Saturday 30th December 2017 15.00
West Cheshire League One
Vauxhall Motors 6 Rainhill Town 4 HT: 2-0 Att: 70 headcount
Nightingale 10, Davidson 35, Carey 53, 72, Brandon 81, 85 : Davidson 56, 60, Bott 63, Bathgate 88
from Rivacre Road
What a way to end 2017. The year waits until its 364th day to provide its best game by far – a 10 goal thriller with exceptionally unlikely 10-man comeback thrown in. Vauxhall Motors wasn’t even an option in the morning. All the contenders had waterlogged pitches from a mixture of heavy rain and molten ice. Coventry Copsewood, Squire’s Gate, Worsbrough Bridge Athletic all fell by the wayside as sensible options became limited. Not wanting a mammoth journey I settled on the relative near Vauxhall Motors from Ellesmere Port; a ground I’d been interested in for years.
Vauxhall Motors are a fallen giant of non-league, resigning from the Conference North in 2014 due to escalating costs to join their local West Cheshire League. The club were founded in 1963 as the works team of the newly opened Vauxhall Car Plant in Ellesmere Port. After successes in local leagues the club were founder members of the Conference North in 2004. In 2002 they beat QPR 4-3 on pens at Loftus Road in a first round replay of the FA Cup (after a 1-1 draw and drawing 0-0 at Rivacre Road), before bowing out to Macclesfield Town in Round Two in front of the TV cameras.
Their Rivacre Road ground dates back to 1987 and still has a tidy new feel to it, and I think the covered terrace had had a fresh lick of paint. This 15 step terrace straddled the half way line, as did the covered stand opposite which held 266 seats (I counted). Literature regarding the ground quotes 350 seats, but this may be a potential capacity as the last three steps are denuded of seats. Mind you, the top step was so close to the roof of the stand you’d have to lie down.
The game was a West Cheshire League ame between 4th and 10th out of a 16 team league. The only other game that survived the weather was also listed as being at Rivacre Road kick off 3.00pm, Neston Nomads (2nd) versus Newton (5th). A twitter enquiry later solved the mystery, with the neston game to be played on the 3G pitch next door. And I mean literally next door – you could watch both games from beside the main stand (and I’m sure a lot of hoppers would count it as two grounds.) The game next door was the better fixture on paper.
The Vauxhall game was nothing of note to begin with. The hosts were the better team and deservedly took the lead on 10 with a low fast cross bouncing off Nightingale’s shin from a couple of yards out. Vauxhall started to dominate the game more and doubled their lead thanks to doggedly chasing a ‘lost ball’ to the byline, pulling it back for Davidson to smash into the net via a deflection.
Before half time a tasty challenge had a Rainhill player squaring up to his tackler and pushing him. A small fracas ensued, where the Rainhill player was rightly sent off and the Vauxhall player cautioned.
In the second half Rainhill looked downbeat as Vauxhall surged forward for more goals. On 53 Carey received a cross on the right of the penalty area, controlled it, and while slipping over smashed it into the net – 3-0. Surely the end of the contest?
Amazingly no, the next ten minutes were one of those extremeley rare and beautiful snatches of football that enrich the soul. A loose ball in the penalty area was first smashed in by Davidson off the post for 3-1. Minutes later a one-on-one with the goalie should have easily been put away for 3-2 but was fired wide. But minutes later a cross found Davidson again in the area, who dinked to the side of his marker and smashed in his second.
As the crowd contemplated what seemed impossible just 10 minutes back, a long ball was chased by Bott, who with the keeper advancing on him and the defender on his back timed it perfectly to whump between the keeper’s legs from an angle and 3-3. Unbelievable stuff.
Despite implausibly throwing their 3 goal lead, Vauxhall didn’t look perturbed. They kept their shape and cool and pressed forward as before. It wasn’t long before a delicious cross into the box was met by Carey, whose header kissed the bar on the way in, from six yards out. At this stage it was still all to play for and both teams went for it, but Rainhill’s defence was showing cracks.
One such crack saw Brandon on the left of goal with time to take a touch and place under the keeper for 5-3. A few minutes later the same player scored the goal of the season. Coming in from the left, on the edge of the penalty area he unleashed a left foot drive that sailed into the opposite top corner. It was one of those shots where you expectantly hope the net to bulge, but more realistically know it will fly past. The net did bulge and the small crowd audibly showed its appreciation.
There was still time for a consolation as Bathgate got lucky with a chase down of the keeper, as he picked up the ricochet and fired into an empty net from a tight angle. 6-4!
Vauxhall Motors have a large clubhouse in construction behind the goal, which is great news and perhaps a first step towards playing at a higher level. The facilities and size of the ground certainly warrant it.