A second attempt to reach the final 

1874 have contested the North West Counties League’s Challenge Cup semi-finals previously, but not for a while. 

They reached the last-four in their inaugural season and bowed out after a 6-1 defeat on aggregate against Maine Road, a higher-ranked opponent from the Premier Division. 

Stuart Wellstead scored the opening goal of the tie in a 3-1 defeat at Brantingham Road. 

This term’s run has seen them eliminate Chadderton (4-3), AFC Blackpool (5-0), Abbey Hey (4-1) and now Barnoldswick Town (3-2). 

Another top-flight rival, Congleton Town, block the remaining part of a route to the final. 

Concentrating minds 

Following yesterday’s round of matches in the Premier Division, 1874 find themselves in the table’s bottom-half with 11 matches left. 

While a position inside the top 10 is within reach, they have work to do if they are to improve on seventh position last season – a first full campaign with Paul Bowyer and Wayne Goodison in charge. 

That quest is likely to be helped by the fact players are seeking to make theirs a place in the side for two knockout semi-finals. 

Congleton Town provide the opposition in the Macron Cup and there is a meeting to arrange too with neighbours Northwich Victoria in the Mid-Cheshire District FA Senior Cup.  

Northwich Guardian:

Sam Hare, right, attempts to escape the attention of an opponent during 1874 Northwich's head-to-head with Barnoldswick Town in a Macron Cup last-eight encounter on Friday. Picture: Ian Dutton

Striking the right balance 

The arrival of Michael Koral from landlords Winsford United has restored a balance lost since Joe Woolley and Ryan Jackson both sustained long-term knee injuries. 

He can play as a striker, but the versatile attacker has been stationed in a wide position on the right of 1874’s attack for the most part. 

With Taylor Kennerley a threat to opponents on the opposite flank, there is a sense this version of Northwich can cause damage in different ways. 

A midfield trio of Matthew Woolley, Sam Hare and Jack Irlam supplies a full range of attributes, while the restoration of a partnership in defence that was so effective last season – between Jack Pritchard and Danny Meadowcroft – makes them appear sturdier than previously. 

A different role for Jack Irlam 

It was striking to see the midfielder occupy a more advanced starting position, one that saw made him closest to striker Scott McGowan when 1874 won back possession. 

Hare was moved deeper as a result. 

A dividend arrived quickly when a neat combination between Irlam and McGowan in the centre of the field set in motion a move that ended with Kennerley steering in an opening goal. 

Irlam netted the second, and his ability to play with his back to goal – or to win aerial challenges and flick the ball on when 1874 played longer passes forward – proved effective too. 

Northwich Guardian:

Jack Irlam, left, rifles in 1874 Northwich's second goal during the first-half of their meeting with North West Counties League Premier Division rivals Barnoldswick Town in the Macron Cup on Friday. Picture: Ian Dutton

Kennerley’s bow has another string 

His goal tally for the campaign stands at 12 after Friday, and he moved beyond last season’s total during a win against Congleton last month. 

During an interview with the Guardian in December, shortly after signing a contract with the club, he said he had worked on that part of his game. 

Encouraged to find positions from which he can score when 1874 have the ball on the opposite flank, he did exactly that to divert Koral’s low cross past Barlick’s goalkeeper at the back-post. 

It isn’t the first time he has netted that way, and won’t be the last.