Marske United 4 West Auckland 2
After their superb comeback to earn a draw in midweek against Sunderland RCA, Marske manager Carl Jarrett elected to return to a 4-4-2 formation which meant Josh Macdonald and Reece Kelly returned to the starting line up at the expense of Jonathan Wright and Glen Butterworth, who could consider himself very unlucky to left out, who dropped to the bench. Tom Bott continued at right back in preference to Josh Myers, with Stephen Gibson still not fit. West Auckland also made two changes for the team that beat Newcastle Benfield the previous Saturday with Matty Moffat fit to return up front in place of Jake Fowler and Neil Pattinson was selected at right back in place of Michael Tait.
The importance of the game could not be understated with the losing team almost certainly out of the title race. The first moment of controversy arrived on 5 minutes when a back header from Lewis Galpin saw keeper Dan Lowson get to the ball only to be challenged by Danny Brunskill. The ball fell loose as the keeper dropped it under pressure from the Marske striker but referee Danny Markham adjudged that Brunskill had fouled Lowson and a free kick was awarded. Both sides were showing their intent in the early stages and a minute later Robert Dean had to be alert to tip wide a cross from the left that took a deflection. West were gaining the upper hand in the opening exchanges and Dean saw his hands stung by a fierce effort from Alex Francis that went straight to the keeper. Macdonald looked to be Marske’s best outlet in the early stages and on 11 minutes did superbly to race past Tyler Bowman but his pull back was well cleared. On 19 minutes a fine cross-field ball saw full back Pattinson race into the box and he showed great skill to lob the ball over the head of the back-tracking Kelly but Dean pulled off a marvellous save from Pattinson’s shot from the edge of the 6 yard box. As the game edged past the half way point of the half there was a moment of real controversy. Brian Close leapt higher than Austin Johnston to head a loose ball into the penalty area and the ex-Darlington man was able to move unchallenged into the box where he went down easily under minimal contact from Darren Hollingsworth. Referee Markham immediately pointed to the spot and then compounded the feeling of injustice on the part of the home side by sending Hollingsworth off. Francis stepped up to take the penalty but Dean couldn’t match his heroics of midweek as the penalty was driven down the middle to give the away side the lead. Marske tried to get back into the match and a fantastic challenge from Johnston saw Kelly pick up the loose ball but his shot was deflected by Tom White and Lowson saved with ease. A minute later a great run down the right from Macdonald saw the winger breeze past David Gordon and deliver a superb cross that evaded Brunskill, Kelly and Jamie Owens. Just past the half hour mark Dean had to save well from a cross from Gordon that evaded everyone before West doubled their lead on 32 minutes. Pattinson played a neat ball down the line to Francis who got the wrong side of Liam O’Sullivan and delivered a pin-point cross into the 6 yard box which was slid home by Stephen Richardson. 2-0 down and down to 10 men the Marske bench elected to make a change with Kelly replaced by Glen Butterworth to give Marske a bit more solidity in midfield though the management team bravely continued playing 3 at the back. On 38 minutes, West Auckland were forced into a change when Close, who had been injured in a challenge with Brunskill earlier in the game, was unable to continue and was replaced by Michael Tait. Just as it looked as if Marske would go into half time 2-0 down they were handed a lifeline. Lowson did well to punch a long throw from O’Sullivan among a crowd of players but didn’t get enough distance on the punch and the ball fell to Johnston, 15 yards out, who struck a well hit shot that Lowson did well to save. However, the ball fell to Brunskill, 3 yards out, and he slotted home. It got even better for Marske in injury time in the first half when Craig Gott sprayed a free kick out wide to Butterworth, who in turn played the ball back to the advancing Gott who delivered a cross into the box. Under pressure, Lowson was unable to gather and the loose ball fell to Owens, 12 yards out and on his favoured left foot and Marske’s top scorer smashed the ball home to send the teams into the changing rooms’ level.
