Albion welcomed Billingham Town to Kingsley Park for the fifth & final meeting of the season between the clubs. Ryan Burnyeat was given his debut for Ryton while Stephen Jackson was suspended for the visitors.
The game started in blustery conditions, with a low bright sun with Albion having both wind & sun behind them though it took until 14 minutes to trouble visiting keeper Michael Thackeray when Burnyeat fired a shot straight at him. There was significantly more alarm in Town’s penalty area when Dan Robinson cut in from the right & drilled in a low cross about a yard in front of the goal that just needed a touch, but no-one in black & blue was on hand to apply the necessary contact.
The game could only be described as scrappy with chances at a premium, though Callam Brown had half a chance for the visitors on 27 minutes when receiving the ball from Gary Redman in the Albion box, but the wind took the ball away from Brown at the crucial moment & he couldn’t connect properly, giving Steven Mundy in the RACA goal an easy save.
Albion took the lead on 35 minutes in slightly unusual circumstances when Robinson broke through the centre but was dragged back by a Town defender. Robinson shook him off & referee Kevin McKitterick played the advantage & Robinson beat another two defenders & found BURNYEAT at the back post who slotted the ball home. The lack of celebration & Mr McKitterick’s lack of indication suggested the ball had gone behind the goal & it was only when the Albion players jogged back to their own half that many home fans cottoned on to the fact their team had scored.
Two minutes later & Burnyeat had a chance to grab his second goal with a header that went just wide, but Billingham came even closer to scoring on the stroke of half time Daniel Wray hitting the post with a powerful shot.
HT RACA 1 BILLINGHAM TOWN 0
Town were certainly the hungrier side after the interval & Redman took advantage of confusion in the Albion defence on 48 minutes when firing in a low cross from a tight angle. Mark McMeekin ended up clearing from off the line & from the resulting corner, Ben Bonner had two shots on target blocked by the packed RACA rearguard. Town continued to press without any end product & the game became scrappy again with little to warm the spectators on what was becoming a bitterly cold afternoon.
It wasn’t until the 65th minute that there was even a sniff of a goal, this time Will Forsyth stung Thackeray’s palms with a piledriver, but the Teesside club’s keeper was equal to it. Two minutes later, Phil Hodges went on one of his impressive solo runs half the length of the pitch, then squared to Burnyeat, but the youngster’s shot was a tame one & Thackeray was able to gather the ball comfortably.
Redman was still a thorn in the Ryton side & fired in a dangerous cross on 69 minutes to three onrushing Town players but Mundy sprung out to pluck the ball from the air & avert the danger. Billingham were back on the attack seconds later, when it was Andrew Lambert’s turn to launch a dangerous cross into the box. Unfortunately for him, his teammates weren’t on the same wavelength & there was no-one there to in a red shirt to meet the ball. In what was becoming the most exciting stage of a largely flat game, Josh Holland beat two Town defenders before crossing to Robinson, but the ball took a cruel bobble as the Albion no9 was about to shoot, & the ball was cleared to safety.
Town were pushing for the equaliser & were committing more and more men forward, Joshua Keogh shooting not far wide on 78 minutes. The obvious risk of pushing forward is leaving the defence stretched, & Albion should have made the game safe on 83 minutes when Robinson sped past his marker & with just Thackeray to beat, cracked in a low drive which the Billingham keeper did well to save with his feet. It was Billingham doing all the pressing though & only frantic defending was keeping them at bay. As time ticked away into stoppage time, the visitors were awarded a free kick in their own half. Thackeray took the kick from way out of his goal area & when Robinson picked up the loose ball he sped forward & with Thackeray frantically back-pedalling, he chose to lob the keeper, but also cleared the Billingham bar by a few feet too. Then in the final seconds of the game came the loudest applause of the contest from both sets of fans. Redmond aware how little time was left, unleashed a power drive of a shot which looked every inch a goal but somehow Mundy sprung up like a salmon and pushed the ball to safety & Albion survived the onslaught to chalk up their tenth home win of the season.
FT RACA 1 BILLINGHAM TOWN 0
So Albion despite not moving up the table are still in the mix for one of the FA Cup qualifying places, while Billingham have their E Armstrong Cup semi final with South Shields to concentrate on. The five game series between the clubs finished with two one-goal victories each & a draw, so honours even this season.
RACA- Mundy, McMeekin, Shickle, Hodges, Turnbull, Chrostowski, Holland (Upperton 82), Backhouse, D Robinson, Burnyeat, Forsyth. Subs not used – C Barker, Moore, S Gunn, P Robinson.
BILLINGHAM TOWN- Thackeray, Redman, Ballantyne (Callender 68), Lambert (Mohon 72), Wray, Keogh, Whensley, Bonner, Brown, Browne. Subs not used- Smith, Taylor, Farrel
REFEREE – Kevin McKitterick
ATTENDANCE – 51