Blues earn a place in cup semi-finals

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BLUES boss Paul Paynter has congratulated his players’ efforts after Nelson secured a place in the First Division Trophy semi-final.

Demaine Cousins had cancelled out Jerrome Matthews’ early opener on the stroke of half-time at Winsford United’s Barton Stadium but the Blues marksman struck twice in the final 10 minutes to register his hat-trick and a 3-1 win.

“I’m delighted with it,” beamed Paynter.

“We didn’t play that well to be fair but we should still have won more comfortably.

“I didn’t envisage making a semi-final at the start of the season but I was always hopeful in this competition because there’s only 18 teams competing. But it’s tough to reach a semi-final in any competition so I’m very happy for the lads.”

The Blues now entertain First Division title contenders Norton United in the final four of the competition. The first leg of the tie will be played at Lomeshaye Way’s Little Wembley on Wednesday while the return leg at Community Drive will take place on Tuesday, March 20th. Both fixtures will commence at 8 p.m.

The two sides met in the League Cup earlier in the season. The Blues were unfortunate not to win the tie as they played through extra-time with 10 men, due to injuries. However, the replay was quite the antithesis.

“For me they are the best side in the league by some margin,” said Paynter. “We drew 1-1 with them in the League Cup and we were unfortunate not to win on the day because we played really well.

“But in the replay we were hammered 8-0 and they showed their extra bit of quality. They are a very good footballing side; quick and very technical. They are a solid outfit.”

Norton’s Lee Talbot picked up the North West Counties First Division Player of the Month award for February. Talbot’s four goals throughout the month is just one reason why Nelson will be wary of their opponents.

“He’s one of the lads we know about,” Paynter claimed. “He could definitely play at a higher level; he’s better than this standard. We are big underdogs but that takes a little bit of the pressure off us. Two legs makes it a bit more difficult but we’ll certainly give it our best.”

Paynter’s men begin that preparation for a big cup semi-final tomorrow as they travel to Pershall Park to face Eccleshall in the league.

Paynter said: “We’ve got one game on Saturday to prepare. It’s a long journey for us. They beat us 2-1 at home before that winter break. There’s no reason why we can’t take all three points but we’re hopeful of getting at least a draw. I expect us to come away with something.”

Nelson currently sit second bottom in the pyramid but have a substantial amount of games in hand on the sides above which gives them scope to improve their league position. And Paynter would see a mid-table finish as success in the culmination to their first season back in the league.

“That’s the target,” he said. “I want to move in to mid-table. I expect us to move away from the bottom three which is my ultimate target. If we continue to build our confidence then we can finish anywhere between 8th and 12th.

“Performances are slowly improving, they haven’t been fantastic, but our work rate is a lot better than what it was back in September.

“The players have always worked hard but they are working much better as a team now.”

DAN BLACK