NORTHERN FOOTBALL LEAGUE
Founded 1889 - second oldest League in the world
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Wednesday, 24 January 2018
31/03/2017 West Allotment Celtic 1 North Shields 1 – Ebac Northern League Division One It’s been a bad week for North Shields’ drive for the title. A loss to Shildon last Saturday and then this draw against their near neighbours who are languishing in 21st place in the league. The game didn’t get off to the best of starts for the visitors when both Mason and Holmes ran into the box, chasing the ball with just the keeper to beat, only to collide with each other and fluff the chance. Holmes made amends with a coolly taken goal after 18 minutes. Curtis Coppen popped a ball through the West Allotment back four and Holmes beat the offside trap, ran on goal, took his time, picked his spot and knocked it past Bannon. Cool, calm and 1-0 to the visitors. It should have been the cue for North Shields to impose themselves on the game. But in the end it seemed to be their undoing. They lost their edge and seemed happy to coast through much of the rest of the match, over-complicating moves and passes The West Allotment equaliser had a certain inevitability about it. Just after the hour mark West Allotment captain John Pendlebury managed to get a touch on a shot to deflect it into the Shields goal. It gave the home side some much-needed impetus and was a body blow to North Shields. They never quite recovered. West Allotment’s defending was particularly impressive. Time and again the last defender managed to put in a well-timed tackle or dispossessed the Shields player just as they were about to shoot. For Shields Dan Wilson hit the post with a shot just after the break and Craig McFarlane almost snatched a win in added time with a Gazza-like slide into the six yard box, but just like Gazza he couldn’t quite connect. The North Shields players looked dejected as they trooped off the pitch. They knew that West Allotment had put a big dent in their title ambitions. 30/03/2017 Sunderland RCA 1 South Shields 2 Ebac Northern League Division One Where the heck do you start with a game like this? It started in 5th gear and then got cranked up from there. RCA must have given Shields one of their toughest tests of the season. It’s hardly surprising, but you get the impression that some teams go into a game against South Shields expecting to lose. RCA didn’t entertain those kind of thoughts and could have been 3-0 up before the visitors got on the scoreboard. They took the lead in the 8th minute when John Butler was first to react to a loose ball. He looked up and pinged it to the far post, taking out all of the South Shields defence. Ross Preston rose to head it in unchallenged from a yard out. It seemed as though Mariners fans thought: “What’s going on here? That wasn’t in the script.” It could have got worse. Twice more RCA had chances with headers in the box. For the rest of the game they matched their opponents’ work rate, but sometimes gave the ball away too cheaply. Frustratingly for RCA fans, for the last 15 minutes of the game their team relied mainly on launching high balls into the box. When they did get it on the ground they created a couple of good chances to grab an equaliser, James Armstrong and Stephen Callen just couldn’t quite find the killer finish in the closing minutes. They came close to ending South Shields remarkable run of wins. Close but not close enough. Meanwhile the Mariners were some way short of their best in the first half. They played a different game from their semi-finals against Coleshill where, for most of those games, it was all about control and pressure. Last night their play was quicker and more direct – helped by being able to change much of their team from their game just 48 hours previously. Their cause wasn’t helped when Alex Nicholson was sent off for an off-the-ball incident in the 42nd minute. They’ve got quality right across the squad, but two players have grabbed many of the headlines this season. Last night Gavin Cogdon and Julio Arca showed why. With just under an hour gone, fate looked to have turned against Shields when Cogdon was brought down in the box by substitute keeper Neal Bussey, only to see the officials give a free kick on the edge of the box instead of a penalty. Prolonged protests fell on deaf ears. Arca saw his chance to curl the ball over the wall and into the net. Justice was done. Michael Richardson went agonisingly close to giving them the lead when he saw his shot hit one post, ricochet on to the other and spin out. And then Cogdon once again provided the winner when he managed to find a gap through a gaggle of players to score with a sharp finish. In the closing stages of the game Stephen Ramsey had to be stretchered off after a sustaining a broken tibia in a strong tackle. Shields had already used all of their substitutes. Going down to 10 and then nine men, South Shields showed their experience. With 10 men they attacked with one, two, or at the most three players. Down to nine it was simple backs-to-the-wall stuff and a formation of keeper, seven defenders and one man up front. In the end it was a case of hanging on. There were other incidents and phases of play that would normally be worth a mention in the blog but they didn’t stand a chance of making it for this posting. This was South Shields’ 28th win in a row. Yep. 28. Even after going 2-1 down, one RCA fan summed the game up perfectly: “It’s what football is all about this.” Indeed. And finally, just a quick note about two players. In all the drama of the game, I thought RCA’s left winger James Cassidy quietly went about his business and had an impressive game. He wasn’t daunted by the occasion. And secondly, everyone will wish Stephen Ramsey a speedy and full recovery. 29/03/2017 Maltby Main 3 Cleethorpes Town 0 – Northern Counties East Football League Just a relatively short blog today. To ring the changes Secret Hopper decided to travel to Yorkshire to see South Shields’ FA Vase opponents. Cleethorpes are top the Northern Counties East Football League, two points ahead with a couple of games in hand. But they lost to the team lying in 16th position at kick off and Main thoroughly deserved their win. Cleethorpes’ attackers had a far better game than their defenders, with left back Peter Winn the best player in their back four. For the first half they were restricted to long-range shots from outside the box which were more accurate than some of their passing. They clearly like to stretch play when they can – by getting it out to the wingers. Their front two of Gary King and Brody Robertson looked quick, strong and mobile. They were out-muscled in midfield and only started to apply any sustained pressure in the last 15-20 minutes of the game and they never looked like they were going to get back on even terms with Maltby Main. As fellow ground hopper Pete Sixsmith pointed out at the end of the game: it’s never wise to judge a team on one performance, especially when it’s a midweek game and away from home. They were well beaten and I’m sure they can play a lot better than what was on show last night. • A hardy band of about 10 Cleethorpes fans made the trip from Lincolnshire to South Yorkshire and they were in good voice, even when they were 3-0 down, and clearly have Wembley on their minds. 