Northern League Diary – September
September is always a busy month in the football calendar, with no shortage of games to attend and a climate which is still conducive to good pitches and, occasionally, shirt sleeves. It’s also when you get a decent feel for how the season is likely to progress, especially for the local teams you see most often. Accordingly, I haven’t felt the need to venture too far off a well-trodden path of late. So, with travel costs kept to a minimum, this is the story of my Northern League adventures over the past four weeks.
Saturday 5th September
Dunston UTS 0 Ashington 0
Rarely does such a decorated England international make an appearance at this level. And even more rarely could you justifiably claim that almost nobody had come along to see him. Steve Harmison was box office when propelling a cricket ball from twenty two yards, but less so when standing fairly motionless in a football dug out for ninety minutes. Luckily, there was plenty to distract our attention from the Ashington boss and his brave career change, yet despite the ebbs and flows this was the kind of game where you reckon they could have played on into the night without scoring.
Dunston had made a number of changes to their usually settled roster during the summer, and early results had vindicated the ‘new broom’ approach. One of the fresh faces, Liam Thear, released by Gateshead, was a stand-out in this observer’s eyes, his effervescence contrasting with the rather static performance of Mechack Kanda, a player who was retained by the Conference club and who was picking up game time on loan in the Colliers’ attack. Last season I got all the way to the end of March before witnessing my first 0-0 draw. And you’ll never guess where that occurred.
Wednesday 9th September
Newcastle Benfield 4 West Auckland Town 2
Where would Benfield be without Paul Brayson? It’s a question I’ve asked before but it grows in pertinence by the week. Here he established a lead from the penalty spot, which was promptly tossed away as Ross Gardner and Lewis Martin gave troubled West real hope of a first league win. Dan Taylor went down painfully on the point of his shoulder under a challenge which presented the skipper with a second opportunity from the spot. Lifeline grasped, he promptly took matters into his own hands, adding two more which demonstrated that, even at 38, few possess his first touch and extraordinary eye for goal.
Saturday 12th September
Newcastle Benfield 1 Bishop Auckland 3
The ebullient number nine treats all these pesky Aucklands just the same, and he was at it again, pouncing to heap misery on an already chastened Bishops who arrived smarting after a 7-0 midweek drubbing at Whitley Bay. You’d never have guessed, for that’s as good as it got for the Lions. Glen Lane turned to open up space for David Palmer to strike, then provided the kind of cross that Ian Ward dreams about for the second. With
Adam Nichols a lively presence, Lane himself got on the scoresheet, and this time Brayson was unable to pull Benfield out of the mire.
Wednesday 16th September
West Allotment Celtic 0 Washington 2
Blue Flames is a must visit for any Dire Straits enthusiast, although I do wish they’d get themselves another CD. The choice of artist for the pre-match and half time entertainment is not without relevance however, as the always welcoming club gears up for another lengthy struggle at the foot of the table. Still, if tonight is their season in microcosm, they’ll be desperately unlucky to go down.
I was keen to see newly promoted Washington, particularly since their early results had been eyecatching to the extent that the fear was of a one-sided mismatch. Not a bit of it. Dale Pearson twice showed quality in everything but the final execution while the scores were still level, and had he taken one of those opportunities before John Butler headed home a set piece, you never know how events might have transpired. Allotment continued to trouble their opponents right until substitute Mark Davison broke away to end their resistance late on. A decent entertaining contest as it turned out, and definitely not money for nothing.
Saturday 19th September
Jarrow Roofing 1 Newcastle Benfield 3
A gorgeous late summer afternoon which would have been perfect for lounging on a roof terrace instead saw us loitering on a Roofing terrace. But it was Benfield who did so with intent, producing their best display of the season so far, controlling the game, making the most of their chances, and snuffing out any suggestion of a fightback from the home side.