Half Time: Marske 2 West Auckland 2
West Auckland made their second change at the start of the second half with Gordon replaced by Jonathan Gibson. The first chance of the second half fell to the visitors on 47 minutes but Dean made a magnificent save at his near post from a shot from Richardson. A minute later, Johnston made a fantastic block to prevent a shot from White hitting the target before the home side quite unbelievably turned it round to lead on 52 minutes. A long throw from O’Sullivan was well controlled by Brunskill who passed out wide to Owens who easily beat Pattinson and crossed into the 6 yard box where Macdonald was on hand to score. West immediately made their final change with Galpin replaced by Daryll Hall. The comeback was completed on 56 minutes when Marske grabbed their fourth of the game. Butterworth and Macdonald exchanged passes on the right with Butterworth sending Macdonald racing into the box; the winger tried to cross the ball but had his foot clipped by Craig Ruddy who was tracking back. The referee waved play on but the assistant immediately raised his flag and a penalty was awarded. Gott stepped up to take and though Lowson guessed the correct way and got a touch on the penalty the pace and accuracy of the spot kick ensured the keeper was unable to keep the ball out. After the drama of the opening 11 minutes of the half, the game then went through a quiet period with neither side creating any clear cut chances. On 70 minutes, Owens created a chance himself, showing neat skill to outfox Hall and his snap shot from the edge of the box nearly beat Lowson at the near post but the keeper did well to scramble across his line and push the ball round the post for a corner. The ensuing corner from Macdonald was played short to Gott who turned inside Ruddy and delivered a cross into the box that was met with the head of the unmarked Brunskill, 8 yards out, who headed over the bar. A minute later, Marske made their second change with Macdonald replaced by Josh Myers, though the 3 at the back formation was retained with Myers slotting into midfield just in front of the defence. On 74 minutes Brunskill was adjudged to have committed a foul and the ensuing deep free kick was headed over the bar by Hall. West were making a concerted effort to get back into the game and on 77 minutes a shot from Richardson was deflected over the bar by a challenge from Johnston. On 79 minutes, Marske made their final change with Owens, who had worked hard all game replaced by Wright who was in the action immediately, going to ground in the box under pressure from Bowman but the referee was unmoved. On 81 minutes Gott did well to win a tackle with Pattinson on the touchline and the Marske skipper raced forward to the edge of the box but his shot lacked power and despite a bobble Lowson saved with ease. With 7 minutes remaining Brunskill was booked for a foul on substitute Gibson. The contact appeared to be minimal but Gibson was unable to continue and West were forced to play the remainder of the game with 10 men. In an attempt to try and close the game out Marske switched to what was akin to a 3-5-1 formation with Brunskill playing on the right hand side of midfield. On 86 minutes Butterworth had a shot well blocked by Hall before the last chance of the game fell to Francis but his shot went well wide.
Full Time: Marske 4 West Auckland 2
Marske: Dean, Bott, O’Sullivan, Johnston, Hollingsworth, Wheatley, Macdonald (Myers), Gott, Brunskill, Owens (Wright), Kelly (Butterworth)
Subs (not used): Hood, Grier
West Auckland: Lowson, Pattinson, Gordon (Gibson), Galpin (Hall), Bowman, Close (Tait), Francis, White, Moffat, Richardson, Ruddy
Sub (not used): Fowler
This was a quite sensational comeback from Marske which kept their title challenge on track while it virtually derailed the hopes of West Auckland, who now must win their remaining 3 games while hoping that a number of results go their win. Not only did Marske come back from 2-0 down they did so while playing for 66 minutes with 10 men following the harsh sending off of Darren Hollingsworth. Attention now switches to the local derby between Guisborough and Marske on Easter Monday (11am kick off) which is now 1st vs 2nd and the biggest derby in the history of the two clubs. A win for Guisborough will put a severe dent in Marske’s title aspirations whereas a win for Marske will put them in pole position to finish above their deadly rivals. With West Auckland and Dunston now all but out of the race, there are 4 teams now left in the race and the games in hand of Shildon and North Shields could yet prove decisive. Either way, tomorrow is game not to be missed.