Lancaster City’s 2023/24 NPL Premier Division season got off to a perfect start.
A crowd of 402 watched as Mark Fell’s side comfortably beat Stafford Rangers 2-0 on Saturday, with goals from Jake Connelly and Kyle Brownhill.
Goalkeeper Lewis Forshaw and Charlie Barnes made their full Dolly Blues debuts and impressed, the latter being named the Player of the Match.
Matty Clarke and Ackeme Francis-Burrell also got their first competitive runouts for Lancaster off the bench.
The Dollies’ first big chance came when their two eventual goalscorers partnered up. Jake Connelly’s cross into the 18-yard box found Kyle Brownhill but his attempt didn’t trouble Cameron Belford in the visitors’ goal.
Brad Carroll also headed an effort towards goal, but Belford made a routine stop to deny him.
Stafford’s Niah Payne did well to get into a goalscoring position but his attempt went over the bar.
Jake Connelly, who Mark Fell tipped to “have a really strong impact in this division this year” when speaking to Beyond Radio’s Saturday Sports Show this week, got Lancaster’s opening goal of the season on the stroke of half time with a close range effort after an excellent cross from Charlie Bailey.
Stafford’s Joe Willis struck a powerful volley after the restart which Lewis Forshaw did very well to tip onto the crossbar and behind.
Charlie Bailey was brought down inside the penalty area just before the hour mark and brother Sam had the opportunity to convert the subsequent spot kick.
However, Belford guessed the right way and kept the score at 1-0 for the time being.
Lewis Forshaw kept the away side out with a terrific save from a powerful Stafford header.
Five minutes later, down the other end of the pitch, the Dollies doubled their advantage.
Kyle Brownhill, who hadn’t shied away from the opposition’s 18-yard box during the game, connected with Charlie Barnes’ cross and rifled it home.
From then on, Lancaster looked very comfortable with their two goal advantage and could’ve added more.
Speaking to Lancaster City’s media post-match, Mark Fell said he was “relieved” that the players “hit the ground running.”
"One of the most pleasing aspects of the game for me was how good we were when we did have little spells under the cosh, we dealt with them ever so well, ever so professionally," said Fell.
“We’ve created so many good chances today and that’s the really positive thing.”
Next up for Lancaster is a trip to Radcliffe, who beat Warrington Rylands 4-0 away from home on the opening day of the season.
The Greater Manchester-based team, led by Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley - the management duo who took Salford City from the NPL Division One North to the National League - are one of the favourites for promotion this year.
Looking ahead to that game, Fell admitted the game will be “one of, if not, our hardest away game of the season” but said his side will go there with their “tails up” and they will have a “good go.”
Radcliffe v Lancaster City kicks off at 7.45pm on Tuesday at the Neuven Stadium.
Lancaster City: Forshaw, S Bailey (Clarke 67’), Brownhill, Barnes, Teague (c), Mellen, Sloan, Cowperthwaite, Connelly (Evangelinos 72’), Carroll (Francis-Burrell 77’), C Bailey
Subs not used: Grand, Lawson
Stafford Rangers: Belford, Bird, Dunne (Woods 45’), Harvey, Stewart, Burns, Onyeka, Moult, Anderson, Willis, Payne (Blissett 66’)
Subs not used: Tonks, Morgan, Roberts