NORTHERN FOOTBALL LEAGUE
Founded 1889 - second oldest League in the world
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Wednesday, 24 January 2018
29/04/2017 Northallerton Town 0 Stockton Town 0 (7-6 on penalties) – Ernest Armstrong Memorial Cup Northallerton Town are celebrating another cup triumph. A year on from their victory over Ryhope CW, they repeated the feat against another team heading towards the first division. It took eight spot kicks in a penalty shootout before Michael Thackeray made the crucial save to take the cup back to North Yorkshire. The drama of the penalty decider wasn’t matched by drama during normal time - the 0-0 scoreline at the end of 90 minutes told its own story. Defences had the upper hand and neither side could find that one touch or shot to break the deadlock. Northallerton had the better of the first half, had some good chances in the first 15 minutes and looked as though they had a bit more energy than the division two champions. For their part, Stockton had the better of the second and had a number of chances in the last 10 minutes to win it, but a goal eluded them. The boisterous Northallerton fans joined their players on the pitch after the deciding penalty for a joint celebration. There’ll probably be some sore heads in the town this morning. · A Northallerton fan also won the award for the most outrageous suit of the season. It was everyone else who needed the sunglasses, not him. 27/04/2017 The father of Newton Aycliffe press officer Bob Wood passed away recently. Bob Wood Snr was a stalwart of non-league football. Here’s Bob’s obituary to his father: Bob Wood 1942 to 2017 During his 49 year association with Newton Aycliffe Football Club my Dad filled just about every role the club has: player, captain, manager, kitman, groundsman, secretary, treasurer, chairman, president and finally vice-president. Often these positions were his by default, no-one else would do it. In doing this he was merely following in the footsteps of his Dad, also called Bob (you can see a pattern can’t you). My grandfather, a shopkeeper, was involved with Spennymoor Wednesday FC in those days before Sunday football when leagues were organised around half day closing. In his early years Dad played for teams such as East Howle and Tallents before moving to Aycliffe. He managed to go through a career without being booked. Despite this my sister and I are often greeted by ex-footballers who tell us they were “kicked by your Dad”. I know it was a different age but Dad always maintained that after committing a foul he didn’t swear, said “sorry ref” and retreated 10 yards. He always insisted that the closest he came to a booking was when a local Football League referee he knew well was walking passed the pitch he was playing on & shouted to the match referee to “watch that one!” Our whole family has been overwhelmed by messages of condolence from Dad’s many friends in the game. He never got the modern obsession with social media but would have been touched that less than two hours after his death messages were being posted on Facebook. Yvonne & I attended the Bishop match, for once just as spectators, standing at the rail where Dad liked to watch the game. The minute’s silence was a very emotional time for us and it was nice to talk to several of his friends. The players were also magnificent. Although being a Spennymoor lad he would have demanded a win against Bishop! Dad spent 15 years as secretary of our parent club, Newton Aycliffe Sports Club. He worked hard to ensure that sport flourished in our town. When he was running the football club virtually on his own he could never have dreamed that Allan, Stevie and others would turn it into a Northern League Division One outfit. They have done him proud building a Club competing in the North East’s highest level of football. We all need to work hard to continue that legacy but the best way we could honour the memory of Bob Wood would be by getting more volunteers to help run the Club. In his final hours Dad asked the doctor about his sporting interests. We established that the doctor had none. Dad’s observation was: “I can’t imagine a life without sport” To me, that just about summed him up. Bob Wood Jnr 26/04/2017 North Shields 2 Blyth Spartans 3 – Northumberland FA Techflow Senior Cup There was no repeat of last year’s heroic victory for North Shields over the Spartans. A year on, it was a very different game for the Robins. This time round, Blyth weren’t caught napping and weren’t complacent about their Northern League opponents. The scoreline makes it look a close game, but in reality Blyth Spartans were always in control and never really looked under serious threat of losing. The game was only one minute old when Blyth had their first chance. Shields keeper Kyle Hayes had to make a couple of saves in the first 10 minutes and as the first half progressed, Spartans exerted a greater control of the game and North Shields retreated into their own half. Spartans were simply better: quicker, stronger and playing the better football. Luke Armstrong got a brace for the Spartans and Ryan Hutchinson sealed the win with only a couple of minutes to go. North Shields only really got going as an attacking force when Dan Wilson came on as a substitute and started to work the Spartans defence. Goals from Dean Holmes and Gareth Bainbridge gave Shields a glimmer of hope in the closing minutes of the game, but Blyth always looked as though they had another couple of gears in their game. North Shields’ season is in danger of fizzling out. It all looked a bit flat. They’ll need to up their game for the league cup final on May 6. 25/04/2017 BACK TO THE BREWERY (FIELD). By Pete Sixsmith After Saturday’s efficient victory over Barwell, the stakes were upped at Spennymoor Town’s Brewery Field as the league season metamorphosed into a knock out competition with the arrival of the play offs. This time their opponents were Nantwich Town – The Dabbers- an ambitious club with an excellent stadium and a wealthy catchment area. They had enjoyed an excellent run in February and March but had stalled a wee bit in April and arrived on a cold and unpleasant evening with two defeats and a goalless draw in their final three games of the regular season. A good crowd had assembled for this one. There were a number of people who usually watch Northern League football, some who rarely dip into the sub strata of pyramid leagues and even two friends of my vintage from Ferryhill who acknowledged that, although it was difficult for them to want Spennymoor to do well, they would suspend those thoughts for tonight and (hopefully) Saturday. As weather goes it was more January than April and it was clear that the majority of the crowd had been in the winter clothes cupboard as parkas, waterproofs and anything Gore-Texed were dragged out. All save the boy who had come straight from school and who was dressed