ILKESTON FC: Review of 2015

James Reid celebrates scoring against Nantwich in April.

James Reid celebrates scoring against Nantwich in April.

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It’s been quite a year at Ilkeston Football Club.

A change in ownership, two changes of management, a play-off final defeat and the club’s youth team making headline news are just some of the events to have got the fans talking over the last 12 months.

Gavin Strachan took over as head coach in May.

Gavin Strachan took over as head coach in May.

Here, we look at the events month-by-month.

January

The year began well for the Robins with two straight wins. Goals from James Reid and Rob Duffy aided a 2-1 home win over Barwell, and that was followed a week later with a 3-1 success at Rushall Olympic thanks to strikes from Mike Williams, Joe Maguire and Evan Garnett.

Indeed, Ilkeston would continue an undefeated run that stretched back to October 27. A 1-1 draw with Whitby Town was secured by Rai Simons’ goal and after a goalless draw at Halesowen, Blyth Spartans nicked a last-gasp leveller at the New Manor Ground to cancel out Eddy Samba’s opener in a 1-1 draw.

Liam Marshall celebrates scoring for the Robins in October.

Liam Marshall celebrates scoring for the Robins in October.

There were also two cup wins, 2-1 over Lincoln Utd in the League Cup and an 8-1 thrashing of Holbrook Sports in the Derbyshire Senior Cup.

February

The long unbeaten run came to an end in February as Gresley dumped Ilkeston out of the Derbyshire Senior Cup with a last-minute penalty.

Things continued well in the league with a 1-0 win over Frickley thanks to James Reid’s goal, but a 4-0 thumping at Curzon Ashton soon ended that unbeaten streak too.

A goalless draw with Ashton was followed by a 2-1 win at Ramsbottom, Joe Maguire and Reid the scorers in Lancashire, while League Cup progress was made via a penalty shoot-out success at home to Spalding following a 2-2 draw.

March

March began with the news that Nigel Harrop had agreed to buy the club from outgoing chairman Dave Mantle.

Harrop signalled his intention to continue the good work done to produce young players through the club’s thriving academy.

On the pitch, a superb 1-0 win away at Blyth Spartans came thanks to Williams’ late goal and maintained the Robins’ push for promotion.

However, Grantham Town would net a last minute penalty to deny the Robins three points just days later bef0re a fine 2-2 draw was secured at title rivals FC United of Manchester thanks to strikes from Williams and Reid.

Rob Duffy struck a 93rd minute winner to seal a 2-1 success at Marine, before a comeback from 3-1 down with ten men at Stourbridge was sealed by a late Callum Chettle goal.

A draw with Buxton was followed by a League Cup exit at Warrington Town, before goals from Maguire and Chettle saw Ilkeston overcome Skelmersdale 2-0.

The month was rounded off with a 2-0 defeat away at another promotion rival in the form of Workington, although the two sides would still see plenty more of each other before the season was out.

April

Shock news greeted the arrival of April as it was announced that manager Kevin Wilson’s contract would not be renewed at the end of the season, causing some consternation amongst Robins fans.

Owner Nigel Harrop cited financial reasons for the decision, with the intention to move to a continental-style ‘head coach’ format when picking Wilson’s successor.

On the pitch, a dramatic end to the regular season would see wins against Frickley (2-0) and Belper Town (1-0) all but guarantee a play-off place for the Robins, although defeats to Grantham and Workington would make it a nervous final day at Nantwich Town until Reid’s goal secured a 1-1 draw.

That meant a play-off semi-final and a third meeting in quick succession with Workington, Kane Richards stunning the home side with a second-half goal that would send the Robins into a winner-takes-all showdown with Curzon Ashton four days later.

May

That showdown would produce heartache for the Robins on May 2, as home side Curzon recorded a narrow 1-0 win that sent them into the National League North in what would be Kevin Wilson’s last game as Robins boss.

The hunt to succeed Wilson began immediately. After one potential appointment fell through, the decision was eventually made to appoint highly-qualified Gavin Strachan as ‘head coach’.

The son of Scotland boss Gordon, Strachan took the helm at the end of May in his first managerial role.

June

June, as always, was a quiet month although Strachan was able to announce the recruitment of several new players as well as the arrival of his new assistant, Andy Watson.