28/03/2017 Whickham 2 Stockton Town 2 – Ebac Northern League Division Two This isn’t going to be the most flowing and fluent of blog postings. Then again, at times this wasn’t the most flowing and fluent of matches. There was certainly plenty of graft, but for chunks of the game the two teams seemed to cancel each other out and it took some time before the game really got going. Arthur Connelly brought the game to life in the 23rd minute with the first goal. Alex Curran in the Whickham goal pushed the ball out only for it to fall to the Stockton number 11 who struck it through a crowded box to put the visitors ahead. The best move of the match produced Stockton’s second. Left back James Ward found Tom Coulthard on the far side of the box with a long pass, he controlled it and send it back across the six-yard box where Chris Dunwell slid in to slide it in. A couple of times this season I’ve seen a forward have just a couple of chances in a game and take them. Mark Fitzpatrick joins that list. I enjoyed watching the Whickham forward. For long periods he battled up front with not much support (see tactics below). When he did get the ball he looked useful and dangerous. He cuts a wiry figure but looks as though he has a bit of spark about him and can look after himself when up against big centre backs. And then with 20 minutes to go Whickham came out of their shell, had a real go, pushed more men into midfield and up front – giving Fitzpatrick a bit more support - and it paid dividends. That might have been as a result of a gameplan to try and keep it tight and then have a go in the closing stages. Alternatively, it could have been that they suddenly realised that they could get something out of the game if they were more adventurous. It was Fitzpatrick who gave them hope. Whickham number 10 John Martin tried one shot, didn’t get enough on it, Stockton didn’t clear their lines, Fitzpatrick picked up the loose ball and struck to make it 1-2. He sealed the comeback with less than 10 minutes to go when he fired it into the net from a tight angle. It capped a good performance by the front man. Whickham also provided the two best tackles of the game. In the first half Kallum Hannah was poised to strike only to be dispossessed by a precise diving tackle by Owen Lancaster. Thomas Soutar matched his team-mate in the second half: Joe Carter broke down the left and was about to deliver a cross with several Stockton players poised in the box when Soutar timed his tackle to perfection to snuff the threat out. In the end it turned out into quite an interesting tactical contest: for Whickham taking the risk of pushing more men up left gaps at the back which Stockton almost exploited with several good chances in the closing stages. Stockton played the better football and were technically a step above the hosts. For Whickham, the game showed that four wins in a row had given them the confidence to stick to their guns and keep plugging away. They made the most of their chances. HOPPING AROUND THE BORDERS Life of Pie contributor and the father of groundhopping Pete Sixsmith has a grand time of it in the Scottish Borders: One of my best memories of the Northern League is the series of ground hops that took place in the 1990s and then again three years ago to celebrate the league’s 125th year. In fact, the whole concept of the organised hop was my idea as I jokingly suggested it in a letter to Northern Ventures in 1992, challenging these intrepid seekers out of grounds to find Waterhouses and to make a mad dash from Alnwick to Northallerton in order to see two games in a day. The problem with jokes is that, as well as being elected to Parliament and forming governments, they are sometimes not taken as jokes. A groundhop industry grew up and, like the man at Decca who turned down The Beatles, I was a mere spectator as they got bigger and bigger. This weekend I spent a splendid day in the Scottish Borders, an area of delightful towns, fertile soil, wide rivers and rugby union. For some reason the locals appear to prefer the 15 a-side game over the far superior 13 a-side egg chasing and the 11 a-side game played with a proper ball and where the ball is passed in a forward direction. I took in three games; two from the East of Scotland League and one from the Scottish Lowland League and all three were entertaining, enjoyable and excellent examples of football at the lower level. Chris Berezi and Lawrence Reade of Groundhop UK had brought over 100 ground tickers, programme collectors and anecdote exchangers to a small part of Scotland and gave them a great weekend. The first port of call was the beautiful fishing town of Eyemouth. The ground is perched on the South Cliff, next to the Golf Club and above the small estuary of the River Eye. A perfect setting as cameras whizzed and phones were clicked and the cognoscenti settled down to watch Edinburgh based Lothian Thistle take three points back up the A1 after a comfortable 3-0 victory. Eyemouth trebled their usual crowd, made a fair bit on programmes and badges and fed 100+ mostly males with bacon sandwiches and Scotch Pies. They enjoyed it as much as we did. The caravan then rumbled on west towards the border town of Coldstream, last resting place of the 14th Earl of Home aka Sir Alec Douglas-Home who was Prime Minister in 1963 and 1964 before the “first Harold Wilson” replaced him in 1964. Coldstream skipped on the bacon sarnies but provided the always hungry travellers with Scotch Pies, Haggis Pies and Macaroni Pies. The football was better than the cuisine (here speaks a reformed pie eater) although Tynecastle also went back to Edinburgh three points better off after a 2-0 victory. The view from Home (pronounced Hume) Park was stunning as we looked over the town to a large hill/small mountain which was covered in icing sugar snow and looked like a large Tunnocks Coconut Macaroon. Ale was also taken in the town although some bemoaned the absence of a Wetherspoons to tick off – and others rejoiced that Coldstream still had proper pubs. From there on to the bustling metropolis (by Borders standards) that is Hawick, deep in egg chasing territory. Hawick Royal Albert’s Albert Park is dwarfed by Hawick FC’s Mayfield Park, but the footballers have a wonderfully vintage 1950s stand and a place in the relatively new Scottish Lowland League. In their first season at this level and while they are considerably closer to the bottom than the top, they provided us with the best and the closest game of the day. Their opponents were East Stirling, long time members