Monday, 30 May 2016

Football Alliance 2015 - 16: League Results Grids and Final Tables

To finalise the statistics for the recently-concluded 2015 - 16 domestic season, today we present the results grids and final league tables for the national Championship and Second Division.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

European Champion Clubs' Cup Final 2015 - 16

(in Amsterdam)

RWD Molenbeek             (1) 2
Stalybridge Celtic        (0) 0

So Stalybridge Celtic’s brave and oft-thrilling attempt to become unlikely champions of Europe fell at the final hurdle, another spirited performance not without skill and style ultimately proving insufficient to better the Belgians RWD Molenbeek, undisputedly one of the continent’s finest teams of recent years and this season in particular, although, to qualify that statement, they have only come a close second to KRC Genk in their domestic league which suggests that the Hasselt club might well be another force to be reckoned with in next term’s Champions’ Cup.

RWDM set the pace and controlled an intriguing game almost throughout, scoring twice, once in each half, whilst always hinting that, had they been required to, had their composure momentarily slipped, had their coolly impenetrable defence unexpectedly erred and allowed Stalybridge a rare opportunity, they possessed more than enough to sleekly move up through the gears and score again, and again, as might be required. Celtic can be proud of their efforts to match Molenbeek, physically, technically and tactically, and have no regrets at the outcome other than being beaten by a more accomplished team even though this defeat means another runners-up medal to accompany their second-pace finish in the domestic league, narrowly missing out on retaining their title - a season of ‘almosts’ for Stalybridge and, unfortunately, no opportunity to continue their European adventures next year as Marine will represent the Football Alliance in the Champions’ Cup and Celtic’s neighbours Red Star Mossley will do likewise in the Cup-Winners’ Cup.

Friday, 27 May 2016

European Cup-Winners' Cup Final 2015 - 16 Replay

(in Zagreb)

Raba ETO Gyor         (0) (2) 4
Dubocica Leskovac     (1) (2) 2  (aet)

As good as the first match of this final was, it proved to be merely the appetizer and  was eclipsed by events in Zagreb this evening when, in a match again going to extra time, Raba ETO Gyor eventually prevailed over Dubocica Leskovac to add the inaugural Cup-Winners’ Cup to the four Champion Clubs’ Cups already in their trophy cabinet.

Dubocica Leskovac took a first-half lead that Raba ETO Gyor equalized moments after the resumption before the teams traded a late goal each, Dubocica edging ahead again before Raba scored almost on the final whistle to deny the Yugoslavs once more and take the match into extra time as they had done in the original final. Once into the additional half-hour, Gyor then made their class and experience tell at last, firing the pair of goals that won them the match and the trophy, the first Cup-Winners’ Cup, their fifth in total in European competition and another triumph for a Hungarian club, who have collectively already dominated the history of the Champions’ Cup, with Vasas Budapest having achieved a record five wins and Ferencvaros equalling Raba’s four added to two for MTK Budapest and others for Honved and Szolnoki MAV-MTE.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

European Cup-Winners' Cup Final 2015 - 16

(in Split)

Dubocica Leskovac    (0) (1) 2
Raba ETO Gyor        (1) (1) 2  (aet)

A cracking Cup-Winners’ Cup final that, rather ironically, failed to produce a winner at the end of an enthralling two hours of action, with Raba ETO Gyor taking a first-half lead but then requiring a late equaliser in extra time to thwart the ambitions of stylish Dubocica Leskovac and retain hopes of lifting the trophy in its inaugural season: Raba, of course, have already won the Champion Clubs’ Cup on four occasions in the past.

The replay will be held in Zagreb on Friday evening when, even if the match has to go to a penalty shoot-out, the outcome will be decided, before the European season concludes on Saturday night with the Champions’ Cup final between RWD Molenbeek and the Football Alliance’s very own Stalybridge Celtic, only the fifth occasion in thirty five years that an English team (after Gainsborough Trinity and Marlow twice each, the latter winning once) have reached the rarefied heights of a continental club competition final.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Football Alliance Cup Final 2015 - 16

Red Star Mossley     (1) (2) 5
Torpedo Tranmere     (1) (2) 3 (aet)

