Saturday 4th April 2015
Durham City 2 Guisborough Town 4
Guisborough Town took a significant step closer to the Northern League title after a rousing comeback from two goals down against Durham City at New Ferens Park on Saturday. But what was I doing here as Benfield were striking a magnificent seven against Consett in my absence? I’m afraid the anorak in me couldn’t be resisted. You see, prior to this weekend I’d seen every first division club in action this season bar one, and that one happened to be leading the table with every possibility of emerging as top dogs. Well I couldn’t let that happen, could I? So it called for an Easter trip to a World Heritage Site and, following a shaky start, I finally got a handle on what all the fuss was about.
A grand soaking at a miserable West Allotment twenty four hours earlier had hardly got the bank holiday football watching off to the most auspicious of starts. It was a fairly dire encounter notable only for a serious injury to Whitley Bay full back McFarlane which further dampened an already melancholic mood. At least it was dry for the long drag up Claypath and out towards Belmont, the remote location of the Citizens’ current abode putting a premium on stout footwear and a reasonable level of fitness. Curiously though, it’s a venue I quite like, even if I struggle to put a finger on why.
My previous visit had seen the home side take down high-flying North Shields, now of course Vase finalists, and they were set to do similar damage to another contender this time. But they were coming into the match on the back of a 6-0 mauling at the hands of Morpeth, a snapshot which neatly summarises their Jekyll and Hyde tendencies. They were to demonstrate the full gamut in the space of ninety minutes as a cosy winning position dissipated with alarming haste. Their travails were not my prime concern though. It was the opposition I had come to see.
And what a disappointment. In a first half in which they struggled for cohesion and spark they looked anything but potential Champions. Goalkeeper Liversedge was left stranded out of position as Davis hoisted in a cross that needed to be put safe by Carling, then flapped at the resultant set piece. He was rather more assured in acrobatically intercepting Allen’s drive as it headed for the top corner, but could do little to keep out Purewal’s header soon after, although Liddle tried manfully on the line. Guisborough’s own few meaningful efforts were more in hope than expectation.
Stewart’s early move into midfield after a forced substitution worked in Durham’s favour, as the experienced campaigner became an influential figure. The North Riding outfit were still causing themselves problems though, nearly punished when a defender was caught in possession on the edge of the area. It was a minor surprise that no changes were made at the break, the manager’s wrath evident from his touchline discomfort. That would only be magnified as Fryatt set off on a mazy run, red and white shirts trailing in his wake as he powered through and finished sweetly. On a weekend of great goals at a higher level, here was one that barely suffered by comparison.
It was looking ominously bleak for Chris Hardy’s team. News that West Auckland were leading at ten-man Marske was complicating the picture.The Shildon fans present, revelling in their Good Friday County Cup win, were seeing their chances enhanced without even playing. Then the penny dropped, even if it took an element of good fortune to launch the comeback. A ball in from Martin was cleared only to Liddle, whose shot rattled bagatelle-like into the path of Bythway. He made no mistake. Now it was a rather different narrative. Good interplay between Round and Risborough teed up Earl, who bulged the side netting. Then the impressive Risborough stole in from the left and struck a fine shot past Harkess, and we were back on level terms with the momentum irresistable.
Suddenly it was apparent that we were watching a side who meant business. The last quarter hour was painful for Durham. They were firmly on the back foot and conceded a third when, in a frantic scramble, May’s header worked its way back to him via Mulligan, and the second attempt achieved what the first had intended. In the blink of an eye it was all over, Earl squeezing one so tightly in at the far post that the ball nestled in the frame of the goal. The travelling fans, quiet for so long, now found their voices.
West eventually succumbed to Marske in a similar turnaround, largely removing the long-time favourites as a serious threat, though the Seasiders are still very much in the mix, and Shildon, with their games in hand, are technically the leaders on the road. Yet points on the board are a precious commodity, and a healthy advantage with three games to play would be my preferred position, even if the showdown between the top two on Monday is potentially pivotal.
After several processional years in which the destiny of the trophy was known long before the end, an exciting conclusion such as this is welcome. To emerge triumphant, the Guisborough of the latter stages here, rather than the pale shadow which scratched around earlier, will have to stand up. The resilience and response to adversity was impressive and, should it prove sufficient, I’ll at least be able to say I finally got to see their credentials for myself. Not a bad way to complete the set.
Durham City: Harkess, Stewart, Allen, Wilkinson, Purewal, Gibbons, Davis, Mollon, Patton (Abeid), Wallace (Reece Noble), Fryatt (Hope) Subs Not Used: Ryan Noble, Munro
Guisborough Town: Liversedge, Martin, McWilliams, Carling, May, Liddle, McPhillips, Risbrough, Bythway (Mulligan), Earl (Mitchinson), Round Subs Not Used: Bath, Gell, Dixon