of the Scottish Football League who lost a play-off game with Edinburgh City last season and thus forfeited their place on Sports Report. They are second in the SLL behind East Kilbride, but had a chance to make up points as the leaders had drawn 1-1 in the afternoon. This they did in a very enjoyable game which Hawick led 2-1 going into the final quarter. East Stirling, roared on by a bus load of supporters, came back well and went 3-2 up whereupon the Hawick keeper claimed he had been pushed and demanded that the referee disallow the goal. This he declined to do so the custodian called him a [expletives deleted] and was shown a red card. He was not keen to vacate his goal and eventually went after kicking the post and stripping off his gloves and shirt. Mercifully, the shorts stayed on. It ended 2-4 and the spectacular drunk who had travelled down from East Stirling (Falkirk presumably) rejoiced long into the night. It was a brilliant day with good football, scenic grounds and glorious weather and far, far better than watching alleged adults brawling at Dean Street. 25/03/2017 Dunston UTS 0 Whitley Bay 1 – Ebac Northern League Division One This was a game where the goalkeepers were centre stage. Dunston keeper Jack Norton had a sensational game. Without him, Whitley Bay would have been out of sight before half-time. First up was a save to deny Andrew Robertson after the Bay striker combined with Peter Glen Ravenhill. Just before the half-hour he pulled off the save of the game. Bay captain Christopher McDonald hit a 25-yarder that looked certain to go in the top corner but somehow Norton managed to fling himself at full stretch to push it away. Even for the Whitley Bay goal, there wasn’t much more he could have done. In the 33rd minute the visitors broke quickly and Thibault Charmey saw his shot blocked by Norton who had raced off his line to smother the chance. Unfortunately he couldn’t stop the ball falling to Alex Kempster who had an easy finish into an empty goal. Minutes later he pulled off another top save, denying a thunderbolt by Callum Patton. (Patton would soon have his own part to play in the goalkeeping drama.) Throw into the mix a couple of solid blocks and it was just about a complete solo performance by Norton. At the other end of the pitch it was a two-man show. Just before half-time the Whitley Bay defence mis-judged a long ball allowing Steven Richardson a clear run at goal with only Thomas Flynn in the Bay goal to beat. Flynn collided with the Dunston striker just outside the box, denying him a clear goal-scoring opportunity. The referee didn’t have any option but to show him a red card. That was Patton’s cue to take over in goal and for the rest of the game, along with a well-marshalled defence, he managed to keep Dunston out. Some of his saves and blocks may not have been out of the goalkeeping coaching manual, but it worked. Dunston seemed to lose their way in the second half, despite their man advantage. They just didn’t seem to have the guile to work the ball through an organised, resilient Bay defence. They could and should have tested the stand-in keeper more than they did. Their front line never looked at the top of their game and squandered a couple of good chances earlier in the match. And when your keeper has a man-of-the-match display, you know you’ve not had the best of days. It was a top performance by Whitley Bay. Apart from their solid defending, they attacked effectively and efficiently and more than matched the hosts with the quality of their play even when they were down to 10 men. It’s now six games unbeaten for them and their travelling support will be well pleased with the heart and commitment of their team. (Footnote: It’s a small world. A Tyneside-based native of Texas was enjoying a pint before the game – his first visit to the ground - when he noticed another man with a familiar twang a few tables away. The other spectator also came from Texas and was visiting a friend, had asked if they could take a match in and ended up at the Dunston game with no match at St James’ Park or the Stadium of Light. Small world indeed.) From Peterlee to Wemberlee (Part III) From a wet, foggy Tuesday night with 12 paying customers to Wembley. It’s been an extraordinary journey for South Shields and the team of volunteers who kept the club going through some very tough times indeed. Secret Hopper met up with some of them to hear what they’ve gone through. Gary Crutwell, David Fall, Bob Wray and Bob Scott gathered at Mariners Park to recount some of their trials and tribulations following their enforced departure from South Shields to a new “home” miles away in Peterlee. Gary was the club chairman when the team moved to Peterlee and is now vice chairman. He said when they got the notice to quit they started the job of looking for an alternative pitch within South Tyneside. There were meetings after meetings, including with other local clubs and the council, but everything fell through. “We heard about Peterlee and we got a good deal at £900 a year for the pitch. We got tremendous support from the town council there, they couldn’t do enough for us.” The ground hadn’t been used for some time and needed a lot of elbow grease to get it in good enough condition for the Northern League, including shifting 20 tonnes of top soil by hand, filling eight bags with scrapings of rust and major structural work to the main stand as well as a new lick of paint on just about everything. Bob Scott recalled one morning at Peterlee having second thoughts about the wisdom of being up a ladder with paint pot and brush in hand. “I envisaged falling 20 feet and told Gary I couldn’t do it.” “Health and safety was not a big issue!” added Gary. Bob added: “It was a passion and a pleasure. Hard work, but we enjoyed it. You would get home and felt that you had done something. I remember cutting the turf with a bread knife – we had no money to do anything else. The knife should be put up somewhere as a memento!” He takes great pride in seeing Mariners hats, scarves and replica shirts around the town. “It used to be Newcastle, Sunderland and Barcelona tops.” In the Peterlee days they would take £10 for their bingo draw. Last Saturday they had £1,000 in prize money. David Fall: “We would buy cans of beer at a local shop and then sell them for £2.50. We used to lock the door so spectators couldn’t get out!” “One of the volunteers, who will remain anonymous, used to get the programmes printed surreptitiously at their work and I would put them together on the kitchen table on a Friday night.” Their best gate was 70 and they were living from hand to mouth. He would take his own money to home games to meet the officials’ expenses because he knew they wouldn’t get enough on the gate. Bob Wray said the low point came when only 12 paying customers turned up for a midweek game against Esh Winning. “I was on the gate and it was soul destroying. We began to think whether we could