Changing places; switch to Wincham Park vindicated again

1874 Northwich’s board moved quickly following the fifth-round draw to agree a deal with Witton Albion to hire Wincham Park.

Their choice was vindicated again.

More than 1,000 spectators have seen them eliminate Pontefract Collieries and now Chichester City there, and the players have responded to the atmosphere created.

Witton’s ground-staff deserve credit too for their part, preparing an excellent surface despite heavy overnight rain.

Had the tie not been switched from St Luke’s Barton Stadium, would it have been postponed? Almost certainly it would.

1874’s latest arrangement with Albion was for a single game, although both club have confirmed they plan to continue dialogue.

1874 Northwich; a side for the big occasion

That is perhaps the biggest triumph of management duo Paul Bowyer and Wayne Goodison.

Their team has repeatedly shown this season that it has the temperament to handle the pressure and expectation that comes with performing when there are no second-chances.

A heavy home defeat against Runcorn Linnets still rankles, but it stands out only for being an isolated occasion when the side hasn’t performed this season.

Oft-criticised previously for not delivering in the big games – Atherton Collieries last season, anyone? – that has been the biggest single change affected by Ian Street’s successors.

They have rehabilitated Matthew Woolley as the group’s leader, but the likes of Danny Meadowcroft, Mark Jones and Sam Hind provide a calm on-field assurance around him.

A midfield battle won by the hosts

While being below their fluid best, 1874’s stranglehold on the game – particularly during the first-half – was in midfield.

Matthew Woolley, Mark Jones and Jake Parker were particularly effective in closing down Dave Herbert and Lorenzo Dolcetti whenever they picked up possession, and it meant lone front-man Jimmy Wild often fed off scraps.

Chi improved in the second-half, and Herbert and Dolcetti played closer to their teammate, but they lacked a cutting edge in open play.

Indeed Miles Rutherford, the visitors’ manager, withdrew Herbert in the closing stages and tried Luke Kilner in his position instead.

1874 had by then sent on Kazim Waite-Jackson, a teenager who plays with a maturity beyond his experience.

The ex-Congleton man’s composure in possession is a valuable option for Bowyer and Goodison from the bench.

Impact of Shelton Payne as a substitute

An eyebrow or two may have been raised when 1874 Northwich announced the return of a player that had struggled to make an impact during a brief spell early last season.

Goodison knows the Payne well from his time as assistant manager to Garry Vaughan at Trafford, and believes the 28-year-old can still be a match-winner.

He is short on practice after recently returning from a knee injury, but impressed after replacing injured Taylor Kennerley during the interval.

Payne is direct, and his ability to dribble past an opponent forced Rutherford’s hand when he took off full-back Charlie Williamson and stationed Kieran Hartley in defence after an hour.

Don’t forget it was Payne’s shot, deflected by a defender, that earned the corner from which Ryan Mitchell scored the winning goal.

In praise of Miles Rutherford

The Chichester boss earned the respect and admiration of everybody inside Wincham Park when he stayed on the field after the final whistle to congratulate every 1874 Northwich player.

He shook every one’s hand, and had an encouraging word in their ear.

His side’s record-breaking run to the last 16 had just ended after they conceded a last-gasp winner, but he demonstrated dignity in defeat even when he must have felt heartbroken.

The visitors’ outstanding individual performers were goalkeeper Anthony Ender and captain Jack Lee, a defender, which is proof of their resilience under pressure.

Lee played with gritted teeth late on after suffering cramp, while Ender was cautioned for obstructing opposite number Greg Hall after venturing forward for a corner with time running out.

Rutherford could not have eked any more from his team.