As is often the case, the Cup Final proved a thrilling - and provided a goal-filled - conclusion to the domestic season, with Second Division Torpedo Tranmere - technically still, although they have just won promotion to the Championship - matching Red Star Mossley in fine style and taking them to extra time before Mossley prevailed 5 - 3 with three goals in the second period of the additional 30 minutes after Tranmere had taken the lead in the first, the initial 90 minutes having finished an equally breathless 2 - 2. For Mossley, the Cup was fitting reward for a largely irresistible run of form this calendar year that saw them finish fourth in the league, a mere three points behind champions Marine, whilst Tranmere left the arena with their fair share of glory, plaudits galore and the exciting prospect of beginning next season in the top flight.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Matchday #30: Results and Final League Tables


Blyth Spartans 2  Excelsior Marlow 1
Dynamo Burnley 2  Spartak-Slavia 0
Hartlepool Petrochemical 2  Gainsborough Trinity 3
Liverpool St Helens 1  Red Star Mossley 2
Locomotive Crewe Alexandra 2  Manchester Central 2
Marine 8  Audenshaw Dynamo 0
Northwich Victoria 2  Wrexham 2
Stalybridge Celtic 3  Hungaria 1

Second Division

Bohemians 2  Merthyr Tydfil 1
Bradford Park Avenue 4  Marxist Polytechnic 3
Caledonia Thistle 3  Atletico Espanol 3
Crystal Palace 3  Sheffield Wednesday 2
Excelsior Benelux 2  Newcastle Blue Star 2
Inter-Italiano 2  Hendon Hotspur 0
Newcastle-Gateshead Dynamo 1  Torpedo Tranmere 3
South Liverpool Red Star 5  Manchester Newton Heath 3


The League reached its conclusion with Marine emerging as champions, thrashing Audenshaw Dynamo 8 - 0 - a result that also relegated the latter - to overtake Liverpool St Helens who lost, at the death, to Red Star Mossley, coincidentally the very team who had also recently put paid to Saints’ prospects in the Cup with another 2 - 1 victory in their semi-final replay.
Surprisingly in the aftermath of such an emphatic triumph, Marine’s was a first win in the five matches since what can now be considered their ultimately decisive victory at St Helens, but come the hour when they required nothing less than a positive result the Mariners produced the goods in irresistible style, subjecting hapless Audenshaw to wave after wave of attacks, settling any nerves by taking an early lead and then adding regularly to their score before, as Mossley scored late on the break at St Helens to hole the hosts’ hopes, celebrating their impending coronation with a gleeful three-goal salvo in the final five minutes.  Among the front-runners all season, & frequently leaders, Marine’s Championship-winning achievement cannot be underestimated, given that only once before in the now 36-year history of the national Football Alliance has a newly-promoted team won the league, even if the Mariners were only absent from the top flight for a single season before stepping up at the end of last term, the winning habit of promotion momentum obviously standing them in good stead & being maintained throughout this season until its successful conclusion. If Audenshaw can take anything from the double humiliation of both this defeat and the relegation it confirmed, it must be this experience that a club can bounce back so spectacularly from demotion.
For Liverpool St Helens, meanwhile, there remains nothing but the disappointment that their efforts ultimately fell short, on the day equalizing the concession of a first half goal to Mossley but never really gaining control of a match against in-form, stylish and well-organized opponents with Cup Final places next week to play for before succumbing to a sucker punch goal as they cast caution to the wind in search of the winner that would have won them the title irrespective of Marine’s efforts.  Such are the narrow margins between success and failure, Saints again missing out on the big prize after last season’s near miss, this one even more agonizingly closer although, ironically, their last term’s points tally would have won this one’s title, just, as would have the two points from a win over Mossley. Tellingly, St Helens’ loss to Red Star was their fifth in the six matches over the season against fellow ‘top four’ rivals (although, despite Mossley’s and Gainsborough Trinity’s strong finishes, only the top three were ever in the title race after the turn of the year) - their only win coming, even more frustratingly, at Mossley - which, added to last year’s return of just one point from the similar group of fixtures, identifies the root cause of the club’s failure to emerge on top of the pile, at least yet.
Reigning champions Stalybridge Celtic were relying on both of those clubs who began the day above them to lose in order to keep the slim hopes of retaining their title alive and at least did their bit with a straightforward 3 - 1 defeat of mid-table Hungaria, even as those hopes gradually flickered out with news of every goal Marine were plundering over in Crosby, establishing an unassailable lead in both their match and over Celtic. As St Helens simultaneously faltered, Stalybridge’s win at least allowed them the small consolation of claiming the runners-up ‘honours’ before their upcoming Champions’ Cup semi-final replay against Atletico Madrid in Paris and another shot at ending the season with a trophy and glory. Four defeats in the six local derby matches - to which can be added a Cup exit at the hands of Manchester Central - and a few others that seemed avoidable (and last season probably would have been avoided) significantly served to undermine Celtic’s Championship challenge this term, leaving them tantalisingly short of the rare achievement of successive titles.

