Updated: Sep 26, 2019
FINALLY, after what seemed like an eternity, the season opener was here. The only issue, it was the long journey to Cumbria to face Holker Old Boys. The fixture gods were not shining on us for the first game with that journey but at least it was out the way.
The team had a difficult pre season with all games away due to the renovation of the pitch at the Anchor ground. This was followed by a daunting 7 away games in a row before it’s completion by the end of August. We arrived at the Handmark Engineering Stadium on a glorious summers afternoon. 20+ degrees and no wind. Conditions were perfect. A simple warm up followed by the teams coming out to start a long campaign in the North West Counties Division One North.
We could not have got off to a worse start. Just 2 minutes into the game and the midfield and defence allowed Tyler Wood to waltz his way through from Midfield and slot home into the far corner past Jordan Gidley. Sometimes in a game, players will capitulate or they take over and come back stronger. Luckily for AFC Darwen, we did the latter. We put our foot on the ball in the middle of the park and took control. What followed was extensive Darwen possession but not a lot of firepower going forward. The two debutants in Jack Iley and Aaron Fleming worked hard but the final ball into the box was not landing at the right feet. The first half was quite stale with not a lot happening other than Darwen keeping hold of the ball.
Towards the end of the half Darwen began to push, their confidence was growing and by now Matthew Farnworth and Leon Creech had taken control of the midfield. Creech in particular was making a few runs at the defence after beating the midfield. On one occasion he was through on goal, he was clearly being tugged back but the referee played advantage. His shot narrowly went wide of the post and the midfielder was booked for pulling on the shirt of Creech in the build up. Just 3 minutes before the break, Darwen finally put the ball in the back of the net. Again it was Leon Creech with another defence splitting run. He seemed to have taken one touch too many and the ball deflected out wide to Corey Harrison who smashed the ball into the 6 yard area were a waiting Jack Iley was there to flick the ball into the back of the net. A deserved goal by the team. Shortly after, the referee blew the half time whistle.
The second half continued as per the first. Possession for Darwen and the only way Holker could get forward was on the break. Just a few minutes into the half and Darwen took a deserved lead. A through ball was played to Jack Iley who looked like getting a shot off but the defender was in his way. Instead of shooting he flicked the ball behind him into the onrushing Aaron Fleming who collected the ball and slotted past the keeper with ease. As previously stated, you either capitulate or take over and come on strong. It was at this point of the game that Holker capitulated. Just moments later and Darwen went three up. Leon Creech whipped in a corner and there at the far post was another debutant, Luke Holden to tower above everyone and head the ball home. Shortly after it was four with the best move of the game. The Darwen Midfield was playing the ball around beautifully. It started on the right and was switched into the middle and out left to Aaron Fleming who was in acres of space. He ran towards goal were he ran and ran. It looked at the last minute he was going to hit the ball left footed into the back of the net, instead, what others in the past may not have done, he fizzed the ball across goal to a waiting and free Corey Harrison to slot the ball home from a few yards out. By this point, people were struggling to keep up with the score. One man went to the toilet and when he returned you could hear him say “is it still 2-1?” I’m afraid it wasn’t as Darwen had completely taken control of this game.
Again this relentless Darwen side pressed and pressed. They chased down every ball, won every header, made every tackle and it was Jack Iley that came up with the fifth of the game. Similar to the second goal, he was played through and this time he did manage to gain a couple of yards to get a shot off. The ball whistled into the far side of the goal. Every Darwen player was running harder and faster than ever now. Kallum Banks at right back was up and down the wing like a man possessed. Sam Knowles never gave their forwards a kick, getting first to every ball and playing some delightful passes. The sixth gaol soon came and it was the hard working Leon Creech who won a free kick on the left side. The ball was whipped in and there was Aaron Fleming to get his second of the game with a cushioned volley into the bottom corner.
Darwen had made a few subs at this point with Harrison Green replacing Luke Holden. Matty Cain replacing an energetic Alex Kaye. This was a young man that looked very comfortable in the middle of the park. Lastly Jack Prince replaced Jamie Gibson who looked very assured at left back. Not much happened for the last 15 minutes with Darwen assured of victory and Holker looking for a bit of pride. They did manage a few attacks and Jordan Gidley managed to tip one cross onto the bar as it looked like it was going in. The game finished Holker old Boys 1- AFC Darwen 6
Team - Jordan Gidley (GK), Jamie Gibson (69), Luke Holden (65), Sam Knowles, Kallum Banks, Alex Kaye(71), Leon Creech, Matthew Farnworth (C), Corey Harrison, Aaron Fleming, Jack Iley. Subs – Jack Prince (69), Harrison Green (65), Matthew Cain (71)