Four goal Shildon go Third
Three scorers, three points, third place and three behind league leaders West Auckland, who visit Dean Street on Saturday. The goals also arrived from three areas of the pitch with a defender, a midfielder and a striker all getting on the scoresheet. Three, it seems, was the magic number for the Railwaymen, apart from the goals total that is, as Shildon strolled to a four-nil away win at Billingham Synthonia on Wednesday night.
While Shildon, ahead of the evening encounter, were already acknowledged as the best defence in the league to date, victory by any more than a one-goal margin would propel them to the top of the goal difference chart. They also have the best home record in the division as well as the second best scoring record, behind only the league leaders.
All of which, of course, counts for nothing with a full third of the league campaign still remaining. At least not in terms of honours, but perhaps so in terms of the psychological effect on their opponents.
They (most commonly online forum residents with a lot of time on their hands) say that there’s a few quid swilling around in the Northern League. Any sports psychologists watching the unfolding drama will be disappointed that there’s not a few more as the pressure gauges continue to rise across the North East’s top Northern League clubs.
This is surely the tightest Division One contest for a great many years with the top five clubs separated by just five points. And while points on the board are always generally preferred, Shildon’s games in hand must also bear heavily on those around them who know that any slip could allow the Railwaymen to put clear track between them.
‘Every game is vital,’ and ‘there’s a long way to go yet,’ are two of the more well worn clichés being vocalised across the top six clubs at the moment (Marske United, in sixth, are by no means out of the title race, only eight points behind and, like Shildon, with several games to spare) but it is also self evident that no side will travel from here to the season’s end without dropping points: for one, most are yet to play each other at least once more.
Meaning… that while there is a long way to go yet, every game is indeed vital!
Clichés they may be, yet there they are, hanging over every game like a dark cloud, ready to burst open and soak the spirit of a defeated side, drenching their momentum. Where are the sports psychologists when you need them?
There must be some understanding of their art within the Shildon dressing room. The side suffered a cloudburst at Benfield but soon dried their eyes and returned to the task of gathering points: Marske United, perhaps sensing an opportunity to exploit any lingering despondency, came calling, but left empty handed; Synthonia were swept out of the League Cup; Sunderland RCA were skittled last Saturday and on this evening, Synthonia once again fell victim to the resurgent Railwaymen.
In the first half of this game it was as if the full time whistle from last week’s cup tie hadn’t sounded, so similar was the pedestrian nature of the play. There are at least four regular tweeters of the Shildon action each matchday but, with fifteen minutes on the clock, they would have been hard pressed to have reached the maximum 140 characters for a single tweet between them.
Both sides were evenly matched in terms of possession with neither causing the final third of the pitch any great concern. Shildon were perhaps the more wasteful with the final ball, although only in the sense that interceptions prevented almost certain goalscoring opportunities.
That changed just a couple of minutes later when Shildon earned a corner on the far side. That is, the side farthest from the impressive and imposing stand that stretches the length of one side of Synthonia’s ground. The Chapman cross, only half cleared back to the same player, was returned onto the head of centre back, Darren Craddock whose downward header crossed the goal line before it could be hooked clear – the stand side linesman awarding the goal. There were no complaints from the Synners players, negating any potential controversy.
Yet the game continued to plod along a mainly uneventful path. Synthonia’s closest effort on goal in the entire game was a high, looping header by Olabode from a corner on 35 minutes, the greatest concern to the defence being that he was allowed to win the header in the first place. The superfluous nature of Hayes’s evening will have allowed his goalkeeper kit to head straight for the tumble dryer – no washing machine required.
It looked like that would be it for the first 45 until, seconds before the whistle, Paul Connor nodded a high ball to Ben Wood who reciprocated with a perfectly weighted pass through the eye of a needle back to the striker who strode on between three defenders before sidefooting under Synners keeper, Peter Burke. The goal was a fair reflection of the greater danger posed by the visitors, albeit the threat, until then, was more implied than explicit.
The attending crowd, which reportedly included Premiership and ex-Northern League referee Michael Oliver, boyfriend of match referee, Lucy May, as well as other dignitaries such as Newton Aycliffe manager Peter Dixon, there to cast his eye over a Synthonia side his charges will be facing at the weekend, and Northern League chairman, Mike Amos, were treated to a more pleasing if more one-sided spectacle in the second half.
The pace, to general acclaim, picked up significantly. So much so that a recognisable football match appeared to be breaking out. The play flowed, however, almost entirely in one direction. The Railwaymen dominated possession and were rewarded with two more goals, both scored in short order by substitute, Mark Doninger.
Before the goals, May was made to earn her match fee with the only significant decision of the game when a desperately late Tommy Marron lunge caught Mickey Rae and led to a brief scuffle as the striker lay prostrate. The referee took her time before brandishing a yellow card to Lee Scroggins for his shove on the perpetrator and the same card for Marron. It was the correct decision, with Marron genuinely apologetic for a foul at odds with the general sportsmanship of the game. Oliver would have been proud.
Ten minutes after his arrival, Doninger put the game beyond doubt. A good move down the Shildon right resulted in a Jamie Harwood cross which glanced off a defender. Mickey Rae allowed the ball to run past him to Doninger who, with the outside of his boot, slotted past the outstretched keeper.
Four minutes later came the cherry on the cake. Scroggins intercepted the ball in the centre of midfield, fed substitute Adam Rundle who in turn found Ben Wood, with his back to goal, by the penalty spot. Wood rolled the ball to the edge of the box where Doninger nonchalantly sidefooted a majestic, unstoppable curling ball high into the postage stamp.
The remainder of the game ran its course with all three substitutes used and the result never in doubt after the third goal. Shildon could not have asked for a more sedate build up to what is likely to be an infinitely more frenetic weekend. Sports psychologists need not have applied.
If three was the magic number for the Railwaymen on Wednesday, it will be positively enchanting on Saturday.
BILLINGHAM SYNTHONIA: Burke, Carter, McNab, Dillon (Trotter, 76), Olabode, Rowbotham (Bell, 45), Gardiner (Alexander, 69), Osmond, Sweet, Marron, Hughes. Subs not used: Stonehouse, Shaw.
Yellow card: Marron.
SHILDON: Hayes, Harwood, Chapman, Scroggins, Craddock, Moore, Emms (Doninger, 58), Hodgson, Connor (Rundle, 69), Wood, Rae (Richardson, 90). Subs not used: Brackstone, Jones.
Yellow card: Scroggins.
Goals: Craddock (17); Connor (45); Doninger (69, 73).