sustain it. The name of the game was survival.” At times they would wait nervously in the hour before kick off to see if enough players turned up so they could field a team. They also said their manager at the time Jon King deserves a lot of credit for keeping things together on the pitch. Gary said: “He put a tremendous amount of effort in to keep the team in place. We used to hope that everyone would turn up. He used to ask us if we had a team and I’d say: ‘I think so.’” One player would always get substituted at half-time during midweek games because he worked on the night shift.” Being outside the borough, meant it was also difficult to attract sponsors to the club. Like every other non-league club, there were hour after hour of work behind the scenes. Bob added: “My wife said I was never back in time for Sunday lunch.” “It was our good fortune that we found Geoff Thompson. “I’d like to pay tribute to Gary. Without him none of this would have happened – he was the driving force, with his enthusiasm and hard work. We were not prepared to see it go to the wall." Apart from chairman, Gary was also the ballboy – retrieving balls as they disappeared over the walls at their Peterlee “home”, sometimes taking 10-15 minutes looking for it. One year he even gave up his entire annual leave allocation just to work at the club. They all dreamed of better times but never thought they’d end up at Wembley. Bob would trawl the local paper on the lookout for any local companies who might be interested in sponsoring the club, spotted Utilitywise, wrote to the company and that was followed by a meeting between the club and Geoff Thompson at a local coffee shop. He donated a “sizeable” cheque and the rest is history. From the 12 paying spectators against Esh Winning two and a half years ago, skip forward to last Saturday’s FA Vase semi final when a record attendance of 3,464 turned up at Mariners Park. It’s the pace of the change that has taken them all by surprise. Stalwart club secretary Philip Reay had his own stories about football life up and down the A19. “The 40-mile round trip for a home game was a pain in the posterior, particularly if it was a wet or frozen Saturday morning or Tuesday night when you knew the game was going to be off, but you you still had to drive down to meet the referee who would sign the certificate to confirm the game was off. “We were lucky because there were two second division referees who lived nearby and they were always happy to help and they didn’t charge us either, which was a bonus given the position we were in. They knew each other’s shift pattern so if one was at work he would tell us to ring the other. “We were playing on a Champions League night – it was a cold, miserable night – and one of the assistants pulled up lame just before half-time and we were going to have to abandon the game. One of the lads rang one of the referees who was nice and warm watching the Man Utd game and he came straight round and didn’t charge a fee. Mind you, he said we were lucky: If the Man Utd game had been any good he wouldn’t have come out!” On another occasion he had to drive from Peterlee through the Tyne Tunnel to pick up one of their players who was also registered with an Alliance team and drive him back down to the ground so they could put 11 men out on the field. “We knew everybody in the ground so if someone didn’t turn up you hoped they weren’t ill or going to be away from games for long as that would be lost money. Every penny counted down there. “The over-riding thing was the gallows humour and the camaraderie between us. If you didn’t laugh you’d be crying. We would look forward to away games: there were 12 away fixtures that were closer to home than a home game.” And he said the support and offers of help from other Northern League clubs and beyond will be remembered, including the congratulations from people when they made it back to South Tyneside. “Now we’re back, we sit at the ground and look out and it was all worthwhile. We’ve already sold 8,000 tickets for Wembley.” (With thanks to Daniel Prince at South Shields FC for helping to set up the session.) Click on the Photo link below: Back home - Gary, Bob Scott, Bob Wray and David Fall. 22/03/2017 Shildon 1 South Shields 4 – Camerons Brewery Brooks Mileson League Cup semi-final Another game with a bagful of goals and another game with a controversial decision. For the second night running, drama wasn’t in short supply as Shildon relinquished control of the league cup. And for the second match running South Shields marched on to another final. The game was played in pretty wretched conditions, with heavy rain throughout the match and standing water on some parts of the pitch. It wasn’t going to be a night for nimble, swift football. Shildon got just the start they wanted when Micky Rae poached a goal by pouncing on a loose ball and driving it home. It was only five minutes into the game and we only had to wait another seven minutes before a controversial decision had a huge impact on the game. A through ball found Jordan Blinco in the box and he was just about to pull the trigger when Jamie Harwood darted in to clear the danger. Blinco went to ground and the referee awarded a penalty – a cue for Shildon players to confront the referee which ended with a red card for Harwood, most probably for his protest. That in turn generated more protests from his team mates. A tough night for Shildon had just been made even tougher. It was almost an after thought that Carl Finnigan despatched the penalty to level it up. And from there the game developed as you would expect: South Shields controlling the game, dominating possession and moving the ball round the pitch. Shildon were left to rely on occasional breaks and dogged defending. The hosts held out until the 53rd minute when a Darren Lough cross eventually fell to Blinco who scored from eight yards out. As the half developed, Shildon attacks were becoming more sporadic while Shields engaged in a war of attrition, looking to wear their opponents down. It worked. They were relentless, even on a pitch that would probably best be described as “claggy”. Just like in Saturday’s FA Vase semi-final, Shields stepped it up a gear for the last 15 minutes and were rewarded with two goals: Blinco getting his second with a low, hard drive which tucked just inside the far post and then in the 88th minute Finnigan got his second too, converting a Wayne Phillips cross with a header. Understandably, the Shildon defence looked exhausted. Finnigan had a last chance to make it five with a couple of minutes to go but put his chance wide. It was of little surprise that Shildon players had more to say to the referee after the final whistle too. I’m pretty sure they weren’t exchanging addresses for Christmas cards. Meanwhile South Shields march on to the final where they meet their rivals from over the Tyne in a game which will be eagerly anticipated. It should be a