Lancaster City’s 2024 got off to a winning start with a a dramatic 3-2 comeback victory against Atherton Collieries.
Substitute Nic Evangelinos got the winning goal - the second of two in second half stoppage time - in his first game at The Giant Axe since suffering a long-term injury in August.
Lancaster are now up to 12th in the NPL Premier Division after the New Year's Day win.
There were concerns that the game may not go ahead due to the heavy rain on Sunday, but the Giant Axe passed the pitch inspection on New Year’s morning.
The visitors had the first real opportunity of the game. A dangerous free kick into the box from Ben Rydel found Sidi Fofana, whose close range low flick was saved by Andre Mendes.
Jake Connelly was played through down the right hand side and took a shot on, but dragged his effort wide of the far stick.
Chances for David Norris and Dom Lawson for Lancaster were deflected behind before the 20 minute mark.
Brad Carroll broke free on the half hour mark before laying the ball off to Charlie Bailey, whose powerful attempt stung the palms of Atherton ‘keeper Joe O’Shaugnhessy.
City were playing well against a stubborn Atherton defence and were doing everything right apart from the crucial final touch.
They had the ball in the back of the net with five minutes of the first half remaining, but Dom Lawson was in an offside position.
Both sides had a golden opportunity each to open the scoring before half time.
Enock Lusiama got on the end of a cross into the box from the left, but he poked his effort just wide of the outstretching Andre Mendes’ post.
Some great football from the subsequent goal kick by Sam and Charlie Bailey led to Dom Lawson getting a shot away in the box, but it was just too high.
Ten minutes into the second half, a peach of a cross from the right found Brad Carroll, who rose the highest and nodded the ball into the net.
City could have extended their advantage on the hour mark, had a promising cross from Sam Bailey found anyone in the centre of the box.
The visitors had been applying more pressure on Lancaster following the goal and they made it count with just under twenty minutes to go.
Confusion at the back for Lancaster gave Lewis Mansell the chance to intercept and strike cleanly into the top left hand corner.
Sidi Fofana had the chance to turn the game on its head just minutes later, but his effort, which seemed impossible to miss, blazed over the bar.
However, moments later, the Colls found themselves in front.
Enock Lusiama made up for his miss earlier in the game when he latched onto a floated cross and headed it into the bottom corner.
Between Atherton’s first goal and Lancaster’s second, the Dollies made all three of their substitutions, and they all proved to be pivotal to their comeback.
Matty Clarke, Jacob Holland-Wilkinson and Nic Evangelinos and all had a huge impact when they entered the fray.
Lancaster got the equaliser from a chaotic set piece - there was a huge scramble in the box and Holland-Wilkinson got the final touch, bundling it past Joe O’Shaugnhessy.
After coming on, Matty Clarke was playing a big role in getting balls into the box, and one of his deliveries led to the winner.
Nic Evangelinos completed the comeback with only a couple of minutes of stoppage time remaining.
After yet another failed attempt by the Colls’ defence to clear the ball, Evangelinos took advantage of O’Shaugnhessy being off his line, and calmly finished.
It was the perfect return for the attacker who, before last week’s cameo at Bamber Bridge, had been out of action since August 29, coincidentally in the reverse fixture at Atherton Collieries, when he broke his leg.
Interim manager Andrew Teague spoke to Beyond Radio post-match.
“I thought in the first half we dominated but in the second half, even though we come out and get the goal, we concede two soft goals from mistakes, but we showed great character to win the game," he said.
“[The two late goals] is the pleasing thing, we’ve not been scoring as many as we’d like but we’re creating chances and as long as we keep creating, we’ll keep scoring.”
Teague also praised Nic Evangelinos following his first goal and appearance at The Giant Axe since August.
“It’s great to see him out there, he’s been badly missed because of his quality and what he brings.
“Hopefully he gets fitter and stronger as the season progresses.”
It’s a busy month for the Dolly Blues, with seven more games between now and the start of February.
It is hoped this will also be the month that brings clarification on the managerial situation.
Teague and Simon Grand have been in interim charge since Mark Fell’s resignation in November, with former Carlisle United defender Danny Livesey joining as a first team coach last month.
“We just need to keep taking each game as it comes, there’s still uncertainty about what’s happening here but me, Simon and Danny will keep being professional and prepare the lads for Saturday," said Teague.
Next up for Lancaster is a trip to fourth placed Macclesfield on Saturday (January 6).
Lancaster City: Mendes, S Bailey, Brownhill, Sloan, Grand (c), Barnes, Carroll, Norris (Holland-Wilkinson 72’), Lawson, C Bailey (Evangelinos 72’), Connelly (Clarke 86’)