Dunston UTS 0 Newcastle Benfield 0
Well, I suppose it had to happen. Just when you think you’re going to get through an entire season of Northern League watching without a goalless draw, one drops through the letterbox with a dispiriting thump like a slew of junk mail. Just occasionally though, in amongst the charity bags and pizza leaflets, you find a gleaming new Ikea catalogue, and so it was here. It might not have been quite what you were wanting or expecting, but neither was it a final demand for the electricity bill.
Seconds to go, and Dunston work the ball swiftly out to the right hand side. Wightman has a dig, and it’s heading for the opposite corner. Cook, in the Benfield goal, stretches out to get a hand on it and push it from within reach of the lurking Bulford. It’s enough to guarantee a point as the referee puts the whistle to his lips. It was that sort of game. Not bursting with chances, not overflowing with pretty football, but just sufficiently compelling to hold you in its thrall. A draw was categorically the right result, but it was in doubt until the final kick.
Benfield were missing several regulars, and with Taylor delayed in getting to the ground, Hardy was handed his debut from the start. Only just recruited from Crook, he had significant boots to fill, and was maybe over-zealous in leaving one of them on Burrell, which left the home midfielder limping. There were a few feisty challenges going in and Youldon came off worst in another of them. The physio seemed less than impressed with his pain threshold, but he wasn’t bluffing. An aborted attempt to run off the injury was followed by his removal from the fray.
Dunston were the better side early on but their superiority did not translate into very much to get excited about. There were a few set-piece alarms, a header guided just over, and a shot which flashed into the side-netting that looked goalbound from my position. Arguably, the visitors came closer, with Brayson’s lob-volley bouncing off the top of the crossbar, before the striker saw another effort smothered by Connell, who raced decisively off his line.
Burrell was allowed space to swivel and shoot near the penalty spot, Cook equal to that one, as he was again soon after to a skidding drive from slightly further out. A late afternoon rainstorm had freshened up the surface, so the goalkeeper’s preference for parrying the ball away was probably wise. Scorgie, once more pressed into action at centre half, was far more assured than the last time he played there, using his height well and staying tight to Tobin. Bulford and Wilson had to make do with the crumbs as Dunston, in common with recent performances, found goals hard to come by.
The sides changed ends but the general pattern continued. You felt that a mistake might be fatal. Slaughter conjured up the pass of the match, picking out Brayson’s run down the left channel from thirty yards. The Lions’ top scorer cut inside and was impeded as he shaped to let fly. Could this be the chance? His prowess from these tempting free kicks must have worried the defenders. It looked little more than a coat of paint away as it arrowed just wide of the target. Meanwhile, though Cook could never relax, Dunston kept him watchful rather than frantic. Hoganson, who continues to impress, got a crucial head to a dangerous cross slung in from deep. As the ball fell to a blue shirt it looked ominous, but the man with the gloves once more stood firm.
One opportunity either way would surely suffice, and when Chapim rose unchallenged from six yards, it was Benfield who looked to have snatched it. No, Connell reacted magnificently to claw it out. In truth, maybe it fell to the wrong player. I like Gilberto (you must be doing something right when you’re so often referred to by your first name. Or maybe we just like to pretend we’ve got a Brazilian on the books), he brings a leggy athleticism to the engine room, and has a neat range of passing. However, his goalscoring record at his previous clubs would suggest this element of the game is not his forte. He notched on his first appearance, so he’s probably used up his ammunition for the season.
Any late strike would have been cruel. Neither side deserved to lose, but nor could anyone feel genuinely aggrieved at the outcome. Dunston’s slim hopes of the title still hang by a theoretical thread; the League Cup probably represents their best chance of silverware. Benfield will be pleased with four points out of six from the two meetings between the sides. And whether this encounter would have avoided the graveyard slot on ‘Match of the Day’ is still very much up for debate.
Newcastle Benfield: Cook, Turnbull, Hoganson, Slaughter, Tobin, Scorgie, Youldon (Convery), Chapim, Brayson, Hardy (Taylor), Baptist (Jones) Subs Not Used: McAlindon, Leeson
Dunston UTS: Connell, Cattanach, Halliday, Burrell (Ormston), Coulson, Gilhespy, Smith, Dixon, Wilson (Wightman), Bulford, Kane (McAndrew) Subs Not Used: Clark, Scorer