in his regulation uniform and who must have gone home suffering from exposure, frostbite and a serious dose of chilblains. He should be good for a couple of days off. The game was a winner takes all with a game against Stourbridge the prize. If Moors won, they would be back at the Brewery Field on Saturday but the Dabbers would have to visit The Memorial Ground, where they had lost 4-2 on Saturday. Any Glassboys representatives would be urging Nantwich to an unexpected success. The game was cagey in the first half. Spennymoor kicked down the bank where the vast majority of the crowd were sheltering from the heavy rain and sleet showers that bombarded South Durham. It was mostly long ball stuff and Nantwich looked the more composed of the two sides. Neither goalkeeper was troubled in the opening period although Moors had missed a couple of chances and the second half was beginning to look like a prelude to extra time and penalty kicks. It is often said by those wiser than me, that kicking up the considerable Spenny Slope is more conducive to good football and so it proved. As the half went on, Nantwich tired, their concentration levels dropped and the home teams incessant probing began to pay off. The visiting keeper made an excellent save from Jamie Chandler but was left helpless a few minutes later when Callum Griffiths, an outstanding player all season, drilled home a free kick from 25 yards to send the crowd into raptures. When the industrious Andrew Johnson doubled the lead with ten minutes left, the game was up for the Cheshire team and the only grins were on the faces of the County Durham boys. There was still time for a mini blizzard but when the final whistle was blown (as it had been persistently throughout the game by the referee), there could be no hard luck stories and Spennymoor went on to what is possibly the biggest game in their history, as either Town or United, on Saturday. Season ticket duties/miseries (delete as applicable) at The Stadium of Light preclude me from being there, but I shall be hoping that Moors are able to join former Northern League clubs Darlington and Blyth Spartans in National League (North) come August. Newton Aycliffe 3 Morpeth Town 1 – Ebac Northern Division One There was clearly a breakdown in communication last night. This was meant to be a meaningless end-of-season game with nothing for either team to play for. They could have fooled me; the players clearly didn’t get the message. The game had a bit of everything (and a lot of pretty dreadful weather too). Goals? Check. Robust tackling? Check. A red card? Check. Effort and commitment? Check. Good defending? Check. Excellent goalkeeping? Check. (Sunshine, rain, hailstones, freezing temperatures, high winds and a rainbow? Check.) Ten minutes in and Newton Aycliffe took a surprise lead. Mattie Pennal chased the ball to the byline and pulled it back for Jamie Owens who had a simple finish to make it 1-0. Morpeth should have been straight back on level terms. They were awarded a penalty in the 12th minute and Keith Graydon stepped up to take the spot kick only for James Winter to save it, diving down to his left. It was the first of several top saves by the Aycliffe keeper who put in a man-of-the-match performance. He was helped in no small measure by some spirited defending by his team mates. Aycliffe doubled their lead when Pennal set up another goal by racing to the byline and knocking it back for a team mate to run on to and score – this time setting up Ben Trotter. Owens got his second in the 64th minute when he beat the Morpeth defenders to a corner and flicked it home. 3-0 was harsh on Morpeth. The visitors just couldn’t convert any of the chances they had created and they looked as though they were on their way to drawing a rare blank in front of goal. They managed to score (and set a new league record – see below) in the 67th minute when a looping Ben Sayer cross-cum-shot curled over Winter and was heading into the net when Liam Henderson helped it over the line. Trotter got his marching orders for a lunging tackle on Henderson and the last chance fell to Owens to seal his hat-trick but after turning the defender, he couldn’t quite squeeze the ball between keeper and post from a tight angle. The players could have just turned up and gone through the motions. They’re a credit to their clubs and the league. Finally, I’m not one for statistics, but a couple are worth a mention. Morpeth have played 54 games this season and only failed to score in four of them (hat-tip manager Nick Gray for that one). And the club were looking for one goal to beat the highest number of goals scored in a 42-game season. They got it, but only just. 24/04/2017 A BREWERY VISIT Pete Sixsmith embarks on a brewery visit I like breweries. I like the smell of them, I like the architecture and I like what they make – probably a bit too much over the years. There are no major breweries in South Durham any more, but in the early 20th Century, many towns had one. Spennymoor’s was just off Durham Road, became a car body shop for many years with its distinctive neon lights on the chimney and is now the site of a pleasant sheltered housing scheme. The field next to it (The Brewery Field) was gifted to Spennymoor United and they played there for many years until the demise of the club in the early years of the last decade. Reformed as Spennymoor Town, they came back with a bang, won the League 5 times, the Vase once and are now sitting pretty in second place in the Northern Premier League Premier Division, behind Champions Blyth Spartans and ahead of another former NL side in Whitby Town. They needed a draw from the last game of the regular season to clinch second place and home advantage for the first of the two play-off games that they have to win in order to join Darlington, Stockport County and possibly York City in the National League (North). Opponents Barwell (the second highest ranked club in Leicestershire), were settled in mid table, a solid position for a club who were playing Whitley Bay and Marske United in FA Vase ties no more than a few years ago. So it was to here and not Darlington Road, West Auckland that I sought my Saturday afternoon fix. I had already partaken of one game at Hetton where Sunderland Under 23s had beaten their Arsenal counterparts by the odd goal in three to cement their place in the top league for next season. Three of the grauates of the Sunderland Academy were involved for The Moors; Jamie Chandler started, while David Dowson and Adam Mitchell were on the bench. Barwell made it clear that they were not going to roll over and the first half was a tense and rather dull affair. One time Dunston man Graeme Armstrong missed a bit of a sitter and then had a fine header saved by the Barwell keeper, but 0-0 at half time led to nervy cups of tea being drunk around the ground. News from Workington and Stourbridge was digested with the