Wednesday 11th March 2015
Newcastle Benfield 3 Crook Town 3
Not many teams have been held to a 3-3 draw after leading by five goals at half time, but that curious fate befell Benfield against basement dwellers Crook Town on Wednesday night. Even if the supposedly unassailable lead was accrued back in December, before the original encounter disappeared under a cloak of thick fog, this rearranged game never lost its capacity for surprise. In Cheltenham Festival week it underlined that there really is no such thing as a racing certainty.
It was all the more unexpected since Steve Bowey’s men arrived at this fixture on the back of a six game winning streak, their best run of form in an inconsistent campaign. Brayson’s last gasp leveller, which ensured a glum procession from the field at the final whistle, as both sets of players mulled over lost opportunities, actually propelled them into the top ten for the first time this season. They didn’t get there by performing like this though.
Other commitments had prevented me from getting to the last couple of home matches, a comfortable win over Jarrow Roofing which saw three red cards after what Jeremy Clarkson might term a ‘fracas’ late in the first period, and a slender triumph against Bedlington, settled by Brayson’s predictable goal at the expense of a former club. The striker had also bagged a hat-trick at Millfield when these two last met just a few weeks ago, and was on the scoresheet once more in the most recent three point haul at Billingham Synthonia on Saturday. A half century of goals is now well within his compass.
Though he added two more against the division’s most porous defence, this one did not develop in the way most had expected. So did Crook drag the opposition down to their level, a level which had seen them ship double figures on two occasions and record just a single victory in a wretched headlong plunge towards relegation? Not at all. They were the better side for long periods as Benfield struggled to get out of first gear, heavy touches continually allowing the energetic visitors to recover possession and show a more progressive attitude than their hopeless position might suggest.
Early on, when a diagonal ball was followed in by Taylor to roll past the advancing goalkeeper, the suspicion was that the floodgates might open. Yet this was not an unduly busy night for Graham between the sticks, even if he had to be careful not to allow a swirling shot to dip under his crossbar soon after. His only other save of note before the break was to deal with an effort from Youldon, the diminutive midfielder executing a neat turn and shot inside the area.
With the Lions labouring, Emson outpaced Scorgie, playing in an unaccustomed role at the back, and forced Grainger to push the ball out to an area at the back post where Crook had runners queueing up. One of them, the full back Brown, slotted home a deserved equaliser. Benfield sought a higher tempo after the restart, and two Baptist headers provided a statement of intent, the first finding the side netting, the second the woodwork. His next contribution was to provide the cross from which Brayson restored the advantage.
This was the only spell where you felt normal service was about to be resumed, but the Crook heads refused to drop, and if the home side reckoned they had it cracked they were about to be alarmingly reminded that they were in a contest. First substitute Hardy flashed a shot across goal which crept into the far
corner. It appeared to travel in slow motion, but maybe it was the general disbelief. Then, with that shock still reverberating, hesitation at the back compounded the situation and allowed Emson to race through and score. Buoyed by this new-found confidence, and unwilling or unable to sit back, the amber shirts might have added more.
Just as every other light at the end of the tunnel seems to have been attached to an oncoming train, hopes of that elusive victory were cruelly dashed at the death. Riley, who had one of his more peripheral evenings, thumped over a late desperate cross. Brayson arrived on the end of it and scuffed a half volley past a despairing Graham. Humiliation had been downgraded to mild embarrassment for Benfield. The Crook players sank to their knees.
Yet that is a lazy interpretation of a game in which the bottom club played with freedom and vigour. Peter Mulcaster has made discernable improvements which must bring genuine belief that a quick return to the top flight is not out of the question. Benfield were poor on the night and deserved no more than they got. It was perhaps inevitable that the earlier abandonment would come back to haunt them, but recent evidence suggests that the Northern League is becoming more and more competitive. However belatedly, Crook appear at last to have come to the party.
Newcastle Benfield: Grainger, Convery, Talbot, Chapim, Scorgie, Paterson (Tobin), Riley, Baptist, Brayson, D.Taylor (M.Turnbull), Youldon (Jones) Subs Not Used: Hoganson, Leeson
Crook Town: Graham, Brown, Thompson, Davidson, Winter, White, L.Turnbull, Webster (Hardy), Emson, Guthrie, Lough Subs Not Used: J.Taylor, Cleminson