Coasters close in on top

Andy Russell - on target
Andy Russell - on target
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Stamford 1, AFC Fylde 3

The Coasters gave their Evo-Stik Northern Premier League championship hopes a massive boost on a day title rivals Chorley and Skelmersdale both lost.

The victory lifted the Coasters above Skem into second spot, now just three points behind Monday night’s Lancashire FA Trophy final opponents Chorley.

All the goals came in the first half as Matt Blinkhorn got the scoring underway in the fifth minute, and although the home side regrouped and levelled through Ashley Robinson 20 minutes later, Sean Cooke and Andy Russell sealed a well deserved victory.

With the majority of the squad having travelled down the night before, Fylde got off to the best of starts and Russell had a chance in the third minute, but the big defender couldn’t keep his header on target.

Fylde did go in front two minutes later, when Michael Barnes beat the offside trap to race to the by-line and cut back for Blinkhorn to side-foot the ball into the net from six yards out.

Richie Allen then missed a couple of decent chances to double his side’s lead and cap off a dominant opening 10 minutes from the visitors.

Stamford, managed by former Gladiators TV show “Champion of Champions”, David Staff, started to settle into the game and had their first shot on goal inside 12 minutes – albeit a 40-yard strike that was sliced well wide by Ashley Robinson.

But as Fylde continued to assert their dominance, Stamford somehow found an equaliser against the run of play.

Bradley Barnes was muscled off the ball deep in the hosts’ half, and within seconds a slick passing move down the right saw the ball played to Robinson and he volleyed first time from 15 yards into the bottom corner of Ben Hinchliffe’s net on 25 minutes.

Thankfully for Fylde boss Dave Challinor, his side didn’t drop their heads but continued to go in search of that second goal. They were rewarded on 31 minutes, when some poor defending around the six-yard box allowed Cooke to slide in and touch the loose ball over the line.

And with five minutes to go to the break, it was 3-1 when some further poor defending from the home side allowed Russell time to turn and shoot into the bottom corner.

Legs began to tire in the second half on the difficult surface and neither side created many clear-cut chances.

On 52 minutes, substitute Danny Lloyd almost had a tap-in of his own but was thwarted by a last-ditch tackle six yards out as Blinkhorn’s cross had keeper Will Jones well beaten.

Then on the hour, Stamford were unlucky not to reduce the deficit when Shawn Richards raced through and trickled a shot past Hinchliffe only for Dave Hankin to track back and sweep the ball off the line.

Danny Lloyd saw his free-kick caught comfortably by Jones on 66 minutes before Nabil Shariff should have done better when he fired straight at Hinchliffe after finding space on the edge of the area.

Harry Winter probably should have gone with his head rather than try an audacious volley to reach another good Blinkhorn cross in the final minute. He failed to get anything on it and the ball ran out of play.

Challinor commended his squad after the game, saying: “It was a good, professional away performance.

“We gave them a little bit of a leg-up with their equaliser but we rallied and went in at half-time with the 3-1 lead.”

“We needed to be aware in the second half that the next goal would be important and that we needed to start properly and not let up and let them back into the game.

“But we saw out the game comfortably and had a couple of chances ourselves on a difficult surface.”

“The goals were going to be scored by mistakes and it was difficult to tear teams apart.”

The teams meet again at Kellamergh Park in a rearranged league game on Saturday.