Saturday 8th August 2015
Newcastle Benfield 0 Shildon 5
You know that feeling you get at the start of a new season? The one where you’ve just watched England win back the Ashes in the morning and a whole world of possibilities is stretching out before you? The one where you think you might just be heading out to see the Champions at the start of a glorious campaign? Well I had that, and what’s more it lasted beyond the final whistle. Aye, I might have seen the Champions, except that wasn’t us. And possibilities? Anything between top six and bottom three depending on which half you decide to take most literally. ‘Football’, as a famous manager once remarked, ‘bloody hell!’
I’m as guilty as anyone else but it seems obligatory to mention the weather in match reports. On this occasion it was rather more balmy than it had been for much of this imposter of a summer, enough for some spectators to be sporting the kind of attire it might be amusing to remind them about come the Baltic easterlies of January. There was however a deceptive breeze which, if the heat maps of this particular encounter were forensically analysed, might suggest an advantage for the team attacking the goal to my right. It was no more than a gentle gust, but it might as well have been a hurricane.
Before the break I saw the Benfield which had threatened insurrection last time the Railwaymen visited these parts, depriving them of points which, as it transpired, may have cost them the title. Paul Brayson, another year older but showing no signs of Old Father Time’s ominous finality, twice jumped the Shildon back line but couldn’t convert. Dan Taylor nearly did, the covering defender erroneously showing him on to his better foot. Lewis Graham clawed away the effort. Brayson clattered the bar from a free kick after Gary Brown clumsily interrupted his progress. 0-0 seemed harsh on the home side. Oh, how it had ended that way.
A half time orange, maybe the odd teacup propelled against a wall, and a different picture. As Gary Forrest’s men upped their game, Benfield wilted. There was little warning of such a violent sea change as Lewis Wing beat Cook with a snapshot from the edge of the area. The alarm bells should have been ringing as debutant Brown headed in a corner after the goalkeeper flapped. It was too late by the time a ball was threaded through intelligently for Mark Doninger to net his first.
It became the Doninger show with bells and whistles and the occasional performing dog. Our nemesis nodded in from a pinpoint Ben Wood cross before, once Cook had produced a competent stop to prevent an individual run and strike from finding the target, he tidied up another defensively botched corner to complete his hat-trick. Thankfully, he stopped there.
So what really sparked such an emphatic turnaround? The half time introduction of Sam Hodgson to replace the ineffectual Billy Greulich-Smith certainly brought an element of dynamism, and a greater fluidity was discernible from the increased involvement of Wood, who suddenly seemed to be everywhere. The passing was sharper too but Benfield didn’t help themselves with the lack of an out ball, while Mark Cook looked uncertain between the posts and should have done better with a couple of the goals.
Having already signalled their intentions by turning over Marske to win the Cleator Cup, it’s clear that it will take a good side to finish above Shildon this season. It was never going to be an easy opening fixture for the home side but the gulf which opened up after the interval will have concerned Lions’ boss Steve Bowey, who completed the full ninety minutes himself. Much of last term’s squad has been retained, the loss of Michael Riley to Jarrow Roofing the one notable departure. It may well fall to former Gateshead youngster Ryan Drane to fill that particular void. Stalwart gloveman Andrew Grainger is also unlikely to feature before Christmas after undergoing a shoulder operation.
In a sense little seemed to have changed. The erratic form we have come to expect was packaged into ninety minutes here. At least Bedlington’s 8-0 capitulation to Dunston spares the ignominy of bottom spot after the first weekend. And the Terriers are next up on Wednesday night. A relegation six pointer in August? Surely not, but the only thing I know for sure is that, despite the crushing of any lofty hopes, it still felt good to be back.
Newcastle Benfield: Cook, Turnbull (Convery), Hoganson, Slaughter, Tobin, Paterson, Henderson, Bowey, Brayson, Taylor (Hardy), Baptist (Drane) Subs Not Used: Busby, Carr
Shildon: Graham, Groves, Robson, Wing (Davis), Jones, Brown, Fryatt, Doninger, Rae (Hudson), Wood, Greulich-Smith (Hodgson) Subs Not Used: Brackstone, Ellison