cracker. · The speculation about where the final will be held is already in full flow on social media. The two favourite locations are to have it either on the Shields ferry or in the Tyne Tunnel. Both sit nicely in between the two clubs. Both would make for an interesting contest. My money’s on the ferry 21/03/2017 Marske United 3 North Shields 3: North Shields win 7-6 on penalties Camerons Brewery Brooks Mileson League Cup semi-final This was an astonishing “blink and you’ll miss something” game of football. It had just about everything – goals galore, a penalty shoot-out, a red card, controversy, defensive howlers and two teams who produced one of the games of the season. For North Shields it was a Lazarus-like recovery and the third penalty shoot-out they’ve won this season. Marske will be mystified as to how they let this one slip through their fingers, especially after dominating the first 20 minutes. They were clearly prepped and ready to go. They harried the visitors, pressed and closed them down all over the pitch, and attacked with drive and determination. Ashley Coffey was involved in all of their best football and was instrumental in the opener, laying on a wonderful through ball to Danny Earl who got behind the Shields defence and was clipped by Curtis Coppen in the area. Craig Gott confidently took the spot kick to put the hosts ahead. Shields were struggling to get into their passing game and Coppen was their busiest player, which told its own story about how the first half was unfolding. Against the run of play, they were level after the first defensive howler of the match. Andy Ramsbottom tried to pass it back to his keeper but hit it short, Gareth Bainbridge pounced, intercepted it and tucked it past Robert Dean in the Marske goal. Then, with almost an hour to go, Shields were down to 10 men when left back Jordan Summerly was sent off after his second yellow card offence. It was just the start of the drama. Within six minutes of the re-start Marske were ahead again after the second defensive blunder. Coffey and Earl combined again to craft a chance, Kyle Hayes looked as though he’d gathered the ball only to see it slip out of his hands, presenting Earl with a simple tap-in. And then with 20 minutes to go Coffey had a shot blocked, 30 seconds later the ball fell to him in the box, a subtle touch allowed him to turn the defender and he struck a sweet, crisp shot into the bottom right corner. 3-1 and it looked an almost impossible task for North Shields. And then things got interesting. Despite being down to 10 men, Shields kept playing positive, attacking football. Dan Wilson came on for the injured Bainbridge and caused mayhem in the home defence. A free kick was floated into the box by Michael McKeown and a looping header by Wilson floated over the keeper. 3-2. Four minutes later he fired in the equaliser to seal a remarkable comeback. He was causing problems all across the Marske defence and went to ground with strong shouts for a penalty waved away by the referee. Marske looked shell shocked. In between all the mayhem of the second half there was chance after chance at both ends and in the closing minutes both teams could have grabbed a winner. Lee Mason had a left foot effort in the 89th minute and Earl was inches away from connecting with a diving header in added time. After more than 90 minutes of pulsating football, it was the thrill of a penalty shoot-out. It took seven kicks to separate the teams and a save by Hayes to atone for his earlier error. Shields fans ecstatic, Marske fans in despair. Fantastic fun for the neutral. A Thriller-by-the-Sea. 18/03/2017 South Shields 4 Coleshill Town 0 – Buildbase FA Vase semi-final second leg Mission Possible - From Peterlee to Wemberlee (Part II) Mission Accomplished. It’s party time on South Tyneside. South Shields are in the final of the Buildbase FA Vase and at the final whistle you couldn’t move for smiling faces – from chairman Geoff Thompson, to managers Lee Picton and Graham Fenton, to the players and the fans. This was as professional, methodical and workmanlike a performance as you’ll get at this level of football. Julio Arca has been pivotal in helping to get the Mariners bandwagon rolling. Already 2-1 from the first leg, his goal in the 45th minute looked as though it would put the game beyond Coleshill. Gavin Cogdon out-muscled the Coleshill left back and took the ball to the byline. He fizzed the ball across the box and Arca met it with an unstoppable shot into the back of the net. To be honest, apart from one effort, Coleshill never looked like scoring and when Cogdon made it 2-0, the tie was done and dusted. He dummied a shot, committing the keeper into a dive and then knocked it over him. It was a goal of cool poise. It was his last kick of the game; substituted presumably to minimise any recurrence of injury. Apart from a couple of moves, Coleshill were a spent force. They hadn’t given their fans much to sing about (although that didn’t stop the travelling support from serenading the crowd with a great array of songs). In the closing stages of the game South Shields tore the visitors apart. In the last minute of normal time Carl Finnigan made it three. The Coleshill keeper got a hand to it but couldn’t keep his shot out and then in added time David Foley added the fourth. In the end, it was a rout. The bleak days of playing in front of a handful of fans at Peterlee have been banished. It’s been one hell of a transformation. A local travel firm is already selling package deals for the Vase weekend. I wonder how many people will be left in South Shields on May 21. (Footnote – it would appear that Graham Fenton is the first manager to take two teams to the FA Vase final. But as he said at the end of the game: “It only matters if we win it.”) 15/03/2017 Morpeth Town 3 Sunderland RCA 2 – Ebac Northern League Division One This was a crucial win for Morpeth. They’re just about still in with a shout at the title, but will need the top two to start dropping points. They started brightly, were soon into their passing game and the early chances fell to them. Liam Henderson hit the bar with one effort and Denver Morris was just about to have a shot at goal when he was dispossessed by Craig Hubbard. RCA were slow getting into their stride and it was against the run of play when they took the lead. Colin Larkin floated a free kick into the box, the Morpeth defenders lost their men and Stephen Callen stepped up to plant an uncontested header in the back of the net. After even more Morpeth possession and pressure, RCA almost had a second, with a Hubbard shot rattling off the bar. It was the pattern of the match – possession up against attacks on the break. And in the 27th minute, a quick free kick released Larkin who raced goalwards; but instead of lifting it over the keeper he tried to take it round him and the chance was gone. For the second time, the Morpeth defenders had lost concentration. For