pies, Sunderland supporters revelled in Middlesbrough’s discomfort and Newcastle fans applauded the efforts of Nottingham Forest and Fulham. Within eleven minutes of the restart, the game was over. Armstrong made amends for his earlier miss with a looping header into the top corner and then Chandler finished off the move of the game to put the game beyond the reach of the visiting Canaries. Other chances were spurned, Barwell ran out of steam and didn’t appear to relish a 4 hour journey home and Spennymoor looked to save their legs for Nantwich Town on Tuesday night. I like this league. There are some good clubs in it and the race for the play-offs has been interesting and exciting. Spennymoor have built well and went into Northern Premier League football after securing their club in our league and look to be a well-financed, well-structured and well run club. Gates have been solid and they are an example to any of the bigger town clubs in our league of what can be done if it is done properly. South Shields could well be following them sooner rather than later. It may not be Northern League but it’s a decent alternative. Just a shame that the aroma of malt, barley and hops didn’t waft across the ground……. 22/04/2017 Stockton – the league’s over-achievers As South Shields and Stockton Town are presented with the trophies for winning the first and second divisions, Secret Hopper talks to Stockton Town chairman Martin Hillerby about a season where they’ve exceeded everyone’s expectations, including their own. For several seasons they’d been the strongest team in the Wearside League, but the move up into the Northern League was a bit of a leap into the unknown. “We hadn’t done any specific homework as such. We had played games against Northern League teams over a couple of years in pre-season as well as the Durham Challenge Cup and we thought we could compete. “With all respect to the Wearside League, there had been times when some or our games over recent years had not been that tough. What we didn’t know was how the squad would react to 40-50 tough games. “We didn’t really believe we could win the title. We knew we were a solid team and thought we might be able to finish around 8th to 6th and if we over achieved we may be able to challenge 3rd or 4th.” They won the title playing quality football. “Our pitch lends itself to getting the ball down and playing. People wondered if we could do it away from home but we proved that if we had to battle, then that’s in our game as well.” Martin cites two stand-out games during the season. “When we went to Whitley Bay in the FA Vase and beat them. To go there – to a Step 5 club, Vase winners with big support and a great ground and put in a performance - that will stay in the memory. “Also when we clinched promotion against Alnwick at home and scored some great goals would be another.” Their toughest opponents were Team Northumbria and Billingham Synthonia as well as a surprise third team: Ryton and Crawcrook. “They’re the only team we haven’t managed to beat this year and that says it all about the Northern League.” They’ve already started planning for next season, both on and off the field. They’re recruiting more people to help on matchdays and expanding their catering and commercial operations. On the playing side it will be evolution rather than revolution, when it comes to strengthening the squad. “Next season will be the same ethos, seeing how the players react to a higher level of competition every week. We want to make sure that we are not in a relegation battle and I’d be delighted if we could finish mid-table. Anything around 10th to 8th would be a major achievement.” It’ll be fascinating to see how they fare. 20/04/2017 SHILDON v MARSKE UNITED Pete Sixsmith reports on the latest context between these two old sparring partners: Dean Street on a pleasant spring evening is a fine place to be. It’s the last home game of the season and a chance to catch up with old friends and wish them well until it all starts again in July. One of my oldest friends from school in Bishop Auckland was up from Essex visiting his mother so he popped along. Despite living in the South East for 40+ years, he has retained his South Durham accent and South Durham memories. He occasionally drives Dagenham and Redbridge supporters to away games so he was interested to compare National League levels with Step 5. He left impressed as both teams did enough in the second half to put on a show for the crowd and Essex Man. He also thought that the behaviour and language on the pitch was exemplary compared with what he sees and hears in the Isthmian and Southern Leagues. The game took a while to warm up. Adam Burnicle thought he had put the Railwaymen on the way to the points when he latched on to a pass from a free kick and beat Marske keeper Robbie Deans. The Marske players scratched their heads and approached the referee claiming that the free kick should have gone to them. The Shildon players looked sheepish as they filed back to the half way line for what they hoped was a Marske kick off. The man in the middle consulted the man on the touchline and reversed his decision, correctly giving the Seasiders the free kick which they were deprived off. There was little serious grumbling from the Shildon players , a bit more from the crowd down the side and a relief that Keith Stroud was not refereeing this one. After that, Marske took control and proceeded to miss a number of chances. Nick Liversedge in the Shildon goal made a couple of good stops and Daniel Earle missed the target a couple of times but the main event took place on the edge of the centre circle as Andrew Ramsbottom landed awkwardly and dislocated his knee. The pain was genuine, the applause from the crowd as he departed on a stretcher was warm and Marske lost a good player. It was goalless at half time. Shildon got back on the rails in the second half and dominated, with Boro-bound Lewis Wing dictating the game. He opened the scoring in the 65th minute with a sensational shot from 20 yards which dipped and curled away from the excellent Dean and then, three minutes later, his exquisite pass put Adam Burnicle in and the former West Auckland man wrapped the game up. Marske, prompted by the impressive Glen Butterworth, strove to get back into the game, but Wing’s parting gift to the Shildon faithful was to go on a mazy run into the box and pull the ball back, where the unfortunate Matthew Bell turned it past his own keeper. He left the field a few minutes later to a stirring round of applause, three choruses of “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow” and a mass throwing into the air of hats and flat caps. All at Dean Street wish him well. He has been a bright star in a solid season for the Railwaymen. They go to West Auckland on Saturday, with the home team needing a win to ensure that Gary Forrest and Stuart Niven are not bossing a Second Division side in August. Forrest has diplomatically arranged a family event for this weekend but it would be a hard-hearted Shildon supporter who wished him anything else but the best as he undertakes his new venture. 