Bootle manager Steve McNulty was forced to rue a first-half showing that handed them defeat against Newcastle Town.
In a hectic week for the Bucks, they welcomed the Castle – a side who were looking to add some breathing space between themselves and the bottom four – looking to follow up from their impressive 1-0 win at promotion-chasing Workington.
But two soft goals handed the visitors a two-goal lead at the break. Captain James Askey crept to the backpost and nodded home before Ryan Baxter got in behind to round the goalkeeper before finishing from a narrow angle.
Connor Millington did pull a goal back with his first touch of the game as well as chances fell to Sam Taylor and Arthur Lomax-Jones to level the scoring which were ultimately squandered.
Results around Bootle didn’t go in their favour and as a result they slipped down the table as Skelmersdale United and Trafford picked up wins. Clitheroe’s last minute winner also saw them move into the playoffs with the gap between them and McNulty’s side at 11 points with as many games left.
“We give ourselves a mountain to climb after the first-half performance,” the Bucks boss told Off The Park as the first-half deficit proved to be the difference in the end. “You can’t go into any game in this league and give the team a two-goal head start and expect to get yourself back into the game, we give ourselves a mountain to climb.
“The first-half performance was really sloppy, it wasn’t us at all, it was disjointed, shape was terrible, making wrong decisions, coming out of shape – stuff like that. We got in at half-time, we were hoping for it to be 1-0 but then we rejigged it a little bit but unfortunately went in 2-0.
MATCH REPORT: Bootle 1-2 Newcastle Town: The Castle rule over Bucks
“We got in a half-time and asked the lads for a response – I thought we got a response – we had chances, Connor Millington took his goal well, I thought we had enough chances to win the game, getting in good positions but maybe that final pass, final decision, we’re making the wrong ones at the wrong time. You can’t perform like that in the first-half and expect to win the game,” he added.
Billy Smart was replaced in the opening stages after a muscle injury as he was replaced by Simon Wills. However, Bootle never managed to get a foothold in the middle of the pitch and despite dominating much of the ball in parts, they lacked real threat or penetration moving forward.
McNulty said: “It was tough in there [the midfield], we’ve struggled against teams who play three in there, sometimes we play with a number 10 in there to match them but that didn’t work today.
“We were trying to play through to the number 10 but you get an injury early on, it doesn’t help, disrupts it but you’re bringing on Simon Wills – he’s experienced enough, he knows how and the way we want to play.
“I don’t think we got the number 10 in the game enough, we go away to Workington and win at one of the teams up there at the top of the table, you’ve got to come to your home ground and back it up, we didn’t do that today.”
Home form this season continues to be a problem for the Bucks. Saturday’s defeat was the seventh of the league campaign, as they have won just five. Away from Vesty Road is a different matter with the feathers of Macclesfield and Workington in their caps.
“We’ve been trying to put our finger on it, tried to play different shapes, tried to play different ways and try mix it up,” the Bootle boss admitted. “All the hard work we done on the road on Saturday went out the window today because of our first-half performance.
“We need to dust ourselves down, we’ve got a massive game on Saturday against Ramsbottom, prepare right and get the three points.
“Two-nil is a funny scoreline, if you get one it doesn’t matter how long is left on the scoreline it gives you a bit of momentum, you get your tails up,” McNulty said revealing his hopes in the latter stages after Millington’s glimmer of hope. “When we did get one, I did fancy us to go on and at least nick a draw and we got in some great positions and wasted them. We had enough chances in the second-half to, if not get a draw, maybe win the game. They won the game in the first-half.”