Following Marske’s comfortable win at home to RCA on Saturday, Marske manager Carl Jarrett sprung a surprise by changing formation from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3. This meant three changes to the starting line up with Josh Macdonald and Reece Kelly relegated to the substitute’s bench to be replaced by Glen Butterworth in midfield and Jonathan Wright up front. In defence, Stephen Gibson was unavailable, as was Josh Myers who had slotted in at right back recently, which necessitated Tom Bott switching to right back and Adam Wheatley returning to the team to partner Darren Hollingsworth at centre back. The home side also made three changes to Saturday’s team with James Armstrong, Colin Larkin and Stephen Bogie dropping out with Kieran Megran, Michael Charlton and Joseph Hughes, who impressed as a substitute on Saturday, replacing them.
Like Saturday, the game started with a strong wind blowing down the pitch. Unsurprisingly, after winning the toss at kick off the home side elected to change ends meaning they were kicking downhill and with the wind behind them in the first half meaning Marske were likely to face a difficult first half. The first shot on target arrived in the third minute when a long goal kick from keeper Jonathan Carmichael found Stephen Callen but his shot from the edge of the box was saved by Robert Dean. Marske’s first sight of goal arrived two minutes later when a long throw from Liam O’Sullivan was flicked on by Bott but the ball missed everyone and went just wide of the post. On 12 minutes, referee Helen Conley adjudged that Craig Gott had fouled ex-Marske player Lewis Wood and ex-Guisborough player Lee Bythway stepped up to take the set piece 25 yards from goal. The free kick was superbly struck but Dean pulled off a magnificent save diving full length and pushing the ball away. However, the Marske defence all seemed to be admiring Dean’s save as the only person to react was Charlton who lifted the ball into the corner of the net from a tight angle. Marske’s reaction was immediate and Butterworth set O’Sullivan free on the left and his delivery was inch perfect onto the head of Danny Brunskill but Carmichael was equal to his effort and pushed the ball to safety. Marske continued to put pressure on the RCA goal and another O’Sullivan cross led to an overhead kick from Owens but Carmichael saved with ease. The game was end to end and it was RCA who had the next chance when an O’Sullivan clearance got caught in the wind and Callen got to the ball before Bott but the shot went over Dean’s bar. There was the first of many moments of controversy on 20 minutes when a nutmeg from Hollingsworth set Wright clear and the striker beat his man and crossed from the left. Carmichael badly fumbled the cross and Brunksill streamed in and forced the ball into the net but referee Conley adjudged that the Marske striker had fouled the RCA keeper. However, on 24 minutes it was the home side who doubled their lead when a Marske free kick was cleared and Owens was unable to prevent the ball from going out for a throw in which was taken quickly down the line and Hughes cut inside Austin Johnston and curled a sublime shot into the top corner of the net from 20 yards, giving Dean no chance. It could have been much worse for Marske two minutes later when a clever run from Hughes saw him get the wrong side of Hollingsworth; Dean came out to meet the RCA forward but ended up stranded and Hollingsworth did well to get back and clear the shot off the line. Just before the half hour mark Johnston became the first player to be booked for a poor challenge on Wood who managed to roll a full 15 yards after the challenge. The talented Wood was irking the Marske fans with his perceived histrionics and won another free kick on 34 minutes when the referee felt that Brunskill had fouled him but the RCA player appeared to make a meal of it. From the ensuing free kick from Bythway the ball found its way to Callen but Dean saved his prodded effort well. Just a minute later Dean made an even better save when Hughes got clear having appeared to have nudged Hollingsworth but one on one with Dean the keeper got the better off him, saving superbly. On what was becoming a rare foray forward, a Bott free kick was played down the line to Wright who wriggled in between two defenders and advanced in to the box but saw his shot well saved by Carmichael. As the half entered injury time there was a fracas in back play as RCA tried to break. Referee Conley rought play back and on the advice of her assistant referee cautioned Wheatley and RCA captain John Jury.
