United were unlucky to finish fourth in the Isle of Man football tournament after a 4-3 defeat on penalties to Wrexham at the National Sports Centre in Douglas, the score at 90 minutes being 1-1 in front of a paltry crowd of just 288.
The Blues had Andy Preece playing as a makeshift centre-half, due to injuries, in the middle of a back-line of three with Lee Andrews and Kevin Gray.
The good start was short-lived however, as Wrexham took the lead in the fourth minute. Mark Jones finishing left-footed from the edge of the box through Peter Keen after a defensive mistake by Andrews.
United soon got themselves back into the game, equalising in the 12th minute. Brian Carey only half-cleared on the edge of the Welshmen’s box, the ball falling to Kevin Henderson who cut inside giant Trinidadian Dennis Lawrence and fired in a shot which Baker blocked with his legs. Karl Hawley was again the right man in the right place as he gleefully tapped the ball home into an unguarded net.
The game settled down into a midfield battle after the early action, skipper Peter Murphy and Hawley both having a couple of half-chances apiece before Wrexham hit back in the last five minutes of the half.
Chris Llewellyn hit a weak 18-yard shot straight at Keen in the 41st minute and on the stroke of half-time Jim Whitley curled a left-footer from 20 yards out which Keen dived to his right to save.
Wrexham started well after the re-start, Darren Ferguson controlling the midfield for the Red Dragons although their possession often lacked a killer touch, Lawrence’s header from an in-swinging Ferguson corner being the only save Keen had to make.
In the 59th minute, Carlos Roca was obstructed by Wrexham’s Shaun Pejic, with Murphy’s free-kick from 18 yards sailing narrowly over Baker’s bar.
Ferguson and right-back Simon Spender sent in a couple of long-rangers for Wrexham which were easily kept out by Keen as the all-new United back-line continued to look the part.
United finished the match the stronger and in the 73rd minute, Craig Farrell, on as a substitute for
Three minutes later Murphy hit a 20-yard drive just over and in the 80th minute Tom Cowan, running in at the back-post, was unfortunate to see his downward header from a McGill corner bounce over the bar.
The Cumbrians nearly score the goal of the tournament in the 86th minute as they continued to press forward. Hawley’s cross from the right by-line was met by Murphy beyond the back-post who smashed a volley from the angle straight off the face of the crossbar.
Two minutes later the Red Dragons were to hit the woodwork themselves as a speculative effort from Jim Whitley on the right bounced on top of Keen’s crossbar and out for a goal-kick.
Farrell had a couple of driven free-kicks held by Wrexham’s Baker in the closing stages before Llewellyn had the last chance of the game for the Red Dragons, slicing wide from the left-hand edge of the box.
In the penalty shoot-out that followed the first six penalties all went the way of the taker.
Wrexham’s Mark Jones was the first to miss, his weak effort easily saved by Keen to his right, only for United’ Chris Billy to hit an almost identical effort, only this time it was saved by Baker to his left.
With the score at three penalties each after four had been taken the shoot-out effectively became sudden death. Danny Williams netted for the Red Dragons, then trialist Hawley, impressive again upfront, saw his spot-kick saved by Baker’s legs to make the final count 4-3 to the Welshmen.
United played very well in two of the three games and with such a threadbare squad for player-manager Paul Simpson to choose from due to injuries, including his own, the ex-Rochdale boss must have been pleased with his player’s efforts.
Peter Keen 6, Lee Andrews 7, Tom Cowan 7, Peter Murphy 8, Karl Hawley 8*, Kevin Gray 7, Brendan McGill 7, Chris Billy 6, Andy Preece 8, Kevin Henderson 7 (Craig Farrell 63, 6), Carlos Roca 6 (Adam Rundle 70, 6).
Unused sub : Neil Dalton.
Matt Baker, Jim Whitley, Andy Holt (Matt Done 46), Shaun Pejic, Brian Carey, Dennis Lawrence, Simon Spender, Danny Williams, Mark Jones, Darren Ferguson, Chris Llewellyn.
Unused subs : Jamie Reid, Kieran Quinn, Mark Williams + Levi Mackin.
Referee : John Freeland.
Tim Graham (thetashkentterror)