Watson had been on the coaching staff at Motherwell, Hibernian, Glasgow Rangers, Scotland and Notts County so arrived at the NMG with a wealth of experience.

July

Pre-season matches got underway in July, giving Strachan the chance to assess what was needed ahead of the new campaign.

A 4-0 win over a young Peterborough side was a good start, followed by good performances in narrow defeats to Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United.

Victories over Rossington Main and Bedworth United followed and a 3-1 loss to Chesterfield rounded off the month.

August

The final three pre-season games saw draws with Gresley and Basford followed by a 4-2 win at Belper, before the new season got underway at home to Skelmersdale.

Marcus Harness netted early on but a red card for experienced striker Lee Hughes didn’t help the Robins’ cause and three second-half goals from the visitors consigned Ilkeston to defeat.

The first win of the season came three days later as Matt Baker’s late winner ensured a 2-1 success over Grantham Town, followed up with a 2-0 win at Colwyn Bay thanks to goals from Jonathan Edwards and Hughes.

A third win in a row came in a 4-3 thriller at home to Stourbridge - Charlie Coulson, Edwards, Liam Marshall and Hughes on target - before a 1-1 draw with Sutton Coldfield Town and a 1-0 loss at Matlock brought a busy August to an end.

September

September was probably the worst month Ilkeston would endure all year as they didn’t record a single win.

A 1-1 draw with Ashton and a 3-1 defeat at Frickley were followed by a shock FA Cup exit at home to Division One South side Rugby Town, Lee Ndlovu and Williams’ goals not enough.

A 3-1 defeat to Marine followed but a good display against Darlington that saw JJ Blake’s penalty earn another 1-1 scoreline gave fans some optimism, although that was soon dampened by a 4-2 loss at Whitby to see out a disappointing month.

October

A new month saw a new formation and a change in fortunes for Ilkeston as they surprised high-flying Nantwich with a 3-1 win, Ndlovu netting twice and Marshall also on target.

A 1-0 win over Barwell followed, Marshall’s penalty enough, before draws with Colwyn Bay and Stamford continued the unbeaten run.

Then came news that would again shock Robins fans as head coach Gavin Strachan opted to take up a role as assistant manager to new Doncaster Rovers boss Darren Ferguson.

Andy Watson stepped up to take Strachan’s place and would go on to enjoy a remarkable start to his Robins managerial career.

A 3-1 win over Buxton got things off and running, Williams (2) and Dexter Atkinson scoring, before a 2-1 win at Stourbridge followed thanks to Dan Udoh and Atkinson once again.

Grantham Town were beaten 2-1 for the second time this season with goals from Coulson and Joe Burgess, before Coulson netted again in a 1-0 FA Trophy win at Cambridge City to round off the month.

November

A League Cup win at Rugby Town would be the last in a great run for the Robins as they then faced Stocksbridge Park Steels in the FA Trophy but a 1-1 draw was followed by a 3-2 loss in awful conditions in the replay - Watson’s first defeat in charge.

Hyde United visited the NMG and, belatedly showing off their new kit for the first time, Ilkeston ran out 3-1 winners as Ndlovu and Udoh (2) secured the points.

Workington were the hosts a week later, but despite goals from Ndlovu and Joe Doyle, a late winner secured some revenge for the hosts after their play-off loss a few months earlier.

Meanwhile, the FA Youth Cup provided great joy as early in November the Robins beat Burton Albion on penalties after a 0-0 draw.

Then, later in the month, Shrewsbury Town were hammered 4-1 at the New Manor Ground, Lewis Walker (2), Ryan Head and Mason Barlow on target.

December

The final month of the year began well as Ramsbottom United were sent packing 3-0 at the NMG, Lee Ndlovu, Mike Williams and Dan Udoh with the goals.

Derbyshire Senior Cup efforts ended at the first hurdle as a young Ilkeston team lost 2-1 at home to Long Eaton United, and after two successive postponements, a 0-0 draw at home to Marine followed.

Just before that, the Robins youth team’s brave efforts in the FA Youth Cup came to an end in front of nearly 1,000 fans as Newcastle United ran out 3-2 winners at the NMG despite a second-half double from Roy Lee.

The festive period saw the Robins end 2015 with two games in three days, a 1-1 draw at Mickleover Sports on Boxing Day with Matt Baker on target and then Matlock Town winning 1-0 at the New Manor Ground.