Two goals in two second half minutes saw Lancaster lose 3-1 to Sheffield Hallam, although the improved performance will encourage manager Alex Low and his team. Ahead of the game, anything other than an away win would have been considered an upset; Lancaster sat second from bottom of the Northern Conference with three defeats from three, while Sheffield Hallam were second from top having picked up three wins from four.
The opening stages were hardly evidence for these contrasting positions. In a scrappy first few minutes Lancaster put Sheffield Hallam under good early pressure, not letting them play. Left winger Mike Hogg showed glimpses of brilliant attacking play, making some good runs and putting some clever balls into the box.
As the game progressed, Sheffield Hallam got more joy down the left flank, right-back Dan Whittingham tested time and again, as they broke forward in numbers. The first clear chance of the game came from one of numerous attacks from the left when a cross in was fired narrowly over by Sheffield Hallam.
Lancaster then went up the pitch and created their first good chance; Dan Hul played an incisive pass through to striker Chris Brown, whose low drive was tipped wide by the goalkeeper.
For all their early efforts, Lancaster found themselves behind after giving away one too many fouls in midfield. The free kick was floated in towards the edge of the penalty area, nodded across the six yard box and tapped in by Zac Bagwell to put Sheffield Hallam 1-0 up.
At this point, you could forgive one or two in the Lancaster team for letting their heads drop and thinking “here we go again”. However, the complete opposite proved to be the response to falling behind. A free kick from the home side was only partially cleared as far as Alex Brandwood, whose volley from the edge of the 18 yard box arrowed towards goal, but for a flying save by the Sheffield Hallam goalkeeper to tip it over.
Having taken the lead, Sheffield Hallam kept frustrating Lancaster, holding it in midfield and slowing the game down. This was until a complete bolt out of the blue; midfielder Jack Davidson received the ball just beyond the centre circle from a throw in, turned away from his marker and unleashed an unstoppable 25 yard screamer into the top right hand corner to bring Lancaster level.
This moment of brilliance clearly rejuvenated the home side, who looked a revived force from a team which had lost all its games prior to this encounter. Brown was a constant target and at every opportunity Lancaster looked to pick him out, both in the air or through the middle. Whenever he operated on either flank, he worked tirelessly for the team, winning a corner which was headed inches over by Mike Scott.
Lancaster’s tighter defence was exemplified by centre backs Scott and Rob Newton, who remained solid at the back and made some interceptions at critical moments. There were some nervy moments for Lancaster, mainly from crosses and free kicks into the box. However, Lancaster can be pleased with their first half performance, which potentially merited more than the score of 1-1.
The home side’s buoyancy going into the second half was short lived. Lancaster were again exposed down the left-wing, and when the ball came into the box, Callum Ward of Sheffield was first to react to slot home from 10 yards.
Lancaster had been here before, of course, and were surely confident of getting right back into the game. Any hopes of replicating the first half were dashed just a minute later when the ball fell to Jack Smith inside the box to volley it beyond Ashley Hannay.
The home side seemed in shock at the swiftness with which they conceded both goals. But the inevitability of the result did not stop them- with the majority of the second half still to play, Craig Hickford and Chris Baines were brought on to spearhead the home side’s last efforts at staging a fight back. Hickford gave Lancaster the spark they were looking for, showing good determination in the tackle, bursting down the left-wing and providing some long throw-ins which really tested the Sheffield Hallam defence.
However, the result had long since been a formality, and Sheffield Hallam saw the game out to win 3-1. Lancaster will not be happy with the result, or the manner in which they effectively lost the game right after half time. On the flip side, they will look to emulate the glimpses of their good play and take this into their next game- the small matter of the derby against UCLan next week.