Bootle 2 Winsford United 2
THE Blues set themselves up for an exciting second leg of this Vodkat League Challenge Cup semi-final with a late late show that left honours even and everything to play for.
Although it was far from a vintage Winsford performance with the ball being given away far too often, their resilience was clearly on view as they came back from a two-goal deficit.
Chris Sheppard was both the villain and the hero as he atoned for an early own goal by getting the vital equaliser as the game moved into injury time.
The visitors had started at breakneck speed and John Bluck’s second minute cross was taken off the toe of Lee Madin just as he looked certain to score. The resulting corner saw Danny Webster’s header cleared off the line by an anxious defence.
Bootle showed they could play some elegant one-touch football as they began to put pressure on the Blues back four and burly striker Dan O’Connor was unlucky to see his 10th minute effort skim over the crossbar, the result of a move that started with goalkeeper Mark Mawdsley.
Winsford were giving away far too many free kicks and it was the result of one of these on the edge of the area that saw Bootle take a 27th minute lead. At first it looked as though Winsford would scramble the ball clear but Sheppard, attempting to hook the ball away, miskicked and it trickled into the corner of the net just out of reach of the stricken Michael Langley.
With the breeze behind them and no doubt the manager’s view’s on their efforts ringing in their ears Winsford began the second period positively and it was against the run of play that Bootle added a second on 70 minutes.
John Doran’s long high ball into the box looked as if it was going to be an easy collect for Mike Langley but at the last second a gust of wind took it away from him and Paul Hopkins headed into the empty net.
On 73 minutes The Blues got the break they were looking for when Bluck’s run past three defenders saw the ball handled on the edge of the box and Dean Ennion drove the ball through the wall and into the bottom right corner of the net, albeit with the help of a deflection.
Piling on the pressure in the closing minutes, Lee Madin’s whipped-in cross from the left was inches in front of Miranda and Bluck and it looked as if Winsford would be taking a one-goal deficit back to the Barton Stadium. However, the players had other ideas and with one minute of injury time already gone they got the equaliser they deserved. Ennion squeezed past two defenders on the right and his cross was blasted against the bar by Bluck, the resulted rebound was twice cleared off the line by a desperate defence and after a scramble the ball fell to Sheppard who volleyed the ball home from six yards.
So it’s back to the Barton Stadium this coming Saturday for the return leg (3.00pm) and a return to league action the following Tuesday when Winsford travel to St Helens (7.45).
UNITED: Langley; Calland, Owens, Webster, Duckworth; Bluck, Sheppard, Ennion, Kennedy (Connell 83); Madin, Miranda.