19/04/2017 Ryton and Crawcrook Albion 4 Thornaby 0 – Ebac Northern League Division Two Expectations weren’t great for this game – Ryton trying to stave off potential relegation and Thornaby with nothing to play for – but in the end it was a pretty entertaining match, albeit somewhat one-sided. It was clear from the off which team needed the points more. The better players and the better football were on the Ryton side of the ball. Their strikers Rhys Harbottle and Sam Moore caused problems for the Thornaby defence for much of the game, while Phil Hodges and Liam Anderson were a cut above their opponents. Moore put them 1-0 up after 10 minutes when he stuck a foot out to poke the ball into the net amid a gaggle of players. Harbottle doubled their lead in the 23rd minute when he ran with the ball for 30 yards, turned a couple of defenders and struck it inside Liam Gibbs’ far post. With only a minute to go before the break, the Thornaby defence stood and watched as the ball came into their six-yard box. Moore was the first to react. He turned and flicked it in. Apart from a long-range looping effort by Thornaby right back Nico Weatherfield that sailed just wide, the visitors hadn’t crafted any chances to speak of in the first 45 minutes. Even with some substitutions at half-time, things didn’t change too much for them in the second half either. They came close to getting one goal back when Karl Charlton turned quickly in the box and got his shot away, forcing a good save out of Anthony Patterson. The best bit of skill was saved to the end. Hodges stepped up to take a free kick on the edge of the Thornaby box after Harbottle was tripped. He couldn’t have hit it much more sweetly. He curled it over the defensive wall only to see it rebound off the post and bar. A few inches lower and he’d have deservedly found the back of the net. Fortunately for Ryton it bounced kindly for Liam Barker who had the simplest of headers to score. Three points were safe and the win moved them off the bottom of the table. · Secret Hopper might be back in the good books of Ryton secretary Stevie Carter. Having seen them five times previously this season, I’d yet to see them win, and two of the defeats were by 5-0. This emphatic win broke the Jonah jinx. 18/04/2017 West Auckland 0 Jarrow Roofing 2 – Ebac Northern League Division One It was a strangely lacklustre performance by West Auckland, considering they were potentially facing relegation. They were given a golden opportunity to take the lead in the 7th minute. The referee awarded a penalty for a foul in the area only for Roofing keeper Andrew Hunter to guess right, dive right and save Craig Ruddy’s spot kick. They were then second best for much of the rest of the game. Their best efforts were provided by centre backs Thomas Marron and Ibrahim Hassan. They only raised their game for any sustained period with 15 minutes to go. Michael Mackay got a brace for the visitors – the first planting a header into the back of the net after an inch perfect cross by Paul Chow. With seven minutes to go he found himself in bags of space on the edge of the box, he wrong-footed a defender before scoring his second. He could have had a hat-trick but misjudged a cross by Christopher Winn with the goal gaping. The combination of Mackay and Winn up front for Roofing was one of the few highlights of a disappointing game. Finally, they clearly do things a bit differently at Roofing. When keeper Andrew Hunter suffered an injury and had to be substituted, rather than put their goalkeeping coach Andy Hudson in goal, they decided to put striker Paul Chow between the sticks and Hudson up front. Most teams would have done it the other way round. It’s the second time that spectators have been treated to a cameo appearance by Roofing’s vice chairman and social media guru. Andy made the headlines in a pre-season game when he had to stop Tweeting and come on as a substitute goalkeeper. This time he played outside right in a front three for his Northern League debut. · Congratulations to South Shields on deservedly being crowned Division One champions. It’s been as astonishing season for the Mariners – it’s the first of potentially four pieces of silverware they could win. 17/04/2017 Guisborough Town 1 Marske United 3 – Ebac Northern League Division One A potentially season-saving run of five consecutive wins came crashing down for Guisborough. And yet. They saw two chances career off the bar and a confident penalty shout turned down. They could have got at least a draw out of this game even though, over 90 minutes, Marske probably deserved all three points. Guisborough started well. Two minutes in and Louis Goldsack saw a 20-yarder clawed away by Marske keeper Robert Dean. That was soon followed by Steven Roberts latching on to a through ball but he couldn’t quite squeeze it between keeper and post. Roberts was one of Guisborough’s liveliest players and he had a second chance only to hit it straight at Dean. Going forward they looked strong but at the back they seemed a bit hesitant and nervous. Marske began to find their stride 20 minutes into the game when Glen Butterworth and Craig Gott started to run the midfield. Butterworth set up Daniel Earl for their best chance only for the no 9 see his first time shot nudged away by Guisborough keeper James Dawson. Seconds later they took the lead when Adam Wheatley scored from a corner. Curtis Round had another chance cleared off the line by Matthew Lovatt and James Dawson kept them in the game with the best save of the game to deny Ashley Coffey in added time. Guisborough’s best chances came in the second half: a Lee Blythway header deflected on to the bar in the 56th minute and another effort rattled the bar in the 86th minute. In between, the referee turned down penalty appeals in the 66th minute when Connor Smith went down after heavy contact from a Marske defender. Two late goals put clear blue water between the teams. In the 88th minute Earl set up Round who thumped in their second and then in added time Round crossed for Coffey whose shot made it three. With the last move of the game – five minutes into added time- Lovatt looped a header over the Marske defence and Dean to score. They didn’t even have time to celebrate before the referee blew for full time. Marske have had a solid season – with the highlight reaching the league cup semi-final – but no doubt they’ll be looking to kick on next season. Guisborough are no longer in charge of their own first division destiny. 