
Looking to the future, Town travel to Lancashire to face Nelson on Saturday 25th March before welcoming FC St Helens to the MPM Stadium on Saturday 1st April.
(Photo Credit: Paul O’Brien)