the last 15 minutes of the half, the chances fell to Morpeth. Ben Sayer struck a pearler, forcing a diving save by Jonathan Carmichael in the Sunderland goal. A 40-yard pass by Keith Graydon set Sean Taylor on his way, he cut inside the defenders but struck his shot wide. With only minutes left he had another chance and went for placement rather than power but couldn’t find the target. Graydon had his own chance, trying to bend it round the defenders and keeper but the effort also went wide. Taylor was the host’s main threat in the first half and won the penalty to draw them level after being fouled as he sprinted past a defender. Graydon despatched it in added time. It had been a bright, entertaining half that the second half didn’t quite live up to. Three goals didn’t quite make up for the fluency of the first. Morris put Morpeth ahead after getting on the end of a chipped pass-cum-shot by Sayer. By 65 minutes they were 3-1 up. Taylor delivered a low, driving cross into the box and Joseph Walton thumped it home. Larkin should have got RCA back in the game when he met a cross with the goal begging. Inexplicably, instead of hitting it first time, he took a second touch and the chance went begging. He gave them some hope with minutes remaining. He was brought down in the box and converted the penalty and in the 90th minute had another chance cleared off the line by Morpeth centre back Chris Reid. The last 10 minutes of the game was RCA’s best spell of the match. They could have dealt a body blow to Morpeth’s title aspirations, but they couldn’t quite peg them back, despite having some excellent chances. It was a hot and cold performance by the Wearsiders. Next month Morpeth play North Shields and South Shields within four days of each other. They’ll probably have to win all of their remaining games to win the league, but they could have a big say in who does end up as champions. 14/03/2017 Ryhope Colliery Welfare 2 Chester-le-Street Town 4 – Ebac Northern League Division One Quite simply, this was a cracking game of football. The pace of most games ebbs and flows, but this one was played at a high tempo for the full 90+ minutes, with both teams determined to attack given half a chance. And one of the goals was one of the best strikes of the season. In the opening five minutes there were chances at both ends and that set the tone for the rest of the match. On 12 minutes Ryhope’s Josh Home-Jackson couldn’t quite connect with a cross at the far post and in the blink of an eye Chester-le-Street were on the attack and Dan McGuire put them ahead with a precise finish. They almost doubled their lead when Richard Paxton misjudged a long kick by Chester keeper Jack Wilson, allowing it to sail over his head. Dominic Laws raced towards the goal and tried to lob Antony Lowerson but the Ryhope keeper came out quickly and managed to jump high enough to push it away. There was more to come from Laws. Ryhope got themselves back in the match with the goal of the game. In the last minute before the break Thomas Bott unleashed a 30-yard screamer into the top right corner, giving Cestrian keeper Jack Wilson absolutely no chance. The move of the game set up Chester-le-Street’s second. Lee Mole and Dan McGuire combined to leave the Ryhope defence standing. McGuire’s pass left Laws with only the keeper to beat and he made it 1-2 with a sharp, precise finish in the 59th minute. A minute later and Laws was on hand again to grab their third. He ran on to a ball over the Ryhope centre backs, took his time and slotted it home. Ryhope came back fighting. In the 67th minute Kyle Davis rose unmarked at a corner to power a header into the net to make it 2-3. It was lax defending, but Davis couldn’t have hit it any better. Bott almost produced another quality goal. He ran 40 yards unchallenged and unleashed another pile driver that Wilson did well to block. Ryhope were piling on the pressure, but Chester-le-Street were just about holding out. In added time, the Cestrians made it four. Mole picked the pocket of the Ryhope defenders, nicking the ball off them and drawing Lowerson off his line before passing it to Laws for his well-earned and well-taken hat-trick. The visitors are scrapping for points and many teams would have kept it tight at the back and try and sneak a win. That wasn’t Chester-le-Street’s gameplan – they regularly attacked with four or five players. It seems that if they do go down, they’ll go down playing positive football. For Ryhope, the game was peppered with chances. David Gordon with a long-distance curler, Danni Lay with a 20-yarder straight at the keeper, James Ellis with a shot that forced Wilson into a save low to his right and Josh Home-Jackson with a good chance to equalise in the 83rd minute, but he couldn’t get enough power in the shot. They just weren’t quite as clinical as the visitors in front of goal. And finally….as the players left the pitch at half-time, Ryhope keeper Antony Lowerson had a simple question for Bott: “Where did that come from?” Bott’s answer was equally simple: “I don’t know.” Wherever it came from, it was the highlight of a quality game. 11/03/2017 Coleshill Town 1 South Shields 2 – Buildbase FA Vase semi-final first leg Mission Possible: Peterlee to Wemberlee (Part 1) The Mariners took a massive step towards Wembley with a hard-fought victory over Midland Football League team Coleshill Town, but they left it late. Their fans, meanwhile, arrived early at Pack Meadow and were clearly in a party mood. Their flags, banners and tops made it feel more like a home game than a tough away fixture. The South Shields boys were indeed making all the noise, led by a group next to the Simonside branch banner behind the goal who were taking great delight in winding up the Coleshill players as they warmed up, in particular their follically-challenged keeper Paul Hathaway, who was greeted with the “Michael van Gerwen” song*. But it was Coleshill – the Colemen - who had the first chance when Josh Quanor fired in a free kick from the edge of the box, forcing a smart save by Shields keeper Liam Connell. South Shields were edging it as far as the early possession was concerned, but their moves were breaking down on the 18-yard line and they couldn’t breach the host’s back line. In the 21st minute they almost broke the deadlock when David Foley curled the ball round a defender for Michael Richardson to run onto, but defender Robert Evans just managed to get a foot on Richardson’s shot to send it out for a corner. For much of the rest of the first half, the two teams cancelled each other out, with not much between them, with Jordan Nadat the Colemen’s most dangerous player. On 34 minutes he got the ball after Wayne Phillips lost concentration and possession and Nadat got a quality shot away which Connell, at full stretch, was only just able to push away with a top save. As the first half drew to a close it was Nadat again who was on hand to put them ahead. The