St Helens 3 – 1 Northern
So after 21 games it came down to the final 70 minutes to decide which team would end the season as league champions. St Helens and Northern has shared the top 2 spots for the majority of the season each spending a number of weeks at the top so it was perhaps a fitting way to end things.
We’d spent all season building up to this and we were all fully aware of what was on the line. It was Northern who made the better start and for the first 10 to 15 minutes northern applied the pressure. Occasionally we’d break on them but in the main it was about soaking up the pressure and that’s just what we did. As a collective we ensured that despite all the possession and territory we kept them out and eventually began to impose ourselves on the game. The midfield started to win the battle and chances were coming our way, a number of balls were put into the box dangerously but just missing the finishing touch.
The game was played just like a cup final, both teams knowing exactly what was on the line and eventually it was us that broke the deadlock. Phil Travis opening the scoring to give us the lead and at that point the league title swung our way. Northern though weren’t to just sit back and allow us to dictate things and they continued to create a number of chances. Phil’s top day continued with a goal line clearance to keep the lead intact. Eventually though Northern found a way back into the game, they were winning a number of short corners and despite another clearance from Phil, Northern were able to follow up and score to equalise and with that the league title was back in their hands
That goal could well have damaged our confidence but if anything it invigorated the team and we were winning all the 50/50 balls and playing with an edge that you’d expect from a team knowing only a win would be good enough. It wasn’t long after the northern goal that we grabbed our second, Paul Horton finishing well and the league was back in our hands. The half continued with both teams working hard to add to their tally but it would end up with us going in with that 1 goal lead. The talk at halftime was clear, they only needed a single goal and it was theirs so we knew we had to really look to extend our advantage whilst keeping them out.
The second half was a tense, scrappy and sometime fractious affair. Both teams guilty of some rash decision making but it was to be expected given what was on the line. Both teams had players sent off for spells and the game developed a real edge, neither set of players willing to give anything. We thought we’d extended our lead after about 20 minutes of the half, Lewis Robinson finishing from a short only to be adjudged to have struck the ball from the short and finishing above the backboard. Northern then similarly struck a short into the roof of the night which was ruled out and we headed into the final 10 nervous minutes. As time went by Northern knowing they needed to score began to push men forward but we maintained our defensive shape and composure and allowed them few opportunities and then it happened.
Phil Travis from a short corner slotted home with the kind of composure you’d expect to see from him and we’d given ourselves a 2 goal advantage with less than 5 minutes to play. Northern as you’d expect came at us, doing everything to get back into it but the goal just never came. Time and again we’d clear the danger and after what felt like an eternity the umpires blew the whistle on the season crowning us champions of the division.
It’s been a tough season, on their day any team can realistically take points off any team and it’s needed us to be focused and switched on week after week. There have been occasional blips but in the main we’ve remained consistent and that’s been rewarded with the league title. Next season will bring about a lot of new, tougher challenges and we know it’s going to be hard work. So for now, whilst we can, we’ll celebrate a second league win and promotion in 3 seasons and come back later in the year ready to take the next step.
Thank you to everybody that made the effort to come down and support us, throughout the season the support has been really appreciated and we hope you’ll have enjoyed what you saw. Credit also to Northern, they’ll perhaps take little from knowing it but they were to a man a credit to their club. The bottle after the game was a classy touch and certainly appreciated by the whole team.