IT’S fair to say that the Tameside derby is not your normal derby. CURZON ASHTON and STALYBRIDGE CELTIC are hardly bitter rivals.
Sure, there has been a bit of needle between Curzon and Ashton United, as well as Mossley, before the Nash left them behind by winning back-to-back promotions to reach the National League North for the first time in 2015.
That meant Curzon and Bridge would be playing in the league for the first time since 1987 so they’ve not had a chance to develop a rivalry. They’re friendly neighbours more than anything. Bridge even let them play at Bower Fold for a year till their new ground, the Tameside Stadium, was finished in 2005.
So no matter how much some young Bridge fans tried to stir up some hostility before Monday’s game, it was never going to happen. They sang a few uncomplimentary songs about Curzon, as well as asking ‘where’s your Morgan gone?’ Striker Adam Morgan was lured to FC Halifax after scoring a hat-trick in the Nash’s agonising FA Cup defeat by AFC Wimbledon in December.
But there were barely any Curzon fans within earshot until we reached the turnstiles, and then the youngsters soon shut up. They were among 442 that turned up at the Tameside Stadium, which wasn’t too bad considering it was a blustery, bitterly cold January evening. A crowd of 558 attended the reverse fixture at Bower Fold on Boxing Day, with first-half goals by Niall Cummins and Jamie Stott setting Curzon on course for a 2-1 win.
The Nash then failed to win in their next 3 before pulling off a 3-2 upset of runaway leaders AFC Fylde on January 21. The visitors took the lead but Curzon replied with two quickfire goals from Cummins and Matt Warburton, who rejoined the club that week after being released by Salford City. Ryan Hall then netted a late winner to inflict just Fylde’s 3rd league defeat all season.
Curzon then did promotion hopefuls Salford and Stockport County a favour by winning 3-1 at Darlington last Saturday, with winger Hall and Warburton (2) again on target. Those wins pushed the Nash up into mid-table while second-bottom Bridge also went into Monday’s derby in good form. They were unbeaten in 2 league games since Boxing Day, which admittedly isn’t normally something to shout about. But it’s the first time they’ve managed that all season, which is why they were 12 points from safety.
Steve Halford and Paul Phillips left Ashton to take charge at Bridge in September and have overhauled the squad. 5 players in Monday’s starting line-up followed them across Tameside, with another 2 on the bench. 2 loanees started while new striker Sefton Gonzales made his debut off the bench, and it may have taken a while but on Monday’s showing the Bridge bosses could now have a squad capable of competing for survival.
Although Curzon had the better of a drab first half, bossing possession, Bridge restricted them to few clear-cut opportunities. Warburton was joint-top scorer with Cummins last season with 14 goals and having already scored 3 in 2 since rejoining the Nash, everything was going through the former Maine Road forward.
His shot clipped the side-netting before Hall and Iain Howard combined superbly down the left to set up Warburton again, but this time his 20-yard strike was saved by Grant Shenton. The Bridge keeper turned another Warburton shot wide while Chris Rowney fired wide after playing a one-two with Warburton.
At the other end, Lee Gaskell was getting increasingly frustrated. The ex-Ashton and Ramsbottom United striker, who made his Bridge debut in the reverse fixture, was struggling to get in the game and couldn’t quite reach Danny Wilkins’ cut-back, so he dropped deeper to get the ball. At one point he ran into one dead end, then another, and despite winning the challenge that followed, he tried to play it wide to the left-back only to send it behind him for a throw. It just wasn’t going to be his night. He made way for Gonzales on 59 minutes so, after 5 games for Bridge, he’s still waiting for his first goal.
Short of entertainment, some Curzon fans amused themselves by shouting the referee’s name to get his attention, and then his assistant’s. It was turning into one of those nights.
But right-back Danny Morton was getting forward for Bridge and they finally tested Hakan Burton just before the break, with on-loan midfielder Kieran Denbar’s long-range shot stinging the Curzon keeper’s hands.
Morton then had to clear a Rowney shot off the line, with Warburton sending the loose ball wide, while Shenton denied Cummins. But Bridge then had the better of the second half, largely thanks to the introduction of Aaron Chalmers and Gonzales, then later Chris Baguley.
Chalmers and Wilkins fired off target, and either Gonzales or Adam Mather looked to set to turn in Morton’s cross at the back post, but neither managed to get a decent touch and Burton was able to gather. Wilkins and Baguley also fired wide, before Luke Clark came off the bench for Curzon and forced Shenton to tip over a long-range strike.
Then with the 90 minutes almost up, the hosts played in Warburton in the left side of the box in the closing stages, but his shot was parried by Shenton, and Bridge went closest to winning it at the death.
Gonzales headed over while Baguley sliced wide so Bridge could have taken all 3 points rather than settle for a 0-0 draw – they just didn’t test the Curzon keeper enough. But they will be pleased to go 3 unbeaten, against a side that’s just beaten 2 of the top 6, and it keeps belief high before they face another derby this Saturday.
Bridge make the short trip to Stockport County, who went 5th with a 3-0 win at Brackley on Tuesday night. Celtic are now 11 points from safety and still have time to close the gap but, crucially, they are playing with some confidence. That is something that rock-bottom Altrincham still lack so, unfortunately, it looks like they’re destined to drop into non-league’s 3rd tier.
Curzon, meanwhile, look set to secure a 3rd straight year at step 2 with Monday’s draw edging them above FC United into 12th place. They have a great chance to go 5 unbeaten on Saturday as they host third-bottom Bradford Park Avenue.
That means they could also do Bridge a favour. And given the Nash actually quite like their ‘local rivals’, that won’t bother them one bit.