New Mills first team were knocked out of the Player.Com Cup on Saturday, but there was a great season-opening victory for the Under-21s on Sunday.
The Millers were unable to secure a first victory of the season in Mike Norton and Dave Birch’s first game in charge, but the performance in the penalty shootout defeat against Eccleshall was undoubtedly the best of the season so far.
After six successive defeats prior to their appointment, the Millers managerial duo understandably felt the need to make changes to the playing squad, bringing in no less than six players - in addition to Norton himself signing playing forms.
The Church Lane administrative staff worked tirelessly prior to the match to ensure that Mason Davies, Mason Fallon, Gary Gee, Nat Kerr, Brad McLaughlin and James Neild were able to line up in the Player.Com First Round clash.
Alex Fowell retained his place in goal for the Millers, as Adam Cooper moved to right-back, with Kerr, Neild and Fallow making up the back four. Gary Gee came in for his debut in midfield alongside Alex Elliott and Chris Carroll, with Nathan Webb and Brad McLaughlin slotting in behind Dennis Sherriff, who was back in the number nine shirt after a spell playing in defence.
The Millers started brightly, successfully retaining possession and dominating territory. It came as no surprise when they took the lead on 13 minutes. A fine team move ended with Chris Carroll cleverly jinking into the area before smashing home.
The lead should have been doubled on the half-hour mark. Fallon, marauding forward from left-back, picked out Sherriff but his effort was well saved by McCarthy in the Eccleshall goal. From the resulting corner, Neild sent a header against the crossbar before Sherriff’s follow-up was scrambled off the line.
As the first half progressed, Eccleshall grew into the contest, with Finney drawing a fine save from Fowell on 44 minutes, before they levelled the scores right on half-time. A free-kick from the left found Lewis Dunn, unmarked at the far post, and his header crept in for the equaliser.
It did not take the home side long to restore their lead though. In the opening moments of the second period, Webb rounded McCarthy and tapped in. Shortly afterwards though came a crucial moment in the game when the dominant Kerr was forced off with injury, and replaced by Ewan Roach.
The Millers did increase their lead on 58 minutes as Carroll fired in a wonderful free-kick from 30 yards to make it 3-1. But in the absence of Kerr, Eccleshall were beginning to create more and more opportunities.
On 65 minutes, a near-post cross was deflected past Fowell by a defender to reduce the arrears. And as legs tired, it came as no surprise when Eccleshall equalised. A penalty was awarded for handball, and Benton slotted past Fowell to make it 3-3.
With no extra time in the Player.Com Cup, it was straight to penalties and while Gee, Fallon, Webb and Carroll were able to net for the Millers, Thiaw’s miss in sudden death proved costly and the visitors progressed to the second round.
Nevertheless, it was an encouraging start for the new management team at Church Lane and, with further new additions expected to the playing squad, it clearly will not be long before they begin to climb the NWCFL Division One South league table.
Meanwhile, on Sunday, New Mills Under-21s began their season on a winning note with a 3-1 victory away at Tytherington on Sunday afternoon, thanks to a brace from Rob Crossley and a goal from Jake Hodgson.