15/04/2017 In the first blog posting from yesterday’s games, Jordan Cronin reports from Mariners Park: South Shields 1 Morpeth Town 1 – Ebac Northern League Division One It may feel somewhat bitter-sweet to Morpeth Town that they delayed South Shields’ Northern League Division One title celebrations, made even better by a last minute equaliser from Mark Davidson. South Shields looked well on course to lift the trophy in their last home game of the season when Carl Finnigan fired the Mariners into the lead after just three minutes. There was some hype around this game given the event that happened in the FA Vase tie, though the game never really lived up that in the first half with chances and full-blooded challenges at a minimum. Morpeth's Stephen Forster and South Shields’ Anthony Callaghan did find themselves in the referee’s book for late challenges, but it was a trend that didn't continue in the first period. If anyone was going to add an unlikely second it would have been the hosts. Forster bailed out Karl Dryden when Gavin Cogdon beat the Morpeth keeper to the ball as Forster blocked on the goal line in the 26th minute. Wayne Phillips then hit the side netting on 36 minutes. Morpeth's only real sniff came in the last minute of the half when Sean Taylor connected with a free header but it failed to test Liam Connell. The second-half was much more entertaining - sprung into life when Cogdon flashed a shot just wide of Karl Dryden seconds after the restart. Keith Graydon aimed a free-kick just wide on 65 minutes before minutes later Connell brilliantly tipped over Liam Henderson’s looping header. Challenges did start to become a bit more heated in the final half hour with Julio Arca, Finnigan and Cogdon all having their fair share of hits. But in the final ten minutes, the game was all about two of the top sides in the division competing against each other. Cogdon again squandered a chance with Dryden off his line as well as substitute Michael Richardson producing a similar miss. But just as the South Shields bench were on their feet ready to participate in their league title celebrations, substitute Davidson dramatically headed in a Sean Taylor corner. In the second posting from yesterday’s games, Secret Hopper reports on another bitter-sweet day, this time at Central Avenue: Billingham Synthonia 2 Willington Town 0 – Ebac Northern League Division Two The win secures promotion for the Synners and it came at an emotional send-off for the club from their ground at Central Avenue before they move across the A19 to Norton for the next couple of years. They secured third spot in what had developed into a fascinating promotion race in the second division. There wasn’t much to choose between the two teams in the first half, both with chances but neither able to find the back of the net. The Synners upped their game in the second half and deservedly sealed the win with a couple of goals that confirmed their promotion. In the 55th minute captain Chay Liddle got the vital breakthrough. His first touch controlled a long pass and his shot found the gap between Willington keeper Stephen Robinson and the post from a tight angle. The best bit of skill and quality of the game effectively decided their last match at the ground. In the 71st minute Robinson managed to stop one shot but he couldn’t hang on to the ball and it fell to Nathan Steel who had a simple tap-in. It gave the Synners the breathing space they needed and they spent the last 20 minutes in the comfort zone. Willington ran out of steam and ideas. Their best player Ryan Cummings was substituted with an injury and good chances were few and far between for the visitors. They ended up as the supporting cast on the day’s stage. The final whistle was greeted with celebrations by players and backroom staff alike. Goodbye Central Avenue and the Synners’ famous stand, hello first division. And finally, · It was a landmark day for Synners secretary Graham Craggs and the rest of the backroom team at the club. “As I got to the club at 9.30, it was a bit emotional. I’ve been involved in the club for 34 years – 29 years as secretary. I reckon I’ve signed more than 1,000 players.” · In the programme notes chairman David Hillerby revealed that their gas and electricity bill comes to Ł1,400 a month. “The boiler is 50 years old and if we turn it off then we won’t be able to switch it back on again.” · Former players, managers and members of the committee were among the crowd for the send-off. And finally from yesterday, Mark Carruthers, editor of nonleaguedaily.com was at Team Northumbria to see Stockton Town clinch the second division title: Team Northumbria 1 Stockton Town 2 – Ebac Northern League Division Two "That sums it all up" - the words of Martin Tyler just seconds after Arsenal legend Tony Adams raced through on to a Steve Bould chip and volleyed home the goal that sealed the 1997/98 Premier League title for the Gunners. And those words sprung into my head as Stockton Town captain Adam Nicholson scored the goal against Team Northumbria that gave his side the Ebac Northern League Division Two title. His looping header may not have been as pleasing on the eye or provide as strong a narrative as the Adams/Bould combination almost twenty years ago but it does put a fitting end on a tremendous first season as a Northern League club for Michael Dunwell's side. And what better way to seal a league title than with a late club, by your captain, at the home of the club that you have been battling with for the league title. Both Stockton Town and Team Northumbria sealed promotion into the Northern League's top flight last weekend, so their meeting at Coach Lane was solely about silverware....or inflatable-ware as it happened. The two sides have been the most consistent in Division Two and will be worthy participants in next season's top tier. Stockton, in particular, look well-prepared to do battle with the best that the Northern League can offer. Strength, pace, power, organisation and a genuine team spirit. Their players seem to relish going into battle alongside each other. They took the lead at Coach Lane with a disputed goal as Max Craggs' low drive seemed to be cleared off the line by Liam McNamara. The referee hesitated, looking to his assistant for guidance and when it came, it came with confirmation that the ball had indeed crossed the line. It was still being disputed long after the full time whistle. They took that lead into the interval, but half time seemed to come at the right time for Team Northumbria. They came out looking refreshed and more prepared to take on their opponents. An equaliser came as Gerard Richardson's inch-perfect pass released substitute Andrei Ardelean into the area and he made no mistake, sliding the ball past Michael Arthur and into the far corner of the net. A winner was to arrive and deservedly it fell to the visitors. A long punt of a free kick into the Team Northumbria area was met by Adam Nicholson. He could only head it up into the air but he met it with a second header that looped over Steven Mundy and into the net. Everyone connected with