Below the top three, Red Star Mossley’s fine win at St Helens secured fourth place, to which they could yet add the Cup, whilst Gainsborough Trinity finished level on points in fifth after a 3 - 2 win at long-relegated Hartlepool Petrochemical - for both Mossley and Gainsborough, eventually ending the season with but three points fewer than the champions’ total, the league campaign could very much be regarded as a case of what might have been, again in the latter’s case and if only the Tony Mucklethwaite effect had been applied a little earlier in terms of the former, although a close analysis of Mossley’s results since appointing their former playing stalwart as manager reveals that, for all the rejuvenated team’s fine results, the contextually anomalous failures to win at either the ultimately demoted pair Audenshaw and Hartlepool, with an eminently winnable five points thus dropped, proved the difference between fourth and first: perhaps next term might bring the required consistency to mount a concerted challenge for the title?
At the opposite end of the table, Audenshaw Dynamo, having last week slid into the bottom two at the most inopportune time after a poor run of results coupled with Locomotive Crewe Alexandra’s recent revival, required nothing less than a win at Marine in order to have a shot at survival but, despite a brave effort, could obviously do nothing to stem the tide of the Mariners, even more determined as they were to gain the victory that could, and of course subsequently did, bring them championship glory: a 0 - 8 trouncing was a brutally cruel and humiliating manner of having relegation confirmed, as was the contrast in fortunes with victorious Marine, but the fact that the score only contributed to Audenshaw finishing the season with the worst goals-against total in the division highlights the single most significant contributory factor in them ultimately suffering the fate they did.

Crewe earned what would have proved an insufficient point from a 2- 2 draw with Manchester Central had Audenshaw miraculously prevailed at Marine, but, despite a season-long struggle for the newly-promoted Alex, they had done just enough to survive with crucially timely back-to-back wins in their previous two matches.   
Dynamo Burnley were the only other club to begin the day in any danger but a comfortable 2 - 0 victory at home to Spartak-Slavia allayed any fears, enabling the Clarets to finish fourth-bottom and draw level on 25 points with Excelsior Marlow, who ended the season with a sixth consecutive defeat, 1 - 2 at Blyth Spartans, a slump that left them relieved to have previously garnered a sufficient reserve to keep them clear of the relegation-threatened pack: in a curious statistic, Marlow’s final points tally, when added to last term’s 24, when they only just avoided the ignominy of being demoted as reigning champions, makes for a combined two-season total of the same 49 with which they won the title in some style in 2013-14, a palpable measure of their steep decline since, which the pre-season merger with last season’s wooden-spoonists Oxford seems to have done little to arrest.

Elsewhere, Northwich Victoria and Wrexham drew 2 - 2 in mid-table, enabling both to add another point to totals that improved upon last season’s - Northwich by a healthy seven and inconsistent Wrexham (who beat Marine home and away and achieved the season’s highest score in pasting Blyth 9 - 2 but lost twice by an aggregate of 2 - 11 to Manchester Central, who they finished a place above) by a more modest four - and respectively finish two places higher than last term. Manchester Central’s first season as such, rebranded from City, saw them finish five points and five places worse off, although their young team showed moments of potential, whilst Blyth Spartans struggled in most disappointing fashion, totalling ten points less than last term and plummeting from fourth and beaten Cup finalists to eleventh. Final day defeats for the eastern-flavoured pair Spartak-Slavia, debuting in the top flight after promotion in their inaugural season at national level last year, and Hungaria, still only two years old as an institution themselves, did little to dent what have been solid mid-table campaigns for both, finishing seventh and eighth respectively, worthy opponents for anyone and a match for the best on their day.

