Manchester Central are through to the final of the Murray Trophy for the second year in a row after a hard-fought 4-3 win away at Altrincham Hale.
The match didn’t start in Central’s favour when Jameson Lee opened the scoring in the 20th minute. However, a glanced header by Tom Greenfield and a stunning strike from Josh Frith saw Central turn the scoreline around before half-time.
After the interval, Oumar Kande gave Central some breathing room, before Lee bagged another to get Altrincham Hale back into the game.
Central netted a fourth through Lamin Baldeh, which proved to be enough to win, though a Liam Paterson’s goal in the 74th minute led to a somewhat nervy finish.
Altrincham Hale, who play in the Manchester Football League Division Two, are known as the Lions, but Central proved to have enough to tame the home side.
The match was competitive from the first whistle, with both sides looking to book their place in the final, and the early chances fell to the home side but were struck off target.
Central struggled with the dangerous counter-attacks of Altrincham Hale early on, but were nearly gifted a goal themselves in the 11th minute when a ball was whipped low into the box and some defensive confusion saw it bounce just wide of the post.
The opening goal of the contest came in the 20th minute, when Altrincham Hale swung a corner in and Lee buried it into the back of Central’s net.
Central needed a reaction after falling behind, and the players gave one – with captain Greenfield leading by example.
First in the 28th minute, he met a wicked delivery from a free kick but his flicked effort, despite having the beating of the Altrincham Hale goalkeeper, struck the crossbar.
However, as the saying ‘if at first you don’t succeed’ goes, Central won another free kick two minutes later and another good delivery was met by Greenfield, whose header nestled in the far corner of the net to equalise.
That equaliser spurred on the Central players, and nine minutes later Josh Frith produced a moment of real magic, cutting inside and firing a curled effort into the far top corner from distance.
Altrincham Hale goalkeeper Matthew Jones had no hope of getting to the ball, and it allowed Central to take a lead into the half-time interval.
After the interval, the home side came out with a lot of attacking intent but Central’s defence marshalled them well, with the only efforts they could manage not challenging Jordan Hadlow in goal.
Central had a third in the 58th minute when Baldeh had his heels clipped to win a free kick.
It looked to be in shooting distance, but instead Baldeh whipped in a dangerous cross that was met by the head of Kande and powered past the helpless Altrincham Hale goalkeeper.
The goal gave Central some breathing room, and two minutes later they nearly added another but for a great save by the home side’s keeper Jones to deny Baldeh.
Altrincham Hale responded by going on the attack themselves, and in the 62nd minute won a corner that Lee rose highest to head home and give the visitors some hope.
Baldeh, denied earlier by Jones, was not to be stopped once more though, and in the 68th minute, he fired a brilliant strike into the back of the net.
In what was quickly becoming a classic for any neutral fan, Paterson continued the scoring when he struck an effort past Hadlow in the 74th minute to set up a more tense final quarter of an hour.
Altrincham Hale pushed intently for an equaliser, but were met by a solid and unerring Central defence who cleared away the danger when it came at them.
Substitute Marcello Ahrin had a great chance to put the game to bed for Central in the 90th minute, but couldn’t find the target with his strike.
In a last throw of the dice, Altrincham Hale won a corner and sent up goalkeeper Jones – by far the tallest man on the pitch – but the set piece came to nothing and referee John Walton blew the final whistle.
With the win, Central progress to the final of the Murray Trophy – where they will face Tintwistle Athletic – and look to go one better than last year by winning the competition.