Stockton Town erupted, this title mattered. The full time whistle went and the Town players were joined on the pitch by players from the younger age groups within the club. An inflatable trophy was handed to Nicholson. No, not a cost-cutting measure by the Northern League, just a something to wave about. The real silverware will be awarded at Heaton Stannington next Saturday. Then the work begins for both Stockton Town and Team Northumbria, as they look to ready themselves for a big step-up. For now, enjoy the achievement of promotion, look back on a season of hard work. Relive the special moments created, the drama, the progress. Because both clubs have surpassed even their own expectations this season. "That sums it all up." 14/04/2017 West Allotment Celtic 1 Whitley Bay 3 – Ebac Northern League Division One Whitley Bay won this one at a gentle canter. Even though neither team has anything to play for, it was Whitley Bay who dominated the game, never having to get into top gear. A two-goal difference at the end of the game doesn’t fully show the gap between the two teams. It was 25 minutes before West Allotment got the ball into the Bay box – and even then it was direct from a free kick 35 yards out. Their first shot came three minutes after that and it didn’t really trouble keeper Thomas Flynn. By then they were already a goal down thanks to a Thibault Charmey shot that got a deflection before beating Chris Bannon in the Celtic goal. Alex Kempster doubled their lead in the 33rd minute. The striker had already created their first two chances in the opening minutes of the game with good crosses. Tom Potter had also rattled the bar with a 25-yard shot. West Allotment’s general play left a lot to be desired and passes were easily intercepted – they weren’t so much telegraphed as sent by carrier pigeon. They used all their substitutions at half-time and their fortunes did improve in the second period, making it more of a contest. They pulled a goal back with just over quarter of an hour before the end when a cross by Chris Douglas wasn’t cleared by Whitley Bay and Craig Hindmarch struck home. Any hopes of salvaging a draw were dashed when Kempster turned provider with a cross which Callum Patton despatched with a header. Whitley Bay’s season didn’t get off to the best of starts, but they’re finishing strongly. This was their 10th game unbeaten. For West Allotment Celtic, as their future hangs in the balance, it’s hoped that they are more successful in their survival fight than they were on the pitch yesterday. Footnote: The game also had a top moment of skill. Facing his own goal, the ball came high over the shoulder of Whitley Bay no 5 Callum Anderson who was under pressure from a West Allotment striker. One deft touch got the ball under instant control, allowing him to clear it. It was a simple bit of skill, but I appreciated it. 12/04/2017 North Shields 1 Morpeth Town 2 – Ebac Northern League Division One This was a game with a strange dynamic to it. North Shields were coming off a mentally bruising defeat to South Shields on Saturday, while Morpeth had played only 48 hours earlier. For the first half especially, one team was looking mentally tired and the other physically tired. It was all a bit flat. North Shields spent much of the half camped in Morpeth’s half without threatening to score on too many occasions – the best a curling effort by Curtis Coppen which beat Karl Dryden in the Morpeth goal, hit the post and came back out. The most interesting part of the first 45 minutes were the battles between Shields striker Dan Wilson and Morpeth defenders Michael Hall and Chris Reid, along with Sean Taylor up against Shields right back Jack Donnison. The visitors took the lead against the run of play in a smash and grab raid just as time was running out in the first half. Joe Walton latched on to a through ball, rounded Robins keeper Kyle Hayes and struck it home into an empty net. Walton bagged his second after the break when he was left unmarked on the edge of the box. He had time to hit his shot with power and precision. Soon afterwards, Reid was only inches away from connecting with a Liam Henderson cross. As the game went on, the Morpeth players managed to shake any tiredness out of their system and pick up the tempo of their game. Just like Saturday, North Shields’ best spell was in the last 15 minutes when they managed to inject a bit of urgency into their play, helped with a couple of substitutions. Adam Forster had a header cleared off the line and then a Michael McKeown free kick was only partially cleared. It fell to Bobby Taylor just outside the box and he produced a wonderful finish to send it over the Morpeth defence and Dryden into the top left corner. It was the goal of the game and a contender for goal of the month. Both teams had more chances to add to the scoreline: A Mark Davison effort was only kept out by Hayes with an acrobatic save at full stretch, and Ryan Carr had a shot blocked at the other end, but it ended 1-2. North Shields’ title chase has hit a wall – one point out of the last 12. Morpeth go to South Shields on Saturday as they look to give themselves a chance – albeit a slim one – of winning the title. 11/04/2017 Dunston UTS 0 Washington 2 – Ebac Northern League Division One This could be a priceless three points for Washington. For much of the game they struggled, but one substitution changed their fortunes and the course of the game. Gary Shaw came on and almost immediately Washington started to play better football. He gave them another option up front, caused the Dunston defenders more problems, provided more pace and created more space. He got the crucial opening goal too. Robbie Williamson made a positive, strong run down the left and pulled it back for Shaw who was waiting at the edge of the box. His shot managed to find its way through a couple of defenders, past Dunston keeper Jack Norton and into the net. Minutes later a Shaw pass released Williamson, but his cross was just behind Washington strikers as they ran into the box. Fortune smiled on Washington for the second. The referee gave a penalty when there was contact between Dunston right back Luke Gilhespy and Washington number 9 Christopher Laws. It looked more incidental contact than a deliberate foul. Jack Pickard converted the spot kick. Laws was substituted straight after the penalty and even a Washington fan thought that they’d been lucky. He told Laws: “That was never a penalty.” Laws didn’t disagree. His smile told how lucky they’d been, but fortunately it didn’t decide the game. After suffering a 10-1 loss against RCA, they’ve won two on the bounce and made sure that it’s still a three-way relegation fight. Until the Shaw substitution, Dunston had looked the better team and more likely to score. The first half wasn’t the prettiest game. Even though it was Washington who needed the points more, it was Dunston who came out in the second half and played with a bit more drive and creativity. They had two chances in the opening minutes, thanks to Warren Byrne and Liam Thear, who was the best player on the pitch. They might well be scratching their heads as to how they lost this game 2-0. A win would have given them the chance of a top half finish to the season. 