Saturday 21st March 2015
Newcastle Benfield 2 Sunderland RCA 0
The partial solar eclipse on Friday might have cast us into an eerie twilight, but it was at least mercifully brief. This turgid encounter condemned us to ninety minutes of purgatory from which there was no quick escape. I’m being excessively harsh of course, yet of all the Northern League matches I’ve attended this season, here’s a contender for the first to be forgotten.
With John Carver’s world beaters playing at home, and the denouement of the Six Nations rugby providing alternative excitement that was scarcely believable, the car park was so sparsely populated I initially feared there’d been a late postponement. A few more had drifted in by kick off time. Their stoicism went unrewarded. Conditions could hardly be blamed. It was just one of those days where things never got going. One of the great attractions of live entertainment is also the most maddening frustration. You simply never know what you’re going to get.
Over at St. James’ Park large sections of the crowd were booing as Newcastle fell two goals behind. I can never understand that. Yes certainly, if the players are taking you for a ride and failing to put the effort in, but not just because of the scoreline. Nobody, apart from the occasional rogue or the odd Pakistani cricketer, steps onto the field intending to lose, and as fans you have to accept that it’s the mountains of stodge that make the special moments more appealing. Even for the Toon. I think.
Anyway, back in NE6, there was no lack of application, just no-one able to impose themselves and lift proceedings above the humdrum. Play was fractured with incessant turnovers, niggly fouls, and an overly officious referee who wasn’t prepared to let too much go. Stoppages for injuries further disrupted the flow. Larkin, perhaps the visitors’ most dangerous threat, was forced off before he could live up to that billing. The best bit of football came down the Benfield left, but even that ultimately ended with an unseemly goalmouth scramble.
A disputed penalty was probably the most appropriate way to break the deadlock. A fairly innocuous looking trip just inside the home box had Mr Woodward pointing to the spot. Brayson stroked it straight down the middle. Minutes later, a similar incident at the other end had the wronged party frantically gesturing at the white line. Nice try, but with a wall in the way it wasn’t quite so easy to restore parity.
Until recently RCA had evaded my attentions. Then, a couple of weeks ago, I saw them grab a spirited draw at Dunston, a game they could easily have won, and was rather bemused as to why they were struggling so badly. They do have a number of games in hand, and even though this performance might have been more typical, they still showed enough to suggest they won’t go down. Bogie was their top man on the day, almost embarrassing Grainger with an audacious effort from some way out, then making space with a fine turn before spoiling his work with an off-balance shank high and wide.
Brayson had a goal rightly disallowed for offside soon after the interval, so it was midway through the second period before an element of comfort was secured. The striker forced a brilliant save from Carmichael as he got his head to a left wing cross, but the attendant defender did nothing to help his goalkeeper, clearing straight to the feet of Taylor, who fired home. It was possibly the substitute’s first touch of the ball. I guess the Opta Index or suchlike would have confirmed whether that was so. Alternatively we could have just asked him. As he was even a late change to the original teamsheet, it makes a good story whatever the case.
And I’m clutching at straws to spin much of a story around the meagre fare on offer. With few real chances to speak of, you perhaps focus more on individual players, and two contrasting Benfield defenders took my eye. Tobin, solid and dependable, weather-beaten by experience and rarely caught out of position, dominant in the air, and too often taken for granted. Hoganson, showing flashes of the quality which has seen him turn out at Championship level, more assured on the ball with good distribution from a sweet left foot. The latter may yet get another chance.
Today, though, the scouts wouldn’t have lingered for long. I stuck it out as I always do, just incase an ‘I was there’ moment sneaks up on you unexpectedly. It didn’t, and by the time I reached the pub the game was already receding from memory. I even double-checked the score. Still, sport has one thing in common with any eclipse. You can always be sure the sun will come out again.
Newcastle Benfield: Grainger, Turnbull, Hoganson, Slaughter, Tobin, Paterson, Riley (Jones), Scorgie, Brayson, Convery (Taylor), Baptist (Youldon) Subs Not Used: Cook, Leeson
Sunderland RCA: Carmichael, Davis, Jury, Preston, Bythway, Brown, Charlton, Megran (Wood), Larkin (Hughes), Bogie, Callen Subs Not Used: Rowe, Morris, Richardson