Not so comfortable at home

Witton had avoided defeat in their previous nine competitive matches at Wincham Park before Mickleover arrived in Northwich last night.

That included four games in the Northern Premier League’s top-flight this season, although three of those had ended in draws.

While not always winning in front of their own supporters, Carl Macauley’s men had at least made themselves difficult to beat.

Their guests also had one of the worst away records in the Premier Division before kick-off, losing on five of their seven road trips and drawing the other two.

However they had prevailed in last season’s corresponding fixture, and goals inside the opening 17 minutes from player-manager John McGrath and Nathan Jarman set helped them to repeat the trick.

Tired in mind, not body

Carl Macauley talked afterwards about his players feeling mental fatigue following an emotional high of eliminating FC United of Manchester from the FA Cup last weekend.

It certainly showed too.

Their reaction-time was slower than usual on both of the visitors’ goals, particularly the second when Ollie Roberts was able to steer a pass to an unmarked Jarman despite Rive Humphreys holding up Evan Garnett after he had run clear.

Witton are running a small squad, one depleted last night by new injuries to Cesaire and Matty Devine while Tom Owens and Nick Ryan are already absent, and that left the manager with little wriggle-room when it comes to player turnover.

To his credit, he made early substitutions in a bid to inject missing energy.

A player’s value increases when absent

Cesaire has provided an extra layer of protection in front of Witton’s defence this season, and that helped them to keep five clean-sheets in their first nine Premier Division games.

While admittedly a small sample size, he has been absent for the past two – both of them defeats.

He has been an effective counter-balance to the attacking instincts of the likes of James Foley, Tom Owens and Billy Smart.

Carl Macauley opted for Will Booth in that role against Mickleover, another who is forward-thinking, and it didn’t work.

Mickleover too often cut through Witton’s midfield with a single pass, and that left River Humphreys and Josh Wardle exposed to Garnett’s speed.

A change to five at the back, following Michael Wilson’s introduction, made them sturdier.

So too did Chris Noone when he came on, probably the closest Albion have to a direct replacement for Cesaire.

A landmark for Anthony Gardner

Chairman John Salmon presented the full-back with a bottle of champagne before kick-off to mark him making his 350th appearance in Witton’s colours.

Now 27, he made his debut for the club during an 8-0 win against Leigh Genesis in a First Division North fixture back on January 11, 2011.

He has had to be patient following the arrival of James Yates, and last night’s game was the first time he has started a league game this term.

“He’s been brilliant for me since I took over,” said Macauley.

“It’s a great achievement to reach that figure, something that doesn’t happen much in non-league nowadays.”

Northwich Guardian:

Chairman John Salmon, left, presents Anthony Gardner with a bottle of champagne on the occasion of his 350th appearance for Witton Albion. Picture: Keith Clayton

Where next for Witton?

Quite literally, to Workington on Saturday and then Basford United on Monday.

On paper, that’s daunting; no side has collected more points in front of their own supporters than the promoted Nottingham club who have won six of their seven home games.

Workington are also unbeaten on their own tuft.

While it’s true that Albion should have more points on the board – they ought to have beaten both Hyde and Marine on home turf and a 10-minute blackout at Bamber Bridge cost them in an otherwise even contest – they don’t.

They occupy 16th position in the table ahead of two more testing away games.

In short, they’ve work to do.