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Michael Brandon's brilliant header swings cup tie in favour of 1874 Northwich at Formby's expense
IF 1874 Northwich had a point to prove, then they did so only in part.
To beat opponents they haven’t previously, and with a cup quarter finals place as a prize, is reason for cheer.
That their best performers were all defenders, including goalkeeper Matthew Conkie, tells a story too.
Michael Brandon’s decisive contribution – a header placed with power beyond into the top corner from Matthew Ward’s wondrous assist – was the highlight of an improved display than in the teams’ two other meetings this season.
Whether it lands a psychological blow assistant manager Lee Duckworth had hoped for is unlikely.
Formby, dominant in possession, posed their most potent threat from set pieces delivered expertly from by Marvin Molyneux’s right boot.
From those was Conkie called upon to intervene most often.
He did so first midway through the first half, contorting his body to paw clear a header from Franny Smith after he was given the freedom of the penalty area to meet Molyneux’s set piece.
The hosts’ net-minder was positioned perfectly from Formby’s next foray forward, diverting Mini Adegbenro’s driven attempt at the near post.
When Ian Street’s men toiled to clear another Molyneux corner after half an hour, Kieron Brislen shot high when he ought to have done better.
Until then Northwich had only Ward’s dragged effort, after he had conjured space from which to shoot with a clever spin, to count on for proof of any attacking threat.
They changed that statistic with style on 35 minutes, Brandon escaping the attention of Formby captain Michael White by curtailing a run that enabled him to meet Ward’s centre.
The result was a winning goal.
Buoyed by leading, Stuart Wellstead’s free kick dipped over in the moments before half time.
Formby custodian Josh O’Connell clawed Wellstead’s corner from under the crossbar at the start of the second period, though the pattern of the Squirrels causing havoc from their own set pieces continued.
When Molyneux curved in another inviting cross on 53 minutes, it deserved better than for John Prescott – again unmarked – to head wastefully over.
Conkie was comfortable when blocking Adegbenro’s attempt after the wide man cut inside from the left, after which Formby faded.
Michael Aston expertly marshalled a Northwich defence to a period of calm, though a spell of pressure at the other end did not naturally follow.
This was a different, more durable, display from his teammates than when the clubs had met earlier in the month.
A late rally led to glimpses of goal for Brislen, thwarted by Conkie before Northwich survived a scramble, and Adegbenro who shot too close to the hosts’ custodian when they came face-to-face in stoppage time.
“We’re through to the last eight and should be happy about that,” said Street.
“I think we can do better, and often were too passive when we won back possession. That was disappointing, and something we need to improve on.”
1874 Star Man: Michael Aston. Calm under pressure, and kept an eye on what his fellow defender needed to do to keep Formby at bay.
1874 (4-3-3) Conkie (GK), Mitchell, Farnworth, Aston, Duckworth, Bailey, Woolley, Stewart, Wellstead, Brandon (McGregor 85), Ward (Woods 77) Subs not used Tagoe, Crane, Jones Goal Brandon 35 Booked Ward, Woolley, Farnworth (all fouls), Bailey, McGregor (both kicking the ball away)
Formby (4-4-2) O’Connell (GK), Turner, Molyneux, White, Swatton, Edgerton, Brislen, Speed (Rendell 46), Adegbenro, Smith, Prescott Subs not used Simpson (GK), Sherlock
Referee Mark Doherty