REPORT | Ramsbottom United 0-1 Widnes
By Callum Chadwick
Widnes take narrow victory back to Halton
Ben Hodkinson struck 15 minutes from time as Widnes beat playoff-chasing Ramsbottom United 1-0 in the Evo-Stik League Division One West.
In a tight affair at the Harry Williams Stadium, Widnes battled for a narrow victory with Hodkinson’s strike proving the difference as the Whites ended their four-game losing streak in the league.
The home side had the chance to level late on but a superb Sam Sheen block on the line prevented Nic Evangelinos from netting a stoppage time equaliser as Widnes kicked-off March with a vital three points.
Steve Akrigg and Kev Towey made two changes to the side beaten at home by Leek Town last time out, with Shaun Holden coming in at left-back to make his first Widnes start with Niall Watson dropping to the bench.
Elsewhere, Blackpool loanee Finlay Sinclair-Smith made his debut on the right of a front-three, replacing the suspended George Lomax.
In a slow start to the game the crowd at the Riverside were made to wait until the midway point of the half for the first real sight of goal. Rammy right-back Kyle Jacobs marauded forward but his effort was routinely beaten away by Owen Wheeler.
Ramsbottom were on top but failed to trouble Wheeler as Eddie Moran and Jason Carey both missed the target with half-chances.
Despite the Rams’ relative control of proceedings, it was Widnes who had the best chance of the half with Michael Grogan threading a pass through to Hodkinson but his effort was thwarted low by Sam Ashton. The striker’s rebound was bundled over the line but the Whites’ top goalscorer was penalised for handball.
Widnes spurned an opportunity to break the deadlock three minutes into the second half. Chris Lomax raced in behind the Rams’ defence and advanced on goal but unselfishly looked to square for Hodkinson, allowing Tom Kennedy to recover and make a crucial intervention when the winger was perhaps better served taking a shot on himself.
Akrigg and Towey’s men continued to limit their hosts to half-chances with Evangelinos poking wide after having an initial effort charged down by Phil Mooney.
Both sides looked to the bench for inspiration. Kieran and Kelvin Lugsden were introduced for Ramsbottom while Watson replaced the lively Sinclair-Smith for Widnes.
Moments later, Ramsbottom spurned a glorious opportunity to break the deadlock when Carey split the Widnes defence to find himself one-on-one with Wheeler, only to skew an effort off target when he looked certain to score.
And Widnes made Rammy pay less than a minute later as the visitors mustered a crucial opener. A wayward Ryan Ellison pass was intercepted by a sliding George Webster challenge, teeing up Hodkinson, who rolled his man and fired a shot beyond Ashton.
The Rammy goalkeeper would have been disappointed after getting a firm glove on the effort but Widnes and Hodkinson didn’t care as the visitors were in front.
Ramsbottom responded strongly, but they routinely came unstuck against a disciplined and defiant Widnes defence. Ruben Jerome’s header towards goal was cleared by the immense Sheen, while Evangelinos blazed over minutes later.
Sheen – who produced a Man of the Match performance – would come to Widnes’ rescue inside second half stoppage time. Ellison helped on a deep cross towards Evangelinos who looked certain to score, but the stand-in Widnes skipper threw himself at the ball to make a brilliant block to preserve his side’s clean sheet.
Credit to Widnes for their defensive efforts, shutting out a determined United side to take an important three points back to Halton.