The Cheshire Inter League squad arrived back from the Isle of Man victorious after a brace from Crewe FC striker Nathan Southern saw them advance to the second round of the FA Inter League Cup.
Manager Nick Dunn was delighted with his side’s performance.
“It was an unbelievable trip and a great result, a lot of hard work went in from the players, myself and the other coaches. It was just brilliant. I’m massively proud of how the lads rose to the occasion.
“I knew enough about them (Isle of Man) to put together what I felt would be a plan to beat them. So I felt we had everything in place to get the result. I expected a performance and we were just better than them on the day, simple as that,” he explained.
The level of preparation that Dunn and his staff put in was instrumental in causing what, in the eyes of many, was an upset. The Isle of Man won the tournament back in 2014 and are renowned for having a very well run set up and regular play the B sides of professional clubs to prepare for the competition.
“The last time they (CFL Inter League) played them they got beaten 9-1 about three or four years ago so it was a massive turned around. It was always going to be a hard task when you look at how good the Isle of Man side tend to do every year in that competition.
“I’ve been listening to the Manx Football Podcast pretty much every day since the draw came out. So I went back over all the old ones and then all the new ones just to try and glean anything.
“I flew over to watch them play Widnes in July in a friendly and had them watched when they played over here in the summer as well,” he said.
Good preparation coupled with a strong squad ensured that Dunn’s men came out 2-1 winners on Saturday but he was keen to explain that selecting the group of players that he did was about more than just technical ability.
“They’re all good footballers or else they wouldn’t be knocking around that squad but the pleasing thing is the characters. When we were looking to put the squad together, I wanted to pick the best players but I also wanted to pick lads I knew had good characters, I think that’s hugely important.
“It would be very easy to just name the best players in the Cheshire League and just throw them into a formation but you just wouldn’t get anywhere with that,” he said.
Dunn chose Blacon Youth defender Adam Stening as his captain and singled him out for special praise for the leadership he displayed.
“There were three or four who put their hands up as leaders in the dressing room. I just encouraged them to try and make bonds as quickly as they could. Adam Stening has been massively important in doing that, he’s been wonderful as a leader and he has really helped pull the boys together,” he said.
Along with Stening one of the other key players was Southern who, perhaps unsurprisingly, proved the difference between the two sides. Southern has scored 12 goals in ten appearances for Crewe this season and carried his goal scoring form to the Isle of Man where his brace settled the tie in the CFL’s favour.
The importance of having a striker of Southern’s quality available to him is not lost on Dunn.
“He’s hugely important, especially the way I like to play. It’s not just his goals but his work rate off the ball, he was out on his feet at the end of that game. He kept looking over at me as if to say ”I’m done” but we had made our changes by that point so I just sort of kept smiling and nodding back at him,” he said.
“The penalty that he scored was superb and the second goal was a proper number nine’s finish. He’s probably the best centre forward I’ve seen at this level. I think the lads know with a player like Nathan in the team that if you can get the ball in those positions, he’s going to do the job for you,” he added.
Running an Inter League side is no easy task and, as well as extolling the virtues of of his squad, Dunn was also full of praise for his backroom staff, comprised of Caleb Jones, Andy McCann and Richard Chinn.
“I couldn’t have asked for better support from the three of them, they’ve been fantastic and we’re a really well-oiled team now. I think the four of us each really bring something different,” he said.
Victory on the Isle of Man sets up a second-round tie with the Yorkshire Amateur League which will take place before the end of November and preparations for that clash are already underway.
“I was making notes on the plane home with two black coffees in me because I was struggling a bit on Sunday morning to be honest. We are already looking ahead to that. The reason we did so well against the Isle of Man was because we treated it as the toughest game possible,” Dunn said.
“So, although that was a fantastic experience and exorcised some demons for the league, it was just the first round of the cup.
The next hardest game we’ve got is Yorkshire Amateur League who beat last year’s winners last time out 6-0 at the weekend so they’re obviously a really good side. We’re already looking at who is good in their league what we need to do to get prepared for it.” he added.
In terms of personnel Dunn is likely to stick with many of the players who did so well to secure Saturday’s win but he didn’t rule out the possibility of new faces coming into the fray.
“I’m massively loyal as a manager but players who weren’t in the squad might be thinking I want a bit of that I want to be involved. But if any team nails a job like those boys did at the weekend it’s going to have to be a real impressive player to get into that. They are going to have to come and fit in from a culture point of you as much as bringing something to the party technically.
“I need to give people that opportunity and there will be that opportunity to get involved but those in the squad now, as far as I’m concerned, fully deserve it,” he said.
A combination of the inclement weather and he Inter League’s trip overseas meant there was limted action domestically.
In the Premier Division Middlewich built on their cup win the previous weekend with their first league success of the season against Lostock Gralam.
Middlewich went in at the break with a slender advantage after taking the lead through Oliver McDonough after half an hour.
The hosts then put their guest’s to the sword after the break scoring a further four goals without reply.
Steven Hughes made it 2-0 after 50 minutes before Chris Lunn effectively sealed the points on the hour mark.
Hughes then got his second with ten minutes to go before Sam Jackson applied the final coat of gloss as time wound down.
The victory isn’t enough to move Middlewich off the bottom of the table but after two straight wins confidence will be high going into thier game against FC St Helens nxt Saturday.
Elsewhere in the Premier Division Whaley Bridge earned three points in thier first home league game of the season.
They took the lead against Altrincham in the first half thanks to George Whyment who got the final touch after Joe Armstrong’s goalbound header but were made to work hard for the points as the visitors piled on the pressure in the second half.
Stoic defending from Whaley ensured they made it two wins from two as Alty failed to find a way through.
There was no league action in League One but two games did go ahead in League Two; St Helens Town reserves hit four past Golborne – a brace apiece for James Barron and Phil Evans – whilst Winnington lived up to their name with a 2-1 success over Sandbach United Reserves – goals there from Steven Warburton and Thomas Sneyd either side of the break.