Ilkeston Town 2-3 Lancaster City (Northern Premier League)
As quick as the whistle has been blown at the Pirelli I’m with go faster stripes legging it back to the car which I’m inside ahead of 2pm. Manchester City v Everton is keeping me company on the radio as Erling Haaland nets his first of two goals. My ETA programmed into SAT NAV has me arriving at the New Manor Ground for 2:38pm… Let’s see if I can somehow get that down?
I’m quickly onto the A38 and flying down the A50 where I opt for the M1 and Junction 26 which is slightly longer in distance but quicker by the wheel especially as Derby County are playing Shrewsbury and driving past Pride Park might encounter a slight delay, I’m comfortably making progress though and I’m off down the A610 and turning left at IKEA and the Shilo Way before a right onto Awsworth Road where the stunning Bennerley Viaduct glistens above marshland made boggy by the recent wet weather.
I’ve done brilliantly for time, it’s 2:35pm and I’ve parked pretty much outside the stadium, walked in through the turnstile with a £12 card payment and sat in my usual spot, in the media section high up in the corner seated stand, where the Lancaster City radio commentary team are already in place.
High up above the playing surface you can see all sorts from this elevated position, level with the eighteen yard box not only do you get a good (but slightly one sided) view of the pitch, you also view the town of Ilkeston high up on the right, to my left a flock of geese or swans in a unused field that’s full of water, an Inter-City train goes by at speed behind that, a rainbow like pattern in the sky which isn’t looped, but rectangular like a spaceship beaming down bright colours in the far distance.
The New Manor Ground certainly has character, the stand to my left is one of my favourite behind goal ends in non league, low roofed, full of red barriers for perching up against, when full it can make quite some noise and always generally has a good atmosphere inside. Echoeing vocals upwards into our position left of the clock tower.
There’s still a good fifteen minutes to go as I’m writing down the teams, I’m joined by a home fan who used to be a showjumper. He tells me had had horses at Burleigh but never got the judges on his side.
Danny is also here, he’s the Ilkeston tweeter and he also controls the music played through the PA… He’s having trouble with his internet though as I ask him how things have been going recently.
Lindon Meikle is back in the Robins side. He’s on a dual registration from Tamworth and in January alone I saw him play for both Ilkeston and the Lambs, now aged 35 he’s a good asset for the National League North leaders and has been useful off the bench, but he wants to be playing and Ilkeston offers him more game time.
With the former Mansfield Town midfielder at the heartbeat, Ilkeston in red and white start well against Lancaster in all yellow, the better team by a mile early doors as they press for an opener with high intensity and controlled aggression, a corner swung in by Sam Parker left footed, misses everybody and curls in, 1-0 to Ilkeston who already beat ‘the Dolly Blues’ 4-0 at the Giant Axe earlier in the campaign.
That goal however seems to have a negative effect. Ilkeston have suddenly stopped playing, no longer are they pressing, probing, pushing, now Lancaster have a foothold and their patient build up is rewarded with a deserved leveller which has looked like coming. 42 year old David Norris, once of Ipswich, Leeds, Blackpool and more, netting from close range.
Within a couple of minutes the away side have the lead. Charlie Bailey left footed cuts in off the right and drills home from all of 25 yards, a bullet past Matthew Yates, a turnaround driven by home team complacency and away team intention, they’ve been much the better following a slow start and play some good football on this fast zippy artificial pitch as the rain starts to come down hard.
Ilkeston however are not without chances. Tom Curson is not my showjumping friend’s favourite player, “six touches he’s had, all disasters” he shouts, that’s before the player blazes one over from close range after stunning work by Jamie Walker. Curson had scored three in his last two but he’s far from being on this fella’s Valentines card list!
Ben Starkie, fresh from AFCON duty also blazes over when he should have done better. The Tanzanian's effort troubling the geese in the field behind more than the goal of Brazilian born Andre Mendes.
Lancaster though are deserving of their lead at half time despite those Ilkeston sniffs.
As I sit and read the scores from the Premier League during the break, Danny is back, still with internet troubles. He’s left his laptop at the media desk and says “If I’m not back in time for when the players come out, can you press space bar to stop the music”. I’m nervous playing DJ as I don’t want to cut off a song half way through its chorus but luckily as “Jump Around” by House of Pain is coming to an end, some Lancastrian players enter the field and I can close it to a natural stop. Perfectly done if I do say so myself.
Not so perfect is Ilkeston’s defending. Only two minutes in to the second half and Charlie Bailey is unmarked, volleying home after a left wing cross by the lively Evangelinos, the away side celebrate in the goal where their fans are now behind, a bad day at the office for the home side who’s own support have gone very quiet indeed.
There’s even a moment for a spot of rugby singing… Sam Bailey who’s been brilliant from right back crosses a free kick high, wide and not so handsome, his own fans chant ‘swing low’ which is a timely reminder that England are playing Wales in the Six Nations later today.
The game is flat as Lancaster control proceedings, they need no more goals whilst Ilkeston don’t have any real clue, they take off their two best players, Walker and Erratt-Thompson, to perhaps save them for another day, as my showjumping friend heads off to beat the traffic, there is one late lifeline, Lindon Meikle felled in the box, penalty converted by Tom Marshall, and there’s four or five minutes of Ilkeston pressure, but it’s a deserved win for City who go five points ahead of the Robins in the top-middle of the NPL table.
Charlie Bailey will take the plaudits for a couple of cracking taken goals but I really liked the performance of Sam Bailey, a stalwart of 250 games for Lancaster, he had a solid game at right back against arguably two of Ilkeston’s best players (Jamie Walker and Ben Starkie often swapping flanks) and he’s the sort of full back, at non-league level who’s name is first on the team sheet, reliable, dependable, physical, no-nonsense but with a bit of quality, he has a good right foot and is known for his crossing ability.
Another good player was Christian Sloan in midfield, thick set and disciplined he controlled proceedings from the centre of the park and sat in front of the back four to give protection, against an Ilkeston engine room who on their day can be as good as any teams in the division.
Lindon Meikle was awarded the home team man of the match on the PA but it wasn’t a game where any of the Robins crowned themselves in glory. Matt Yates making a couple of decent saves the only other player even worthy of a mention.
Lancaster aren’t too far away, just three points from a playoff place, sitting in eighth they have more than an outside chance and are coming to form at the right time, with three straight victories.
Ilkeston might have too much to do to trouble the promotion pushers but can easily have their say on who goes up or not, they can beat anyone on their day, but can also be beaten by anyone in the division, they’ll be ok in the middle of the park, but need a little more steel and resilience if they are to compete with those gunning for glory. Next up for the Robins is Macclesfield away, then they’re at home to league leaders Radcliffe, in both games they’ll have to be at their absolute best, if they’re to take anything positive away.
Ilkeston Town: Matthew Yates, James Perch, Sam Parker, Callum Minkley (Alex Marshall 54), Tom Marshall, Luke Cox, Ben Starkie, Declan Erratt-Thompson (Jonathan Wafula 73), Tom Curson, Lindon Meikle, Jamie Walker (Liam Loughlan 72).
Lancaster City: Andre Mendes, Sam Bailey, Kyle Brownhill, Christian Sloan, Charlie Barnes, Niall Cowpethwaite, Nic Evangelinos, Bradley Carroll (Edward Elewa-Ikpakwu 60), Dominic Lawson (Jake Connelly 79), David Norris, Charlie Bailey.
3:00pm Kick Off. Saturday 10th February 2024, New Manor Ground, Ilkeston (att 519).