Sometimes form and history are so stacked against you on an away trip, it’s wise to find alternative entertainment. In the club’s entire history, we have never got the better of Stalybridge Celtic at Bower Fold - four matches, four defeats - and with the Cheshire club riding high in the Conference North, the odds were mounting.
Thankfully, the town has an irresistible attraction in the station Buffet Bar, a proper old-fashioned pub in which every inch of wall space is covered with railway ephemera and usually has at least eight or nine good ales on tap. It’s been a popular pitstop for Pilgrims fans on previous visits to Stalybridge, or nearby Ashton United and Curzon Ashton during the Unibond days.
So this away tale is told by the beers enjoyed by myself and messrs Young and Pickwell both in the Buffet Bar and various other watering holes visited during the day (including two rammed with scary Leeds United fans psyched for their match with Millwall...)
- Thwaites Smooth - Amber in colour, served slightly chilled and with its distinctive smooth, refreshing taste, Thwaites Smooth is the ideal session beer and an iconic brand on bars throughout the North with its strap-line - The Northern Smoothie. 3.4%
Obviously we were Amber in colour and we were ever-so-slightly chilled by the bitter northerly winds sweeping off the hilltops. This was the first match of winter and the rain drove down for long parts of the game, making any kind of decent football incredibly difficult. But despite this impediment, United were refreshingly smooth in their passing in the opening part of the game. Home stopper Jan Budtz was called into early action when clawing away a Marc Newsham curler and Ryan Semple was tearing down the right flank on a regular basis, causing difficulties for the full-time opponents.
- Abbot Ale - This irresistible ale has masses of fruit characters, a malty richness and superb hop balance. It is brewed longer to a unique recipe. 5% ABV
Bolstered by the recent 3-1 win at Gainsborough Trinity and progress in the FA Trophy last weekend against Workington, United had a good balance about them, with steel in central midfield and invention down both wings. There’s plenty of characters who could score, but their irresistible forward play continued to go unrewarded. Gaffer Lee was winning all his aerial challenges as usual but barely troubled Budtz with a nod downwards from Semple’s cross.
- Lemon Blossom - A delicious light ale with an aroma of crisp citrus lemon. Perfectly balanced sweetness with delicate bitterness to finish. An exceptional pale ale that leaves you wanting another. 3.7% ABV
But for all this encouragement, there was a bitterness to end the half. Phil Marsh advanced down the left for Stalybridge and picked out young prospect Arthur Gnahoua to find the bottom corner. The goal came 11 minutes before half-time and very much against the grain of the game.
- Millstone True Grit - A very pale and hoppy strong ale. Well hopped using only Chinnook hop; the mellow bitters make way for a distinctive citrus/grapefruit aroma. 5% ABV
United battled strongly after the break but looked paler in the attacking third. Far too often, a ball over the top would just be a little overhit and skid away into touch. Huddled behind the goal the few of us who had made the trip tried - and failed - to get any kind of noise or encouragement going. There was an injection of citrus when Tony Edwards, promoted from the reserves after a blistering start to the season in the Lincolnshire League, came on and flashed a low cross across the goalmouth, with Hall just inches away from scoring.
- Rossendale Brewery Pennine Halo Pale - A citrusy, pale ale brewed with Cascade aroma hops, finishing with a slightly bitter aftertaste. 4.5%
But there was a sightly bitter aftertaste - Stalybridge added two late goals, as United’s defence conked out and left massive gaps, to give the scoreline a very flattering look. Craig Hobson deflected the ball in for 2-0 after a goalmouth scramble and then added a third following a five-against-one break. Game set and match. The only thing for it, after a sodden traipse back to the station, was another couple of beers...
Next Match: United are at home to Hyde in the Trophy next Saturday, so a match in Yorkshire I would imagine