Town’s game at Bacup on Saturday was played throughout in steady rain and the conditions at West View suited the relegation-threatened home team to a tee, as St. Helens were out-muscled in a physical encounter in which the visitors attempted to play good, passing football.
Town welcomed back Ciaran Gibson in goal and Andy Gillespie up front, but took to the field without a recognised full-back, Alex Gillespie and Joe McKeegan filling in, with Liam Dodd deputising for Nathan Parish in midfield.
In contrast to their physical approach, Bacup’s second and third goals were spectacular efforts; fit enough to win any game.
Town began the game on top and it came as no surprise when Adam Storey headed home from a Michael Sykes-Wright corner in the 20th minute and St. Helens were unfortunate not to increase their lead shortly afterwards when Storey’s overhead kick from the corner of the penalty area was saved by Kieron O’Boyle.
As the half wore on, however, Bacup, fighting to maintain their Premier Division status, moved up-field and, seizing on a Lee Crompton header back to Gibson in the Town goal, Adrian Bellamy headed over the advancing keeper to equalise after 32 minutes.
The remainder of the first half was end to end football, but neither side could produce a chance to trouble the goalkeepers.
Into the second half, the home side grabbed the game by the scruff of its neck. Three minutes after the re-start, Aaron Kirk scored with a thunderous drive from out near the touchline, 40 yards from goal, which finished up in Gibson’s top corner, giving Town’s young keeper no chance.
Worse was to come when, four minutes later, veteran striker Barry Massey hit a volley from 35 yards out straight into Gibson’s net.
Two goals ahead, Bacup were not going to surrender their lead without a fight and the game descended into a niggly affair, with some hefty challenges going in on the St. Helens players.
Centre back Gareth Wager was lucky to receive only a yellow card for a knee-high challenge on Andy Olsen, who went off the field soon after, along with Andy Gillespie.
Massey then barged through, seemingly intent on flattening Gibson, but the big forward’s elbow pinwheeled skipper Crompton, which went unpunished. Massey was to pick up a yellow soon afterwards but, in reality, the home side were fortunate not to be reduced to nine men.
Storey scored his second goal just before the hour mark, reacting quickly to a defensive mix-up in the home box, but even following the introduction of three substitute forwards, Karl Bergqvist, Paul Cook-Hannah and Danny Norris, try as they might, could not get in a clear shot to trouble O’Boyle, Norris firing wide with his best chance.
This defeat leaves Town safe in mid-table, with three home games in four days. Tonight sees Town entertain AFC Blackpool (Thursday 17th April, 7.45pm) before welcoming Glossop North End (Sat 19th, 3pm) and Ashton Athletic (Easter Monday 21st, 3pm)