Newcastle Benfield 2 Bishop Auckland 1
So that’s it then. Nine months have flashed past in the blink of an eye. Benfield finished off their home campaign with a solid and controlled, if never completely comfortable, victory over one of their mid-table rivals, and we slinked off to our summer pastures to convene once more come August. In a season of highs and lows, it was an understated finale. A blustery wind made a plausible bid for the man of the match award, but there was enough decent football and honest endeavour to sustain us through the months ahead. Oh, and Brayson scored a couple more too.
The latest pair, both netted in the first half, leaves him tantalisingly one short of a hugely impressive half century in all competitions. The opportunity to reach the milestone by bringing up his hat-trick never materialised after the break, so like the scribes of the Lindisfarne Gospels, he remains balanced on the very edge of perfection. They didn’t have a trip to Penrith to apply the last flourish though, and you wouldn’t back against him completing the job in next week’s closing fixture. He’s been a pleasure to watch whatever the case.
If he does fall short there’s a subtle irony in that he contributed only one of the seven which put Consett to the sword on the previous Saturday, his regular partner Taylor having an afternoon in the sun which few would begrudge. Together, they’ve been a potent force, even if neither was able to breach West Auckland’s defences in what would prove to be only a second defeat in the last fourteen matches, ten of them wins. Contrast that with the first fourteen, which yielded just four maximum hauls, and you can see why there’s a frustrating sense of what might have been.
That opening couple of months, before Steve Bowey returned to resume the role he had earlier vacated, undermined much of what followed, and with no single outstanding team this year you wonder where we might have ended up with a seamless transition. All conjecture, of course, but something to ponder nonetheless. At their best the Lions were a match for anyone. There were just too many lapses, so it was pleasing to avoid such a fate today.
Playing with the surprisingly strong breeze, it was imperative to take advantage, though sometimes it can prove to be a hinderance, with balls often overhit and a general impatience to use the conditions. Scorgie glanced an early header wide before Lavery, with seventeen on his back since Bishops had neglected to pack the number eleven shirt, forced a save from Grainger at the opposite end. The deadlock was broken when a long punt forward was knocked down by Taylor for Brayson to volley home. A simple goal maybe, but many lesser strikers would have leant back and shanked it over the bar.
The visitors had a shout for a penalty when a fiercely struck shot may or may not have hit a defender’s arm in the crowd scene. Johnson also curled one dangerously over and Sakr went close when he got on the end of a corner, but a second was coming for Benfield. Slaughter’s cross from the right swirled as Taylor challenged Pocklington in the air. It fell temptingly at the feet of Brayson, the outcome inevitable.
There was no time to luxuriate in the lead however, since it was quickly halved after the restart as Johnson turned smartly and despatched his effort low to Grainger’s left. An enthralling tussle for supremacy ensued. Scorgie, to these eyes the most improved player this season, was heavily involved, though the width usually provided by the absent Riley, another key performer whose overall contribution deserves to be acknowledged, was missing. Turnbull’s cross deflected awkwardly off Irving and onto the crossbar, Baptist had a tame shot fumbled wide and the resultant corner caused havoc at the near post, but Bishops also threatened. Johnson got round and behind Paterson, forcing Grainger to get involved once more.
Any suspicion that this was a meaningless encounter with little resting on it was dispelled when Pocklington came up to add some nuisance value at a stoppage time free kick. We were treated to an aerial duel between the two goalkeepers, the chaos abating only when a shot from the edge of the area flew harmlessly over. There would be no equaliser.
It’s strange to contemplate that you won’t be back here for a while. Such a significant part of your life is shelved for several months, while other concerns take over and you recharge the batteries and build up a new sense of anticipation. Acquaintances, some of whose names you still don’t know after all this time, drift away with good wishes and handshakes. It’s our Northern League community, a living relic of a game which many feel has lost its soul. Still the best-kept secret, even if we try to shout it from the rooftops. Benfield will wrap it all up in Cumbria next weekend. I can’t be there, but like most of the others, I’ll return in due course to do it all over again. The lure is just too strong.
Newcastle Benfield: Grainger, Turnbull, Hoganson, Slaughter, Tobin, Paterson, Convery (Chapim), Scorgie, Brayson, Taylor (Hardy), Baptist (Bowey) Subs Not Used: Cook, Leeson
Bishop Auckland: Pocklington, Mitchell, Cocks, Irving, Brown, Davis, Sakr (Mogwo), Lane, Butler, Johnson, Lavery Subs Not Used: Day, Galloway, Woods