Another typically rubbish English winter saw Grove have to wait until January 21st to return to action, 42 days after beating Baguley. First up in 2017 was a double header against AFC Middleton – first up a Steeles Shield Quarter Final away from home.
It was a closely fought game but Stuart Fitzmaurice fired Grove ahead before Liam Murray equalised. Grove put in an impressive spell in the second half and goals from Ben Brooks and Jason Walley saw Grove through to the Semi Finals where they would face Parrswood for a place in the Final.
AFC Middleton 1 (L Murray) Hazel Grove 3 (B Brooks, Fitzmaurice, J Walley) – Steeles Shield QF
The following week saw the sides meet again, this time in a huge league game at Torkington Park. Before the game manager Duncan Warrender made a huge decision bringing in new goalkeeper Aaron Gibbs from New Mills. The new stopper had a superb debut and made several key saves. The game played on a truly dreadful pitch was scrappy but the visitors will be much happier with the point than Grove.
Grove struggled to get into the game and several yellow cards were showed in a tense game. The result handed Middleton a huge advantage in the title race and left manager Duncan Warrender frustrated with his sides slow start to the game.
Hazel Grove 1 (B Brooks) AFC Middleton 1 (Jepson)
The defence of the Manchester Evening News Cup started at Hough End in early February with a game against Second Division Heston, but despite the difference in Divisions the game was a close affair. Manager Warrender has shuffled his pack somewhat giving starts to Joe Powell and Ali Jones and also trying out a couple of players in new positions.
The game went into extra time after a Ben Brooks hat-trick had put Grove in control, the home side fought back well and forced the extra 30 minutes but with penalties looming Bruce Roberts popped up in the 119th minute and scored the winner.
Another disjointed performances from Grove and more concern for Warrender.
Heston 3 (Bereton, Owens, Ladchan) Hazel Grove 4 (B Brooks 3, Roberts) – M.E.N Cup 2nd Round
It was back to league action next as bottom of the league Parrswood arrived at the mud bath that was Torkington Park, the previous week they had drawn 3-3 with champions North Manchester and started the game well.
Grove took the lead mid-way through the first half thanks to Jason Walley penalty.
Parrswood equalised just before half-time despite Grove’s dominance they couldn’t take control of the game. The second half started slowly before Grove finally took charge – firstly Dominic Goodhall fired Grove back into the lead before Daz Dicken and a late strike from Edmilson Justino confirmed the victory.
Hazel Grove 4 (J Walley (pen), Edmilson, Goodhall, Dicken) Parrswood Thursday 1 (Flynn)
Next up was another trip to Hough End to take on Torpedo Chorlton, with Grove finally putting in a better performance. Inspired by a man of the match performance from Lee McGregor they never looked in danger of losing the game and won comfortably with goals from Ben Brooks and Jason Walley.
Torpedo Chorlton 0 Hazel Grove 3 (B Brooks 2, J Walley)
The M.E.N Cup Quarter Final, moved to the impressive Platt Lane complex, was always going to be a tight affair but it was the home side who flew out of the blocks in the opening 10 minutes – their pressure and high temp saw them take the lead when O’Shea fired home after keeper Gibbs had made a good save, the Baguley player reacting quickly to poke the ball home.
Grove couldn’t get into the game, Baguley winning all the key contests and playing the better football, the opening 15 minutes belonged to the home side but they couldn’t turn possession into more goals and they paid the price.
The visitors started to finally use the ball and started to create their own chances, Ben Brooks and Sam Davidson looking dangerous up front. From a free kick the keeper hesitated and Davidson rose to head home the equaliser.
It was a déjà vu minutes later as another quality free kick was headed home by Davidson as Grove completed the turnaround and led for the first time, the goal had a huge impact on the Baguley side who lost their earlier confidence. The huge moment in the game came just before half-time, a bad tackle on Davidson ran through to Ben Brooks who raced clear with the referee playing a great advantage, Brook held his nerve and fired past the keeper to score his 31st goal of the season and probably his most important so far.
The second half began badly for the home side, their difficult task compounded by a red card for their central defender after a second clumsy tackle gave referee Denis McCarthy no option but to produce a second yellow card. Grove were now dominating the game, Davidson missed a simple chance for his hat-trick and Brooks should have tested the keeper when one-on-one but fired wide. Justino burst through the heart of the Baguley defence with a powerful run but his finish was off target. Davidson completed his hat-trick after a keeper error, Davidson out-jumping the keeper to head home and seemingly make the game safe.
There was a flash point, McGregor and McNair both shown yellow cards after handbags following a 50/50 challenge. Baguley threw everything at Grove, switching to a 3-4-3 system and pulled a goal back with McNair slotting the ball past Gibbs to give them a sniff but they couldn’t carve out any more opportunities and Grove hung on for a big win.
Baguley Athletic 2 (O’Shea, McNair) Hazel Grove 4 (Davidson 3, B Brooks) – M.E.N Cup QF
It was an odd run of games for Grove, not really playing to their full potential in any games but winning five of the six games, however, the dropped points at home to AFC Middleton would ultimately cost them at the end of the season.
PLAYER OF THE MONTH
With Grove struggling to hit top form during the six games the consistent performances from Fitzmaurice stood out. The defender played every minute and also scored the important opening goal against AFC Middleton.