10/04/2017 Morpeth Town 5 Ashington 1 – Ebac Northern League Division One Not too much analysis is needed for this match: Morpeth were excellent and Ashington were poor. A first half thumping could have turned into an avalanche for the Highwaymen. Five minutes: Crash. Mark Davison gets the scoring underway with an easy, uncontested header from a corner. Eight minutes: Bang. Chris Reid makes it 2-0 from yet another Ben Sayer corner, and yet again the Morpeth player wasn’t challenged. Twelve minutes: Wallop. Liam Henderson makes it 3-0. Ben Sayer has acres of space to run at the Ashington back four, lays the ball into the path of Henderson who rounds the keeper and finishes from an acute angle. The game was over and everyone knew it. It wasn’t bad defending by the Colliers for the first two goals, the defending was simply non-existent. Most of the team were chasing shadows for much of the first half. Lee McAndrew was a rare bright spot for the visitors, making two good runs and posing the only real threat for Ashington. Things went from bad to worse. Centre back Ryan Bell pushed Henderson over in the box, giving the referee one of the easiest decisions of the season. Keith Graydon tucked it away to make it 4-0. Ashington managed to get a goal back in the 36th minute when a shot was only partially blocked. It fell to Ryan McGorrigan who smashed it into the back of the net. Morpeth’s football – strong running and powerful, positive passes – were more than Ashington could cope with for the first 45 minutes. In the second half Ashington steadied the ship and restored a bit of pride, partly through their own efforts and partly because Morpeth took their foot off the gas. The Colliers showed a bit more vim (apparently not the scouring powder of choice at Sixsmith Towers) and made more of a game of it. Their defence looked more organised and they attacked with a bit more heart and purpose. Paul Anthony had a 25-yard free kick well saved by Morpeth keeper Karl Dryden and they had another couple of chances – more than they’d offered in the first half. Morpeth put the nail in the coffin in the 86th minute when Stephen Anderson made a strong run down the left, Davison beat the Ashington keeper Conor Grant to the cross and knocked it in. South Shields may be firm favourites for the title, but Morpeth haven’t given up just yet. 08/04/2017 North Shields 0 South Shields 1 – Ebac Northern League Division One Game, set, but not yet match to South Shields. It wasn’t the most accomplished win for the Mariners, but they did enough to take control of the title race. They controlled much of the game too. The first half belonged to South Shields fair and square. They dominated possession and field position. They played patient football and exerted pressure. North Shields on the other hand looked slightly nervous and couldn’t get much passing going, at times finding it difficult to string more than two or three passes together, regularly losing the ball or knocking it into space where it was easily intercepted by their opponents. When the crucial goal came, it came with the run of play. The ball came across for David Foley and bounced invitingly. From 25 yards out he hooked it over Kyle Hayes who was stranded on his six-yard line. It was one of several chances they created in the first half and they came close to doubling their lead two minutes before the break when Foley had an effort from an acute angle cleared off the line by Marc Lancaster. The second half started with much the same pattern as the first – South Shields possession and North Shields struggling to impose themselves on the game. The game could have turned when Mariners captain Julio Arca was sent off for a second yellow card. It gave the Robins a boost and added impetus. Three minutes after getting the man advantage, Kevin Hughes met a corner with a well-timed header, but he couldn’t repeat the heroics of the first league game and score. In the last 10 minutes they had several chances, but put them all over or wide. (They didn’t test Liam Connell on many occasions throughout the game.) They looked to have a strong case for a penalty for a handball by a South Shields player only to see the referee wave their protests away. They’re no longer in control of their own destiny. However, on Grand National day, South Shields are in the last furlong and they’ve put their noses in front, but there’s still a bit of football left in the season. It’s now 31 consecutive wins, they’re in three cup finals and the victory against their cross-Tyne rivals had their fans celebrating promotion on social media, whether they win the title or not. 07/04/2017 Brandon United 0 Esh Winning 2 – Ebac Northern League Division Two Never mind the quality, three points were all that mattered to Esh Winning in this game. For much of the match it was a struggle for both teams and spectators alike. A classic it most certainly wasn’t. The banter on the terraces was more entertaining than the football on offer. There wasn’t much of note for almost half an hour and the play was predictable: one team struggling and another with nothing to play for. However, when it came, the first goal was a beaut. A cross field pass bounced invitingly for Esh Winning striker Andrew Clarkson and he hit a sweet volley which looped over Tom Orton in the Brandon goal to give the visitors a precious lead. Two half chances followed in quick succession for Esh Winning and Brandon only got close with a free kick by Kyle Wren whose free kick was nudged over by Mark Fish in the Esh Winning goal. For a while the game perked up (it couldn’t have perked down much more). Kieran Duffy-Weekes an Ben Clarke couldn’t capitalise on two chances for Brandon as the first half drew to a close. Clarkson, Kai Hewitson and Callum Boakes all had efforts in the second half and they deserved to extend their lead when Hewitson broke free, pulled the ball back across the goal and slotted it into the net in the 68th minute. A forgettable game but a valuable win for Esh Winning in their fight against relegation. 