ball ricocheted off Richardson and Connell could only parry it, giving Nadat the chance to knock it in. But it didn’t take Shields long to get back on level terms. Two minutes after the re-start, the ball was bouncing around the Coleshill box and Foley pounced to tuck it in. Two goals in three minutes either side of half-time had brought the game to life. At the other end, Coleshill fullback Andre Gonzales drove down the right and sent over a cross-cum-shot that hit the post and left Connell stumbling on to the post as he fell to save it. It was a close call. Connell was called into action again when a Thomas Weale free kick was hit low and hard and looked to be heading in until the Shields keeper was able to push it away. Then Jesse Race hit the post with a shot that had to be cleared off the line by Richardson as it spun along the goal line. The Colemen had hit a purple patch, with their best play of the game. In the 77th minute Richardson almost made the most with an opportune opportunity. Coleshill’s keeper Hathaway ran out of his box to clear the ball but it fell to Richardson 40 yards out and he tried his luck with a long-range effort into the empty net, only to see it go just wide of the post. South Shields weren’t at their very best, but they kept their poise, kept playing their football and reaped their rewards with a last-minute winner. Darren Lough drilled it into the box and Andrew Stephenson knocked it in to set off some wild celebrations on and off the pitch. They would have probably settled for a draw against a very good team. The goal was the icing on the cake and sets them up nicely for next week’s second leg. Wembley is close; very close. But they’ve still got a lot to do. Mission (partially) Accomplished. To be continued…….. (Footnote one: *For those who don’t follow the delights of the arrows, MvG is a Dutch darts player. Footnote two: we were passed on the M1 by a taxi sporting South Shields scarves on their way to the Midlands. It was either a damn expensive taxi ride, or the taxi driver was taking some time off work and using the company car. If the former, then I’d like to know what the fare was.) 08/03/2017 North Shields 2 Consett 1 – Ebac Northern League Division One This was a feisty encounter – and all the better for it. The opening 10 minutes saw two teams at the top of their game, like two welterweight boxers going for it. Consett looked well motivated against the league leaders. The opening chances were mirror images of each other for both teams: The two number 7s – Daniel Hawkins and Craig McFarlane - were the first to try their luck, both with powerful shots and both saved by Kyle Hayes and Ross Coombe. McFarlane and Michael Sweet then both delivered right wing crosses that caused problems for the defences. Punch and counter punch. North Shields came closest to breaking the deadlock. Michael McKeown deftly delivered the ball into the danger area and only a goal line clearance by Shaun Ryder stopped it going over. Minutes later Hawkins was in prime position at the other end to tuck away a cross, but he seemed to allow the ball to fall on to him rather than attacking it. The header was comfortably saved by Hayes. He knew he should have done better. Punch and counter punch. North Shields stuck their noses in front just before the break. A Gary Ormston header was goal-bound but was only bundled in after a goalmouth scramble. Dean Holmes got a touch on it but replays suggested that it came off Consett fullback Adam Knowles before crossing the line. Four minutes into the second half and Consett were level – thanks to Daniel Hawkins being in the right place at the right to drive it home. And four minutes after that, Michael Sweet had a glorious chance to put them ahead when the ball ricocheted to him, but he hit it straight at Hayes. A deft piece of skill proved to be the winner. Dan Wilson had come on and made an impact on the game with his hold-up play and runs at the defence. His back heel with 15 minutes to go was decisive. It was certainly a shouty match, peppered with fouls and contentious decisions that wound the crowd and benches up. Both made their feelings about the officials clear. It gave the game a bit of spice and edge. There seems to be a bit of an expectation around the league that North Shields are about to slip up. But it didn’t happen last night. It was a massive three points against one of the best teams in the league. Finally, I appeared to be in a minority of three in thinking that referee Mark Ryan had a pretty solid game. He was certainly kept busy for the entire 90+ minutes with bookings and having words with players to calm them down and explain decisions. When given the chance, he tried to play advantage, which didn’t go down well with some spectators. He managed to keep a lid on several situations that could have got out of hand. The only thing he missed – and I accept it was a major incident – was when there was an off the ball confrontation between two players when at least one punch was thrown. The ball had moved away so he would have been unsighted. In keeping with the shouty nature of the game, no doubt people are reading this and shouting at their computer screens wondering if I was at the same game. We’re all entitled to our opinions. 07/03/2017 Jarrow Roofing 4 Washington 0 – Ebac Northern League Division One This was the Michael Mackay show. His first-half performance in particular was terrific. He gave Washington an early warning of what was to come. The game was only three minutes old when he had his first shot at goal, a shot that was well saved by Cameron Mitchell in the visitors’ goal. He followed that up with a couple of penetrating runs down the left and opened the scoring on 11 minutes after good work by Chris Winn down the right when he beat Paul Weldon and struck a low cross across the six-yard box. Mackay timed his run to perfection and he had a simple tap in. Seven minutes later he doubled his and Roofing’s tally, this time with a classy right foot curler from the edge of the box. He bagged his hat-trick just before the break, beating the offside trap and tucking it under Mitchell. With just over quarter of an hour to go before the whistle, Paul Chow had a shot blocked. The ball bounced back to him and he knocked it over the defenders into space. Winn, anticipated the ball, raced between defenders and fired it into the roof of the net. It was the icing on the cake. The game was over by half-time. Washington didn’t help their own cause with their back four playing a high line trying to squeeze space and catch Roofing offiside in the first half. But time and again they were caught square and slow to react to long balls by the hosts. The second half was damage limitation as far as they were concerned and they looked a bit more solid at the back after the break, but by then the damage had been done. Roofing keeper Lewis Brass had a pretty quiet night of it. Washington had a couple of efforts