Lichfield were looking to start their league campaign with a positive result against Congleton Town at the Trade Tyre Community stadium on Saturday afternoon. The club performed admirably in the FA cup and narrowly lost to Boldmere St Micheals last weekend 3-2. Congleton came into the match with good form and beat Wythenshawe Town last Saturday in the FA cup prior to their first match in the MFL.
The rain was pelting it down at 1:30pm and kept coming and going throughout the afternoon, with the occasional 10-minute spell of heavy rain followed by a period of clear skies. The ground is brilliant and offers a great view of the pitch to take in the match.
The programme on offer was informative and provided a recap of Lichfield’s match in the FA cup and their player of the season awards for 22/23. This was useful for providing supporters with a bit of background information prior to kick off. There was a good turnout of away supporters and they contributed to the atmosphere in the ground throughout the afternoon.
Starting Line ups
Lichfield played in what appeared to be a 4-2-2-2 formation and were mostly playing on the counterattack throughout the match. Defender Joe Haines was the skipper for the hosts and played alongside Jamie Elkes in central defence.
Liam Kirton led the line up front as the number nine and played alongside Dan Smith in a front two. They were supported by Jake Edwards and Jono Gould in attacking midfield with Kyle Baxter and Dom Lewis playing in defensive midfield. Overall, there were two changes from the starting line up in the FA cup with Kyle Patterson not in the matchday squad and Josh Wykes moving to the bench.
Congleton’s starting lineup for their first away match of the season involved defender Darren Chadwick being the skipper and Aaron Johns leading the line as the number nine in a formation that looked like a 4-2-3-1 with David Parton starting in goal for the Bears. The holding midfield two included Peter Williams and Carl Dickinson who were looking to start attacks for the visitors.
The opening half-hour of the match was mostly cagey with both sides working each other out and linking up play well when building attacks. There was not much goalmouth action of note, but it was an intriguing tactical battle to watch. The visitors were looking to settle into the match with Lichfield looking to be well organised off the ball and catch them on the break.
This was the pattern of the first half and Lichfield’s game plan worked to great effect. The team were well organised defensively to stop Congleton attacks and used the ball well when going forwards on the break. Liam Kirton was constantly linking up play well and played an incisive through ball to Jack Edwards in the 34th minute who finished well into the bottom left corner to give Lichfield the lead.
It was not quite clicking for Congleton in the final third and they struggled to have any meaningful chances at goal in the first half. This was testament to how well organised Lichfield were defensively against a good side. The visitors had a few corners at the end of the half to put some pressure on the Lichfield goal, but they were defended well from the hosts to go into the HT break 1-0 up.
Congleton were considerably better going forward in the second half and posed a greater attacking threat in front of goal. Darren Chadwick had a powerful header from a corner blocked early in the second half for the Bears. The visitors were building a bit of momentum and were well supported by a considerable number of Bears supporters in the ground.
The second half was much more balanced in terms of chances in front of goal with Congleton left-back William Buckley having an excellent strike on goal that was well saved by James Beeson in the 63rd minute. This period of the match proved crucial as Lichfield immediately went up the other end in the 64th minute. Jack Edwards squared it to Dan Smith who finished into the bottom right corner to give Lichfield City a two-goal advantage with half an hour to go.
Lichfield managed to control the match brilliantly and the visitors struggled to get a foothold in the last twenty minutes, with the chances coming in stops and starts rather than a constant spell of sustained pressure from the Bears. The hosts had a good chance to make it 3-0 in the 70th minute with Dom Lewis linking up well with Liam Kirton who had a shot saved by David Parton in the Congleton goal. The visitors had a few chances to get into the match at the end of the second half but failed to score. There was a shot that hit the bar for the Bears and substitute George Sankey had a good opportunity but missed from a promising position.
The match finished without much incident before Congleton were awarded a late penalty with Jamie Elkes conceding it. Darren Chadwick stood up to take it, but his shot was saved brilliantly by James Beeson to preserve the clean sheet for Lichfield and take home the three points.
Liam Kirton was great as the number nine and served as a focal point for Lichfield. He was a great outlet to link up the ball and created chances in front of goal. Jamie Elkes was exceptional at the back for Lichfield and went a bit under the radar. He managed to read situations well and clear the ball away to deal with Congleton pressure.
Kyle Baxter also had an underrated game from holding midfield and helped Lichfield grow into the game especially in the first half. This was through constantly breaking up play and defending well for the hosts. Based on this performance, the team looks a genuine dark horse for the play offs.
Despite the defeat, there were some encouraging signs for Congleton Town. Darren Chadwick at the back was good in the air and read situations well with fellow defender Cameron Bradley-Allen distributing the ball well from the back. Marco Fregapane looked good going forwards playing at right-back and hopefully will develop throughout the season. Peter Williams also played well in the holding midfield role and was able to start attacks for the Bears.
It’s going to be a long season and hopefully manager Richard Duffy can build on the positives of this performance. The Bears will be looking to grow into the season and get better with each match. It might take a bit of time before things start to click.
Both sides are in store for exciting seasons, and both are worth following from August to the end of April in the MFL Premier.
FT score: Lichfield City 2-0 Congleton Town
Man of the match: Liam Kirton
Match report written by Rhys Beardmore for the Midland Football League
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