AFC Fylde 1, Salford City 0
AFC Fylde were crowned champions of the Evo-Stik First Division North with a nailbiting 1-0 over a Salford City side determined to spoil the party.
Title rivals Curzon Ashton’s victory over Ossett Town the previous evening meant the Coasters needed victory last night to seal promotion with a game to spare, and it was star-striker Richie Allen who scored the vital goal at the end of a brilliant first-half display.
Fylde were on the attack straight from kick-off and inside two minutes had their first shot on goal. Paul Jarvis found his way into the box and his shot was palmed into the path of Allen but eventually cleared.
A minute later, Joe Booth saw his long-range effort go wide before Phil Doughty sent a header over the bar from six yards out.
In the eighth minute, Allen had another sight on goal, but after winning the ball 25 yards out and running into the box he sent his shot over the bar.
Jimmy McCarthy came the closest to opening the scoring on 18 minutes, when he leapt highest only to head Allen’s cross against the post.
The visitors’ first meaningful shot on goal came nine minutes later, when Osebi Abadaki turned his marker and laid the ball off for Adam Morning to shoot wide from the edge of the box. The home side continued to dominate, though, with Harry Winter and Glenn Steel trying their best to give Fylde the lead.
Morning fired over again on 39 minutes, but the defining moment of the match came two minutes later, when Allen connected with a perfect cross from McCarthy to head into the roof of the net and send the 400-strong crowd into raptures.
Paul Jarvis should have doubled the advantage a minute later, playing a great one-two on the edge of the box with Booth but his final shot went wide.
In the second half, Fylde should have had the game wrapped up within the first five minutes.
First Allen beat two defenders to fire wide, then McCarthy shot wide of the mark in the 49th minute.
It was end-to-end football throughout this half but neither side could find a way past the keeper.
Abadaki’s shot on 54 minutes hit the crossbar for the visitors before falling for Scott Metcalfe, whose shot sailed wide.
Four minutes after that, Howarth produced a great save to deny Winter any glory with a close range header.
The nail-biting began in earnest for the Coasters fans with 25 minutes left to play, with Salford surging forward with gusto. Goalkeeper Zac Jones mistakenly picked up a back-pass from Steel under pressure but the resultant indirect free-kick was thankfully cleared.
Substitute Jamie Baguley then powered another free-kick through the wall on 70 minutes but the ball fell kindly into the arms of Jones.
Further efforts came for the home side, and on 71 minutes Winter forced another fantastic save from Howarth.
Barnes and Booth both tried extending the Fylde lead going into the final ten minutes but the best chance for a further goal came from the visitors in the first minute of stoppage time.
Steel was the match-saver when he cleared Alex Mortimer’s header off the lin,e and as the ball fell for Abedaki just eight yards out, it was charged down and cleared by three Fylde defenders.
The Coasters held out for another two minutes, and when the final whistle came it was celebrations all round for players, officials and fans on the pitch.
Despite the nervous finale, Fylde had completed their job in style, conceding only goal in an unbeaten 11-match run, ten of those games won.
Manager Dave Challinor was delighted with what his side had achieved and said after the game: “I just spoke in the dressing room of the massive relief. If someone had told us back in December, when we were 15 or 16 points, behind that we would go on and win the league we’d have snapped their hand off, so to do it with a game to spare is fantastic.”
“Saturday’s game we can now all enjoy, and hopefully win again and celebrate properly.”
That last match is at home to Clitheroe, when all Fylde’s efforts will be rewarded with the presentation of the league trophy.
AFC Fylde: Jones, Holden, Sumner, Doughty, Steel (C), B. Barnes, McCarthy, Booth, Jarvis, Winter, Allen (M. Barnes 86); not used: McDonald, Mercer, McEvilly, Kay.
n AFC Blackpool suffered a third successive North West Counties premier defeat, 3-1 at home to AFC Liverpool. Blackpool scored first at Common Edge through Steve Betteridge on 25 minutes only for Sean Harris to equalise a minute before half-time. The visitors sealed the points with goals from John Lawless (60) and Steve Jones (88).