Following two consecutive defeats in the league it was imperative that Marske got their title push back on track away to bottom team Crook Town, who had won only 1 game all season in the league, conceding 145 goals in the process. Marske suffered a double blow before kick off with Austin Johnston declared unfit and Tom Bott was called into work meaning the Marske management team of Carl Jarrett and Nathan Haslam opted for a 3-4-1-2 formation. With David Hillerby handing in a transfer request, Stephen Gibson partnered Darren Hollingsworth and Adam Wheatley at the back and Sam Garvie was asked to play behind the front two of Jonathan Wright and the returning Jamie Owens. Crook had a familiar face to Marske fans in their line-up in the shape of giant centre half Craig Winter who numbered Marske among his previous clubs.
It was the away side who dominated the opening exchanges with the first shot on goal coming from a Craig Gott free kick after a foul on Owens. However, the shot sailed over the crossbar of Crook keeper Ryan Graham. On 10 minutes, Marske missed a gilt-edged chance to take the lead. Reece Kelly picked up a quick free kick and showed great skill to go past two Crook defenders which put him one on one with Graham but the winger took a touch too many and Graham did well to smother his shot. However, the loose ball fell to Garvie who squared it across the 6 yard box but Wright, leaning back, scooped his shot over the bar for a real let off for the home side. Wright was in the thick of the action again on 16 minutes when he beat the offside trap and latched on to a long pass from Gott; the ball dropped beautifully for him but the ex-Heaton Stannington man was unable to keep his shot down and it went over the bar. Crook suffered an early blow on 23 minutes when Leigh Guthrie pulled up with a hamstring injury chasing a long ball forward and he had to be replaced by ex-Northallerton player Jason Brazuaskas. Marske came close to the opening goal of the game a minute later when Owens showed sublime skill on the by-line to bamboozle ex-Darlington player Adrian Webster but he fired his shot across goal when a pull back to a waiting Marske player might have been a better option. However, it was the home side who shocked Marske by taking the lead on 27 minutes. In the first instance Wheatley did superbly to block a shot from substitute Brazuaskas but the loose ball fell to recent signing Lewis Turnbull on the edge of the box and he smashed the ball past Robert Dean. A minute later Crook left back Marcus Thompson became the first player to be booked by referee Dean Hulme for a foul on Gibson who seemed to be struggling to continue even after treatment. Crook’s lead lasted for 9 minutes before Marske levelled through top scorer Owens. The striker showed great piece of mind to take a quick throw in to Garvie who in turn played the ball back to Owens who had advanced into the box and lashed the ball past Graham with his trusty left foot. With 5 minutes of the half remaining, Marske were forced into a change with Gibson, who hadn’t recovered from the tackle earlier in the half, replaced by Josh Myers. Myers had played at both centre back and right back last season so playing on the right of a back three would hold no fear for him. As the half was drawing to an end it was the away side who looked the most likely to score the third goal of the game. First, Garvie shot just wide from 25 yards out after collecting a quick Gott throw in and then the best move of the game involving Hollingsworth, Kelly and Garvie ended with Gott racing into the box but Graham was quickly off his line and did superbly to smother Gott’s shot.
Half Time: Crook 1 Marske 1
The second half was to prove to be one way traffic as Marske dominated from the off and it took only 4 minutes of the half to take the lead. Owens did superbly to draw a clear foul from Winter just inside the box and the referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Skipper Gott made no mistake sending Graham the wrong way for his 12th league goal of the season. Straight from the re-start Marske were on the attack again and Garvie saw his shot well saved by Graham following a Glen Butterworth pass before Gott crossed to Owens who saw his shot blocked by Winter. However, Marske weren’t to be denied and it was 3-1 on 56 minutes with the goal of the game from Garvie. Josh Macdonald was the creator, curling an exquisite cross into the path of Garvie who turned Davidson inside out and fired past Graham from 8 yards. Next up Wright saw a shot from the edge of the box deflected behind for a corner before it was 4-1 on 61 minutes with another Marske penalty. This time, Garvie raced past right back Peter Brown who pushed the Marske player to the ground giving referee Hulme a simple decision to award a penalty. Gott stepped up again and this time chose the opposite corner. Unfortunately, for Graham he dived the same way as the first penalty and Gott claimed his 13th league goal of the season. Before the corner Marske made their second change with Danny Brunskill replacing Kelly which meant a number of changes of personnel with Garvie going onto the left wing, Wright slotted into Garvie’s free role behind the strikers and Brunskill joined Owens up front. Marske nearly made it 5-1 on 62 minutes when a Macdonald cross was deflected by Winter and Graham did well to get a hand to the ball which fell to Owens but his shot was superbly deflected over the bar by a Crook defender. From the corner Owens hooked a volley just wide. Just past the halfway point of the half Wheatley was booked for a poor foul on Callum Lough before on 69 minutes Brunskill did well to dispossess Thompson and crossed to the back post which was flicked inches wide by Butterworth. On 72 minutes, it became 5-1 to Marske with Gott grabbing his hat-trick. A shot from Butterworth was only palmed away by Graham and Owens picked up the loose ball which was played back into the path of Gott, on the edge of the box, who curled his shot past Graham and into the bottom corner. Moments after conceding, there was a bizarre moment when Graham appeared that he was to be substituted and replaced by James Cleminson. Indeed Cleminson did come on and go in goal but Graham pulled on the number 7 shirt of Turnbull and went into the centre of midfield. At the same time Marske made their final chance with Dom Gamble getting a rare chance replacing Adam Wheatley. With 15 minutes to go, Marske made it 6-1 when Butterworth raced forward, feigned to shoot from 25 yards out but instead played a great ball to Brunskill who smashed a low shot past Cleminson. On 78 minutes, on a rare foray forward, Adam Emson shot well wide which at least gave Dean some exercise as he had to retrieve the ball from a garden of a nearby house! Emson had another chance on 86 minutes when Gamble managed to outfox himself but again the shot went wide. With 2 minutes remaining Owens saw his shot from a Macdonald corner well saved by Cleminson before Emson shot wide again.
Full Time: Crook 1 Marske 6
Crook: Graham, P. Brown, Thompson, A. Webster, Winter, Davidson, Turnbull (Cleminson), Lough, Emson, Guthrie (Brazuaskas), D. Webster
Subs (not used): K. Brown
Marske: Dean, Gibson (Myers), Wheatley (Gamble), Gott, Hollingsworth, Butterworth, Macdonald, Garvie, Kelly (Brunskill), Owens, Wright
After an early scare this proved to be a comfortable victory against a Crook side who deserve a deal of credit for battling to the final whistle. Indeed, many of their players simply ran themselves into the ground, the young full backs in particular. For Marske, it was a case of job done in what was a must win game to get their title aspiration back on track. With West Auckland and Shildon sharing 4 goals, it was Marske’s local rivals Guisborough who took over the league leadership though it seems they had to withstand a real onslaught from West Allotment to gain the three points. With North Shields doing the Northern League proud in the FA Vase and Dunston having no game the top of the table looks even tighter with just 7 points separating the top 7. Marske are now 5th and 7 points behind Guisborough but with 4 games in hand, the first of which is away to Durham City this coming Tuesday 3rd March.