REPORT | Widnes 1-2 Clitheroe
By Callum Chadwick
Widnes return to league action with narrow defeat
Two goals in as many first half minutes condemned Widnes to a 2-1 home defeat to Clitheroe at The Offside Trust Stadium.
There were strong calls for a foul when Joshua Gregory slid in ahead of Owen Wheeler to open the scoring on 43 minutes, but Widnes had no complaints when Max Hazeldine slotted Clitheroe’s second only minutes later.
Joint manager Kev Towey halved the deficit early in the second half, but Widnes were unable to force a late equaliser.
The Whites had their chances, notably Ben Hodkinson making a mess of an opportunity when one-on-one with Cameron Terry late on and Bram Johnstone forcing a brilliant save out of the Clitheroe shot-stopper from a second half free-kick.
Widnes maintained confidence despite failing to test Terry in the first half, but two quickfire Clitheroe goals hurt the Whites who struggled in difficult playing conditions at their temporary home.
Towey and co-boss Steve Akrigg made six changes to the side that were heavily beaten at Droylsden last time out. Both player-managers were named in the starting line-up while Wheeler was preferred in goal to Ryan Neild as the goalkeeper made his second debut for the club.
Elsewhere, stand-in skipper Sean Myler and Rob Bourne came into the midfield while Johnstone came in for Chris Lomax allowing Phil Doran to push into a more advanced role.
Clitheroe made a positive start. Wheeler was tested only minutes into his Widnes return, reacting quickly to beat a Henry Limptishi-Bongwanga snapshot away to safety.
Akrigg then had to be aware moments later to make a crucial intervention to get his body in the way of a Hazeldine effort.
Widnes’ best chance of the first half came courtesy of Towey, who hit a free-kick that held up in the wind with Terry having to re-adjust to push the effort away from goal.
At the other end, Gregory flashed a shot off target for Clitheroe before Myler could only force a comfortable save out of Terry with a well-hit daisy-cutter.
Clitheroe would take the lead two minutes before the break. Hazeldine stung the gloves of Wheeler who made a good initial save but Gregory reacted quickest to slide in ahead of the Widnes keeper to give the Blues the lead despite Wheeler appearing to have two hands on the ball.
And Widnes were 2-0 down moments later. Akrigg was caught in possession by Limptish-Bongwanga who drove forward. The striker would go down in the area under the challenge of the Whites’ co-boss but the loose ball sat nicely for Hazeldine to arrow a shot home as referee Mark Reeves played advantage.
Widnes went in at half-time in shock, but with the words of Towey and Akrigg ringing in their ears, the Whites responded positively following the restart, taking just seven minutes to the halve the deficit.
It would be Towey to make the crucial contribution, finishing neatly from Jay Roberts’ through-ball after the Widnes right-back turned Gregory inside out in the build-up.
Widnes had time in their favour to prevent the game getting away from them, but a third Clitheroe goal would have killed in the contest and Antoine Recizac came within inches of doing so as he was unable to latch on to Stephen Rigby’s cross.
Substitute Hodkinson blew an opportunity to net a late equaliser with time ticking away as he found space in behind the Clitheroe backline, but the ball got caught beneath the striker’s feet allowing the Blues to clear the danger.
Johnstone would go even closer moments later, with his deep free-kick being helped on by a gust of wind but Clitheroe keeper Terry adjusted superbly in mid-flight to make a terrific save.
Widnes threw themselves forward in an effort to force a stoppage time equaliser, but Lee Ashworth’s visitors held on for all three points.