As the Craven Division 3 season neared the halfway point, United’s 3rd team headed to Cononley on Saturday hoping to maintain their impressive start to the season and one that still has a 100% win record away from home.
With the news that Cross Hills have sadly decided to pull out of the Craven Premier division and Cononley 1st team having their fixture against them cancelled this weekend, Settle knew that they would face an extremely tough encounter this weekend with the potential of 1st team players dropping down to the reserves for Cononley this weekend.
And it took an extremely gritty and hardworking performance to take all 3 points on the road once more from the United lads, one that was played out in front of a good-sized crowd on a fine winter’s afternoon in Yorkshire.
SUAFC are yet to field the same 11 in any game played this season following the disrupted past couple of seasons and it is extremely satisfying to see the positive starts made by all 3 sides having changed the sides around and using the strength in depth available in the playing squad.
Therefore, it was no surprise to see United change their side around once more and for the 10th time this season. Sam Arrowsmith made his first start of the season for the 3rd team this week slotting in at the left back position and his experience and quality on the ball was a solid addition to the side.
The inclusion of Will Smith meant that the 3rd XI had 4 goalkeepers in the squad, although Arrowsmith and Smith took up outfield positions. Smith returning from an awful hand injury was a real positive for the club and it was great to see his versatility coming on as a half-time substitute to impress in the centre of midfield with energy and composure on the ball.
Steven Wilkinson also returned from injury and came in at right back alongside Harry Bland who also returned after illness. Ethan Halliday kept his place at centre back to after impressive performances in the past few weeks. The backline looked experienced with Hughes in nets.
Manager James Hamer kept with a 4-4-2 formation which saw Niall Wakefield return to the side on the left, Wright and Bissett in the middle and Mark Hughes starting on the right after a great second half display last week.
The in-form Loughlin after 3 hattricks in 3 weeks sadly missed out this week due to illness, the experienced Ryan Preston made his first start for the 3rds, joining Matty Hamer up front.
The game got underway, and it was Ryan Preston who stood out early on. His turn of pace in behind gave the Cononley back line something to think about in the early stages. Cononley were playing a high-line and the link up play from Settle moving the ball out wide caused plenty of threat with Hughes and Wakefield able to use their pace down the channels to get in behind.
It wasn’t long before Settle took a deserved lead. Preston got in behind drawing the defender out and found himself one-on-one with the keeper who saved well. Hamer was in the right place for the rebound and headed home well from 9 yards out.
Settle looked to exploit the opening dominance against a strong side and Mark Hughes made a great run beating a couple of men and unleashing a shot which went just the wrong side of the post.
Ryan Preston was rewarded for a great first half display and made it 2-0 after 25 minutes. The ball was played into his feet and Preston pirouetted the defender and went through once again to be one-on-one with the keeper. A neat finish low into the bottom right corner finished a well-worked move.
Wakefield was unlucky not to score in the first half on his return to the 3rd team and it was an offside decision that prevented him from making it 3-0 with a cool nutmeg and finish.
Despite the intensity of Settle and a constant high press throughout the first half, Cononley also looked threatening at times, and it was a defensive error that allowed them to get a goal back late on in the first half.
Moments later, a cross come shot caught Settle’s reliant keeper out and found the top corner to make it 2-2 just before the interval. This gave Cononley a route back into the game after a first half that was dominated overall by United.
Having pulled it back to go in at the break all square, Cononley started the brightest and it took a couple of smart saves and some composed defending to keep it all square in the opening 10 minutes of the second half.
Ryan Preston was replaced 10 minutes into the 2nd half having taken a blow to the back of the leg and was replaced by Illingworth who was also returning from a spell out due to injury. Preston was applauded by the travelling support after a fantastic afternoon on his 2nd start for the side.
The game could have gone either way in the opening stages of the 2nd half, but Settle’s backline stood firm and dealt with the pressure from Cononley. A couple of changes from Cononley saw some experienced lads join the field.
Despite a bit of Cononley pressure, it was end-to-end stuff and it was Wakefield who got in behind once more, a quality ball from Wilkinson saw Wakefield in space and he used his electric pace to get in behind and unleash a venomous strike to give Settle the lead once more.
It got even better for Wakefield who once again used his pace and energy to get in behind, beat the keeper and square it to Illingworth to make it 4-2 minutes later. Settle at this stage looked the fittest, working hard on and off the ball to see out the game. The hard-work from all the lads paying off on a sunny afternoon.
Wilkinson who took the armband this afternoon took a heavy knock with 20 minutes to go. Despite his best efforts to continue, he was replaced by Eather who came into the full back position. Everyone wishes Steve a speedy recovery and hope that the injury is nothing too serious.
With 5 minutes to go, Cononley threw everything at United and a corner found an unmarked man to head home and make it a nervous final 5 minutes to the encounter. It took everything in the final stages for Settle to see out the game and take the points home.
Manager James Hamer said: “Every lad on that park today gave everything they could today and that’s why we won the game. We came up against a Cononley side who had some experienced and quality lads in the side and to get anything from the game, we knew we had to work hard.
“Football doesn’t always need to be complicated and overly tactical and technical. Hard work, commitment and working as a team often wins matches and that’s what I want our side to be known for. It’s paying off so far and we look a strong outfit going into the 2nd half of the season.”
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