After a torrid week during which available players were dropping like flies, Prestwich managed to field a bare 11 for this match which included two new signings, a 49-year-old and a player turning out for the first time in over a year.
This 11 had never trained together never mind played together before. Because of this the defeat was perhaps expected but the score line could and perhaps should have been closer to reflect the efforts made by all the Prestwich players.
Darwen in fairness had similar problems regarding numbers but their advantage was mainly in knowing each other.
The game could not have started better with Prestwich passing the ball well and pressing Darwen back into their own half. A couple of half chances came to nothing, but in the 6th minute the ball fell to Paul Mercer (hero of a previous game) 30 yards out who turned and hit a glorious left footed drive over the keeper and into the net for a Prestwich lead.
Continuing to play good football Prestwich extended this lead when on 13 minutes new signing Kieran Kelly skipped down the left wing, beat his fullback and fired in a drive that hit a post, then the goalkeeper and went in off a desperate defender trying to clear.
At this point Prestwich were good value for their lead but it was not to last. As Darwen grew into the game they put pressure on the Prestwich defence and in the 20th minute a pass in behind the centre backs was latched onto and calmly put away for 1–2.
Prestwich continued to work hard and did have several efforts on goal, most notably a vicious 25 yarder from Martin Hill that just grazed the crossbar.
Overall though Darwen were creating the better chances and Mike Hudson did brilliantly to tip a goal bound effort onto the bar, and a well taken free kick drifted just wide. It all came unstuck on 42 minutes when Darwen scored their equalizer in similar fashion to Prestwich’s first goal when a snapshot from 25 yards sailed over a slightly advanced Hudson into the roof of the net, ending the half at 2–2.
The pattern of the second half reflected the end of the first with Darwen having more of the game and the chances. Prestwich were working hard but were not making any inroads up front and at times giving the ball away too cheaply.
It was in this phase of the game that the level of fitness began to show with half the Prestwich side not playing regular 11 side football. Darwen were a constant threat getting the ball in behind the Prestwich back line and scored two good goals in the 57th and 58th minutes to take a comfortable two goal lead.
Prestwich rallied and started to press forward without creating any clear openings and several half chances were wasted or well defended. Prestwich were unlucky not to cut the deficit with about 20 minutes to go when Callum Pragnell hit a superb drive that had the keeper beaten but came back off the bar.
This sparked Darwen again and they mounted several attacks which culminated on 77 minutes with another goal to seemingly make the game safe.
Against all expectations at this point Prestwich to their credit mounted a comeback that with a bit of luck and better finishing could have made the game very tight indeed. Firstly, a slick move saw Pragnell freed in the box and unchallenged put his shot just wide of the far post.
Minutes later another swift break saw Kelly have a good chance, but he could not get his effort on target. The keeper also had to make 2 decent saves to keep out shots from the edge of the box, as the Darwen defence tired a little and lost its shape.
To add insult to injury a late attack from Darwen was collected on the edge of the box by the centre forward who turned and placed a low drive into Hudson’s bottom corner to complete the scoring in the 90th minute.
Given all the things that conspired against Prestwich in the run up to this match a great deal of thanks and credit must be given to the 11 who took part and never gave up even though they were chasing the game on very tired legs.
Next up is the LFA Amateur Cup when we take on Lancaster Rovers FC at Hopwood Hall on the 18th September with a 2.00pm KO.