I really shouldn’t need to mention that Brayson was once again to the fore. A first goal struck low into the corner, and a second which demonstrated supreme composure in the box when others might not have appreciated the time at their disposal, bookended Dean Walker’s quick reaction to a shot which cannoned off the crossbar. In the closing stages Michael Riley’s consolation reaffirmed the immutable rule that players must score against their former club. Lack of goals was a major flaw when in blue and white hoops. Seeing him bulge the net was a rare experience, and it remains so. I was briefly checking the other latest scores when he headed home from close range, so I missed it.
Tuesday 22nd September
Dunston UTS 0 Shildon 1
Just as I was once again lamenting how my presence seemed to preclude goals in the shadow of the MetroCentre, Dunston keeper Liam Connell spared me another blank at this venue with an act of folly which cost his team the game and had many spectators frantically rushing to consult the laws. Connell clearly felt that Kyle Fryatt had left a foot in as the pair contested a loose back pass in the dying moments. He may have been right, but that hardly excused him pushing his opponent in the chest once the ball had been cleared
upfield. Despite play being nowhere near the incident the referee gave a penalty, from which Mark Hudson gratefully sealed the points.
Opinions seemed to be split as to whether this was the correct course of action, but the experienced gloveman was damned by the fact that the ball had not gone dead, meaning the official was perfectly justified in pointing to the spot. Had it gone out for a goal kick for instance, the subsequent yellow card would have been the only punishment. I doubt Connell considered that. It was a heat of the moment thing at the business end of an intense match which I reckon would not have been out of place at a higher level. A fabulous double save had been his most telling contribution to that point, though Dunston enjoyed the bulk of the attacking without being able to land a killer blow.
Earlier Ben Wood seemed the most likely villain, his completely unneccessary red card for dissent having left the Railwaymen a man short. Even after the goal there was still time for a couple of further near misses from the hosts. Perhaps they were already regretting the loss of Andrew Bulford. The club’s all-time leading marksman has joined South Shields after a rather messy and reluctant parting of the ways, a sad farewell for that most significant of the Wembley heroes.
Saturday 26th September
Newcastle Benfield 1 Marske United 4
Another penalty decided this one, but not in the way you might expect. Brayson thumped home after a foul in the box which ended the participation of defender Ryan Grier. Just desserts it seemed. A push on Lewis Scorgie as he appeared destined to head his side into a first half lead had been ignored by the officials. With the advantage plus an extra man the deck appeared stacked in Benfield’s favour. Instead it was a house of cards, and you know what happens to them.
I saw Marske twice during their title winning season and they didn’t win on either occasion. They set about showing me what I’d missed in a rousing response during which they gleefully dismembered Steve Bowey’s men in cavalier fashion. Two more spot kicks, both carelessly conceded in almost identical fashion by Tony Lancaster, and converted by Craig Gott, although the first only after a rebound, were embellished by efforts from Wheatley and Brunskill. It was clinical and deeply impressive, despite Benfield’s compicity as they completely lost the plot. The turning point had lead them straight up a dead end street.
Monday 28th September
Team Northumbria 0 Easington Colliery 0
Coach Lane is a vibrant little setting on a Monday night, it being the only place the Northern League junkie can get his fix this early in the week. An appetising fixture too as the promotion race begins to take shape in the Second Division. Both teams occupied places in the top five, and Team North gave early notice of their intention to retain the superior standing, Ben Dibb-Fuller denied from close range before a minute was on the clock. He was offside when he later bundled the ball into the net after a flowing move had seen goalkeeper Kyle Donaldson touch a header up onto the crossbar.
It was a contrast of styles. The students’ probed diligently for an opening but were matched by Easington’s more fire and brimstone approach, getting stuck into tackles and
working like Trojans. They deserved to return south with a point, and having recently knocked Benfield out of the League Cup and won at affluent South Shields, this was no fluke. Closest to breaking the deadlock after the interval, a compelling spectacle was nevertheless destined to remain goalless. Which is where I came in. Plus ça change, as they say in Walkergate.