without ever looking as though they were going to score. It’s been a long, hard season for Washington who are languishing at the wrong end of the table, but they might have done just enough to keep their first division status. It was a comprehensive win for Jarrow Roofing who were the better team from front to back. 04/03/2017 Stockton Town 4 Billingham Town 0 – Ebac Northern League Division Two In American sports parlance momentum is dubbed “the big mo”. The big mo decided this game – momentum won and momentum lost. For the first 10 minutes Billingham Town had it and were playing Stockton at their own game – keeping possession and moving the ball round the pitch, with Stockton having to resort to some long-ball clearances. For the next 10 the game developed into a midfield stalemate. Then the first goal proved to be the decisive factor in the tables turning. Stockton centre back and captain Adam Nicholson chested a free kick down, turned the ball round his marker and thumped it home. It was a striker’s finish. On the half-hour mark a Billy Town player shouted: “Come on Billingham, it’s not good enough.” They needed to raise their game, but they never quite recaptured their early promise. Too often they resorted to long or high balls up to Craig Hutchinson and Luke Hogan, who are not exactly the tallest or most physical players in the league. They played their best football when they kept the ball on the ground. They finished the first half with three half chances but didn’t put enough pressure on Stockton keeper Liam Jordan. The second half started at a quicker tempo and Hutchinson was within a whisker of levelling it up. He dropped back, picked the ball up and worked himself a bit of space and curled it past the defenders only to see it scrape the post and out. Nicholson had one header blocked on the line in the 67th minute but he only had to wait three minutes before being given another chance. He was unmarked at a corner and he made no mistake, this time with a confident header. His opposite number Matthew Crossen came close from 30 yards out when his shot swerved at the last second, forcing Liam Jordan to parry it for a corner. It was their last chance. In the 81st and 89th minute Joe Carter and Sonni Coleman doubled Stockton’s lead. Carter lobbed it over Alex Leeds with a header from distance, catching the keeper off his line, while Coleman’s strike was all down to the skill and unselfish play of Arthur Connelly. The tussle between Connelly and right back Gary Redman had been a feature of the game but the winger beat him comprehensively, ran at goal and fired off a shot. It rebounded straight back at him and instead of having another go, he squared it Coleman who had an easy finish. It put the finishing touches to a big win for Stockton against one of their promotion rivals. It was a harsh scoreline for the visitors. Stockton were better and fully deserved the win, but four was a bit flattering. It’s onwards and upwards for them; Billingham Town still have a big part to play in the promotion race. Footnote: For legendary groundhoppers Stan, Harry and Eddie, going into the game it had been 120 games since they last saw a 0-0. Make that 121. 03/03/2017 West Allotment Celtic 1 Ashington 0 – Ebac Northern League Division One It was wet at Whitley Park last night. Very wet indeed. It was a credit to the ground staff, match officials and the players that the game started, let alone finished. Needless to say, the conditions affected the quality of the football. For West Allotment it was a game of one well-taken chance and a lot of hard graft. For Ashington it was a game of missed and wasted chances. The crucial moment came in the 25th minute when Kallum McGlen sent over a measured cross. It evaded the Ashington defenders who misjudged the flight of the ball. But Tony Stephenson judged it perfectly and headed it past Conor Grant in the Colliers’ goal. It came after early Ashington pressure which they couldn’t convert into clear-cut chances apart from a neat one-two involving Ben Harmison and Luke Salmon, but Salmon’s shot was well saved by a running block by Allotment keeper Chris Bannon. The left winger was the visitors’ main threat down the left for much of the first half. Ben Richardson got the second half off to a promising start for Ashington when his 47th minute shot took a deflection and looked goal bound until Bannon managed to tip it on to the bar and over with the best save of the game. Fifteen minutes later Dale Pearson somehow managed to miss from less than a yard out with the goal gaping. He slid in to meet the ball at the far post but his effort hit the post when it seemed easier to score. Another chance went begging when a Ben Christienson cross was met by Ben Harmison but he could only guide his header wide. They made it a hat-trick of chances missed in the 83rd minute when a snapshot by Pearson was well-saved by Bannon. It was three precious points for West Allotment, but it may not be enough come the end of the season. 01/03/2017 Northallerton Town 0 Billingham Town 3 – Ebac Northern League Division Two Patience is a virtue and it certainly paid dividends for Billingham Town last night. They got their push for promotion back on track after an unexpected loss to Ryton and Crawcrook at the weekend. The one thing that wasn’t unexpected was the man who opened the scoring. But the visitors had to wait until the 58th minute before taking the lead. The Northallerton defenders lost concentration and gave Craig Hutchinson a little too much space in the box. They managed to block his first two attempts at goal, but the third one found the back of the net. In the 85th minute Billingham Town’s left back Mark Dixon scored the pick of the crop with a terrific left foot drive that was a goal as soon as he hit it and it gave Michael Thackeray in the Northallerton goal no chance as it swerved past him. With only minutes left, Billingham Town got their third. Matthew Osmond saw his effort parried by Thackeray but it fell to Matty Crossen who struck it low and hard to score off the post. The scoreline was a little unkind to Northallerton who deserved at least a goal for all the effort they put into the game. Striker Nicky Martin in particular worked tirelessly all match long. At times he cut a lone figure up front but he kept plugging away. In the first half especially, they made a real game of it, defending in numbers and closing players down quickly. The fact that it took Billingham Town almost an hour to score was a testament to their resilience. But despite all their hard work, they didn’t have enough to upset Billingham’s promotion run. It’s clear why the Teessiders are in the promotion mix. They’re always trying to attack – going forward rather than passing sideways and backwards – and putting pressure on their opponents. They move the ball patiently and make space for themselves. It also helps having a striker who’s scored almost 40 league goals this season.