Half Time: Sunderland RCA 0 Marske United 2
With the wind now behind them Marske made the expected quick start to the second half. On 46 minutes, Bott played the ball down the line to Owens who beat his man on the edge of the box but fired his shot inches over the bar. Two minutes later a speedy Marske break from an RCA free kick saw Wright exchange passes with Owens but Wright saw his shot well blocked for a corner. On 52 minutes, the home side made their first change with Andrew Brown, who had been struggling with a knock in the first half, replaced by James Rowe. Marske cranked up the pressure and a throw in from O’Sullivan dropped to Owens but Carmichael was equal to his shot and saved superbly. The game was being played exclusively in the RCA half and a corner from O’Sullivan saw Brunskill’s overhead kick go over the bar, but Bott appeared to be pushed as the corner was being delivered though nothing was given by the referee. The game exploded moments later when Wood committed a poor foul on Bott who reacted and Wood somehow ended up on the ground injured. The referee booked Wood for the initial foul and Bott for the reaction. As the game past the hour mark, Marske made a double change replacing Wheatley and Johnston with wingers Macdonald and Kelly which enabled them to switch to a 3-4-3 formation. However, before the away side could even get used to the change in the formation they went 3-0 down and it appeared to be game over. The ball was played forward to Charlton by Megran but the Marske defence backed off and allowed Charlton to run to the edge of the box where his low, accurate shot beat Dean and nestled into the bottom corner. With just over 20 minutes remaining RCA had a golden chance to put the final nail into the coffin of Marske’s title challenge when Hughes raced into the box and was felled by Hollingsworth with the RCA man seeming to go to ground a long time after the challenge. However, there was little in the way of protests from the Marske players. Megran stepped up to take the penalty but Dean pulled off a splendid save diving to his left to push away Megran’s penalty which was destined for the top corner. Buoyed by this top class save, Marske got a goal back on 73 minutes when a cross from the left from Kelly should have been a routine catch for Carmichael but the keeper inexplicably fumbled the ball and was unable to retrieve it before it crossed the line with the assistant referee immediately signalling that the ball had crossed the line. Carmichael then prevented Marske from getting the ball to take back to the centre spot, kicking it away before racing over to the assistant and jabbing his finger into the referee’s face and verbally abusing him for a full 30 seconds. If ever there was going to be a sending off for dissent this was going to be it but referee Conley saw it otherwise and brandished just a yellow card to the keeper. Within 2 minutes it was game on for sure when a harmless looking cross into the box was controlled by the arm of Bythway and the referee had no hesitation in pointing straight to the spot. After the inevitable protests had died down, Gott kept his calm firing the ball into the bottom corner though Carmichael got very close to keeping the ball out. The remainder of the game was almost exclusively played in the RCA half though Marske didn’t create too many chances other than a cross from O’Sullivan that went just over the bar. On a rare foray forward Hughes, the clear RCA man of the match, outpaced Hollingsworth but his shot went into the side netting. As the game approached 90 minutes Marske dramatically grabbed an equaliser when a low shot from Butterworth hit the post and the ball came out to Brunskill who gleefully smashed the ball home from close range. Given the amount of time that the RCA keeper had wasted in the second half when taking goal kicks there was certain to be a good amount of injury time in which Marske could search out a winning goal. In the even the referee played only 4 minutes and the only chance was a free kick, harshly awarded for a foul by Luke Richardson on Wright, but Gott’s low free kick deflected off the wall and was cleared.
Full Time: Sunderland RCA 3 Marske United 3
RCA: Carmichael, Richardson, Jury, Bythway, Preston, Brown (Rowe), Wood, Megran, Callen, Hughes, Charlton
Subs (not used): Morris, Shields, Coe, Davis
Marske: Dean, Bott, O’Sullivan, Johnston (Macdonald), Hollingsworth, Wheatley (Kelly), Butterworth, Gott, Brunskill, Owens, Wright
Subs (not used): Grier, Hood, Gamble
This was a truly entertaining game which was a great advert for the Northern League. The only disappointing aspect of the game was the dissent shown by RCA keeper Carmichael which given the FA’s Respect campaign surely was worthy of a red card. Interestingly, the keeper continued his tirade against the officials at full time and no further action was taken by the referee. However, that shouldn’t overshadow an excellent game of football played in difficult conditions. Given the club’s respective positions at the start of the night, RCA would have been happy with a point before the game started but will have ended the night bitterly disappointed to have only gained a point. Conversely, Marske would have wanted 3 points before the night started but to be 3-0 down with just 17 minutes to go, a point may prove to be critical at the end of the season, especially given Shildon’s defeat at home to Dunston on Wednesday night. As it stands, the title is still in Shildon’s hands but their defeat against Dunston has only served to make it even tighter at the top. On Saturday Marske host West Auckland in a massive game before arguably an even bigger game on Easter Monday (11am kick off) when local bragging rights as well as crucial points in the title race are on offer when Marske travel to Guisborough.