In the Second Division, one matter remained to be settled at either end of the table, with the combination of final scores resulting in Torpedo Tranmere winning promotion to the Championship and, at the other end of the emotional scale, Caledonia Thistle suffering relegation, although not necessarily back to the regional leagues but rather, possibly, the third tier of a revamped four-division national structure that is still under consideration at this juncture.
Tranmere timed their run to perfection, keeping pace with the promotion pack all season but never actually ascending to second place until this very last day, the three points gained from a relatively straightforward 3 - 1 victory at long-relegated Newcastle-Gateshead Dynamo elevating them above Sheffield Wednesday who fell 2 - 3 at Crystal Palace, the hosts snatching their winner as Wednesday strained every sinew in search of one of their own - more than this result, however, painful though it is in the immediate aftermath, the Owls will especially rue last weekend’s loss at home to wooden-spoonists Dynamo, in addition to earlier ones to another two of the relegated quartet, Atletico Espanol and Caledonia Thistle, ultimately undermining all their good results over the campaign that, cumulatively, had seen them spend only one brief week out of the top two since before the turn of the year and meaning they narrowly miss out on promotion again. For Tranmere, back at national level after a long break, it is a fabulous achievement for a young and stylish team to make the step up to the Championship at the first attempt, akin to Spartak-Slavia last term, and their season is still not over, with the Cup final against Red Star Mossley to come next Saturday, reached, let it not be overlooked, courtesy of matching and mostly out-playing subsequent champions Marine over both matches of the clubs’ semi-final tussle.

Leaving the division via the other exit, Caledonia Thistle owed their demise to a failure on the day to overcome second-bottom and already-demoted Atletico Espanol, finding themselves two goals in arrears before a late comeback earned but a point that was insufficient to overhaul Manchester Newton Heath despite the latter’s defeat at South Liverpool Red Star, the Heath finishing level with Thistle but surviving by the narrowest of margins by virtue of an extra away win over the course of the season. For Red Star, their win contributed to a total of 27 points garnered from the last 12 matches, an astonishing run of form, by far the best in the division, that, had they not endured such an underwhelming first half to the campaign, would surely have seem them very much in the promotion mix - as ever, consistency is key to success in the league.


Wednesday, 11 May 2016

European Clubs' Cups Results (Semi-Finals, Second Leg)

Champions' Cup

Atletico Madrid 2  Stalybridge Celtic 3  (aet)  (agg. 4 - 4)
Internazionale 2  RWD Molenbeek 1  (agg. 2 - 3)

Cup-Winners' Cup

Dubocica Leskovac 4  Ararat Yerevan 0  (agg. 5 - 2)
Raba ETO Gyor 5  Stade de Reims 1  (agg. 7 - 4)

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Matchday #29: Results and Updated League Tables


Audenshaw Dynamo 0  Gainsborough Trinity 1
Excelsior Marlow 1  Hartlepool Petrochemical 2
Hungaria 2  Liverpool St Helens 1
Manchester Central 2  Marine 2
Red Star Mossley 7  Blyth Spartans 2
Spartak-Slavia 2  Northwich Victoria 3
Stalybridge Celtic 6  Dynamo Burnley 1
Wrexham 0  Locomotive Crewe Alexandra 1

Second Division

Atletico Espanol 3  Hendon Hotspur 1
Manchester Newton Heath 3  Excelsior Benelux 1
Marxist Polytechnic 4  Inter-Italiano 2
Merthyr Tydfil 2  Caledonia Thistle 0
Newcastle Blue Star 2  Bradford Park Avenue 1
Sheffield Wednesday 0  Newcastle-Gateshead Dynamo 1
South Liverpool Red Star 2  Crystal Palace 1
Torpedo Tranmere 3  Bohemians 1

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

European Clubs' Cups Results (Semi-Final, First Leg)

Champions' Cup

RWD Molenbeek 2  Internazionale 0
Stalybridge Celtic 1  Atletico Madrid 2

Cup-Winners' Cup

Ararat Yerevan 2  Dubocica Leskovac 1
Stade de Reims 3  Raba ETO Gyor 2