05/04/2017 Heaton Stannington 0 Whickham 0 – Ebac Northern League Division Two Some 0-0 games can be dull as ditch water. This contest between two in-form sides was anything but. For 20 minutes it was all a bit cagey, two teams testing each other out without playing at the top of their game. Then the game really livened up. Whickham were the first to get into their stride. Leading the way and leading the line was striker Mark Fitzpatrick who was a handful for the Heaton Stannington defence for much of the night. For the second game in a week, he put in a top performance: hold-up play, pace, jinking runs and powerful, accurate shots. Whickham got stronger and quicker as the first half progressed. In the 25th minute Fitzpatrick and Daniel Candlish worked a quick one-two on the edge of the box and Fitzpatrick produced a sharp left foot shot that was well saved by Heaton Stannington keeper Matthew Smith. He tipped another effort over the bar soon afterwards. Whickham were edging the hosts, who needed to improve in the second half. The Stan started after the break much more briskly; in the 52nd minute Robinson sprinted away from the defence and drilled a shot that was pushed past the post by Whickham keeper John Mordey. They came close again on the hour mark. Gary Dixon worked himself some space and launched an excellent cross that Tom Soutar had to clear as it flashed across the goal line. For the last 20 minutes or so of the match, as Fitzpatrick had his quietest period in the match, his opposite number Dan Robinson came into his own: out-muscling Whickham’s back four and creating chances for himself and his team-mates. The game’s last chance fell to him in the 89th minute, but he couldn’t quite squeeze the ball past Mordey. It’s a bit of mystery how neither of them got on the score sheet. It had been a good, competitive game. A couple of footnotes: “HANDBALL!!” The shout for a handball in the penalty area couldn’t have been clearer from one of the Whickham contingent by the dugout. There was only one problem: the hands clearly belonged to the Heaton Stannington goalkeeper. It stretched the "shout for everything, you never know what the ref might give" to the limits, but it did raise the biggest laugh of the night. Does Whickham keeper John Mordey have the best kick among the goalie fraternity in the league? He regularly launched the ball as far as the Heaton Stan box, with accuracy too. Whickham manager Robin Falcus was ordered to leave the dugout after vociferous complaints about a decision. The 138th game of the season and the first 0-0. It would have been nice to get through the season without one, but a seasonal tally of 505 goals isn’t too shabby. 04/04/2017 Durham City 2 Thornaby 2 – Ebac Northern League Division Two This game could have finished 6-6. Each team had a hatful of chances that went begging. Both repeatedly found that last killer touch or shot elusive. In the end Thornaby deserved at least a point out of the game and Durham were fortunate to have 11 men still on the pitch at the final whistle when two of their players could have been red carded for kicking out at opponents. Thornaby, conversely, were the ones who saw red when right back Taylor Crainey was sent off for a second yellow card in the dying minutes. The referee didn’t seem to give much their way. The visitors got off to the brighter start, creating four good chances thanks to Daniel Brunskill and Karl Charlton. It took Durham 15 minutes before they had their first decent effort thanks to a Daniel O’Reilly cross that was only just cleared off the line by Crainey. The opening goal was one of the best for technique seen in division two this season. Ross Simpson hit a pin-point 40-yard cross field pass to Joshua Thompson and his first time volley was hit perfectly to send it looping over Thornaby keeper Liam Gibbs who was caught off his line. Bradley Hird and Kieran McWaters both went close and Durham doubled their lead just before half-time when O’Reilly beat the offside trap, Gibbs had a rush of blood and ran out of his box only to be rounded by the Durham winger who took it wide and then brought it back to shoot past a couple of defenders who’d scurried back. Michael Joseph single-handedly got Thornaby a share of the spoils. Nine minutes into the second half he found himself in the Durham box, the defenders failed to clear the ball and he bustled it in. Joseph was also involved in the best move of the match soon afterwards. His long, diagonal ball into the Durham box was controlled by Brunskill. He knocked it back to Charlton whose sharp shot was well parried by Dean Caris. It was the start of their best spell of the game. Ashington secretary Gav Perry clearly had his crystal ball to hand: “They’re going to get an equaliser.” Seconds later they duly obliged. A cross left the keeper and two defenders tangled up in the Durham goalmouth and Joseph pounced on the free ball to bag his second of the night. It was no more than they deserved. They’d started the game well and finished it well. Footnote: Spring might have sprung elsewhere, but it was chuffin’ chilly at Consett. Still two coat weather. 01/04/2017 Chester-le-Street Town 1 Guisborough Town 4 – Ebac Northern League Division One Guisborough Town’s “Great Escape” is still on. They haven’t quite made it to Switzerland, but they’re not stuck in the barbed wire either. On the back of two wins, they went into the game knowing that a win against the bottom team would keep their season very much alive. And any early nerves were soon settled when they went ahead in the 8th minute. Right back Anthony Snook provided a text book cross and Louis Goldsack headed it in unchallenged at the far post. Attacks down the right side provided rich pickings for Guisborough. Goal number two came from a right wing cross by Steven Roberts. Connor Smith had two bites of the cherry: his first shot was blocked and he picked up the loose ball, stumbled but still managed to find the back of the net with his second effort. Roberts was the provider for the third with another cross. The defenders didn’t clear their lines, it fell to David Onions and he thumped it in. The win was sealed in the last minute of the game when Thomas Bligh ran (unsurprisingly) down the right and delivered another cross – this time met by substitute Mason McNeil. They’d played the better football and the players clearly believe they can still avoid the drop. Four games to play and all to play for. Chester-le-Street started well and matched their opponents for the first 10 minutes. They also had another good 10-minute spell with about a quarter-of-an hour to go, but the problem was that for the rest of the time they just fell a bit short. They also had to substitute striker Lee Mole early in the game, which didn’t help their cause. They gave themselves a glimmer of hope in added time at the end of the first half. Dominic Laws was brought down in the box and Jack Honour scored from the penalty spot. They were handed a lifeline in the 57th minute when David Latham fell after contact in the penalty area with a Guisborough player and the referee awarded a spot kick. It looked harsh on the visitors and even most Cestrian fans didn’t seem to think it was a penalty. Honour again stepped up to take the penalty. Guisborough keeper James Dawson guessed right, managed to push it on to the post and away with a dive high to his left. The loss effectively consigns Chester-le-Street to relegation.