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Lancaster City 3 Leigh RMI 1

By Matt Lawton
July 21 2007

Although Leigh RMI will be disappointed to have been defeated in their first outing of the pre-season campaign, this keenly-contested friendly proved to be a welcome challenge as Stuart Humphreys’ side prepare for the new season, starting at home to Hinckley on August 11th.

Whilst the majority of Leigh’s starting line up comprised of players who appeared for the side last year, it was bolstered with the addition of new signings Phil Charnock and Stephen Hill, while Scott Willis, Stuart Whittaker and Michael Warwick all made their first Leigh appearances since rejoining the club in the summer.

With previous strike partner Chris Simm leaving the club to join divisional rivals Hyde United, experienced forward Kevin Rapley was joined up front by Dan Owen, while natural wingers Whittaker and Warwick provided a sense of width that may, at times, have been missing previously.

It was such enterprising wide play that gave RMI the lead within the first three minutes of the game when Warwick, making his first appearance since being sidelined for a lengthy spell through injury, dribbled down the left flank before delivering a magnificent pinpoint cross that begged to be converted, with the head of Rapley duly obliging.

As the midfield contest started to get a little more competitive, RMI tried to spread the play with extra vigour but to no avail as they found themselves frustrated by a lack of cohesion, not the mention the linesman’s offside flag, on more than one occasion.

Although this season will see Lancaster play two divisions below Leigh, their side has shown a marked improvement since the one that struggled in the Conference North last year, and it was some smart passing play on RMI’s right hand side that drew them back in to the game, with a well-worked move being finished with a first time Tom Entwistle strike that nestled in the bottom left hand corner of John Lamb’s net.

That equalising goal revitalised Lancaster and it wasn’t long before they started to control the game, taking the lead within a matter of minutes of regaining terms when a well-timed through ball unlocked the heart of RMI’s defence, leaving Jimmy Long to slot the ball past Lamb and leave the Railwaymen a goal behind at the break.

As is often the case at such pre-season occasions, Leigh fielded a completely different side for the second half with only goalkeeper Lamb remaining from those that started the game, with a youthful outfield ten being peppered with experience from the likes of Lee Unsworth, Andy Roscoe and Andy Heald.

Striker Mark Jackson, in and out of the team last year, strived to impress and had the first serious attempt on goal of the second period when latching on to a Heald through ball, only for his connection to be a weak one and his shot to be comfortably saved.

The former Preston striker had a shot deflected wide towards the end of the encounter but that wasn’t before Lancaster had sealed the game with Ryan Atherton’s textbook penalty sending Lamb the wrong way after the referee had deemed a Leigh handball in the penalty area following a corner.

Although always disappointing to lose a game in any circumstances, the emphasis of pre-season games is always on the fitness and performances of individual players rather than the final result, and such an encounter will certainly improve the match sharpness of the Leigh side, as boss Stuart Humphreys prepares for an assault on the promotion play-offs in the coming season.

With a game at Cammell Laird in midweek being followed by a trip to North Wales to face Colwyn Bay next Saturday, RMI’s preparations are beginning to pick pace, with the likes of Steve Brockley, Mark Maddox and Steve Settle still to return to the side after injury.

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