REPORT | Radcliffe 3-1 Widnes
By Callum Chadwick
Widnes suffer defeat at Radcliffe in final away game of 2018
Radcliffe will spend Christmas Day atop of the Evo-Stik League West Division after Widnes fell to a 3-1 defeat away at the Neuven Stadium.
Tunde Owolabi and Matty Crothers gave the Boro a blistering start to proceedings when both netted inside eight minutes, but debutant Joe Herbert halved the deficit for Widnes after the half-hour.
Ben Wharton converted a penalty on the hour to restore Radcliffe’s two-goal advantage, and despite plenty of endeavour from the visitors, Widnes were unable to find a way back into the contest.
Joint-bosses Steve Akrigg and Kev Towey made three changes to the side that beat City of Liverpool in midweek in the Liverpool Senior Cup.
With Danny Ventre out ill and Sam Sheen failing a late fitness test, debuts were handed to Herbert and Phil Mooney, while Sean Myler skippered the side as he came in for Towey who was named amongst the substitutes.
Youngster Elliott Jones was drafted into the 16-man squad after impressing on dual registration at Rylands as Widnes were without the unavailable pair of Michael Grogan and George Webster, whilst Conor Ready, Phil Doran and Mike Burke continue their recovery from injuries.
Radcliffe made the perfect start. Widnes never quite dealt with an aerial ball which was picked up by Liam Wood who drove at the retreating visitors. He drilled a low cross towards the near-post, finding Owolabi to turn home at the near-post via a heavy deflection that left Owen Wheeler stranded.
Widnes weren’t fazed despite suffering a setback inside the opening minute, almost hitting back immediately.
Radcliffe keeper Oliver Martin got down well to push a curling Myler free-kick off target, while in-form striker Ben Hodkinson headed over from the resulting corner.
But the visitors fell even further behind minutes later. An in-swinging corner was only momentarily scrambled away by Widnes falling to Crothers on the edge of the box who brilliantly dropped his shoulder to evade a George Lomax challenge, creating a yard of space to rifle a shot into the top corner.
The game’s biggest talking point came when the Boro’s Richard Smith appeared to kick out at Lomax after a challenge from the Widnes man. Referee Mark Powell was looking directly at the incident and appeared to reach for his back pocket only to change his mind as Smith escaped with a warning to the frustration of the travelling Widnes supporters on the near-side.
Credit to Widnes for stemming the wave after wave of Radcliffe attacks. Elliott Rokka had a header comfortably saved by Wheeler and the ever-dangerous Owolabi was causing numerous problems with his energy and dynamism out-wide.
But Widnes continued to push forward against the in-form hosts and were rewarded for their efforts as the visitors pulled a goal back on the 32-minute mark.
Myler floated a corner towards the penalty-spot where Herbert had ghosted away from his man to power a header into the roof of the net to mark his Widnes debut with a goal.
Widnes had their tails up, and somehow couldn’t find a way past Martin to muster an equaliser. Hodkinson had a header beaten away by the Radcliffe custodian who then produced a sensational triple-save to deny first Hodkinson, then Mooney and the ensuing goalmouth scramble to preserve his side’s lead.
Into the second half, neither side could particularly gather any ascendency to start proceedings but Widnes began to edge the contest as it approached it’s hour-mark.
Instead, the visitors were dealt a sucker punch when they conceded a penalty as Owolabi burst through the Widnes back-line only to go down under a Herbert sliding challenge with referee Powell pointing to the spot.
Wharton stepped up for Radcliffe and converted his penalty into the bottom corner despite Wheeler guessing correctly down to his right.
Alfons Fosu-Mensah and Chris Lomax came off the bench as Widnes went in search of a second goal to set up a tense finish, but Wharton almost put the game to bed 20 minutes from time only to be foiled by a well-time Wheeler block.
Hodkinson – who had netted five goals in his previous five games – again proved to be Widnes’ most dangerous threat and it was his threatening cross that could only be clawed away by Martin into the path of Myler who struck over from close-range on the half-volley.
Substitute Lomax would flash a shot across the face of goal late on for Widnes, but Towey and Akrigg’s men were condemned to a first league defeat in three games.