NORTHERN FOOTBALL LEAGUE
Founded 1889 - second oldest League in the world
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Wednesday, 24 January 2018
22/05/2017 Review of the 2016/17 season The Buildbase FA Vase final was 134th game involving a Northern League team attended by the Secret Hopper this season – from pre-season friendlies to league and cup fixtures. Here are some of the highlights of a dramatic season and some great games: One team got off to a slow start but soon picked up the pace and went to have something of a stand-out season. The team? South Shields. They lost 3-1 to Queen of the South in a pre-season friendly at Gretna. Pre-season also marked a first: three players at Blyth Town playing scissors, paper, rock to decide who took a free kick. Shildon picked up where they left off last season by winning silverware. They won the Cleator Cup by beating Marske in a re-run of last season’s League Cup. The goal of the season was scored in the opening days of the season. Bedlington Terriers were 6-0 down at Team Northumbria: Many of us were heading towards to exit when Jonathan Wright threw caution to the wind, spotted the Team North keeper off his line and took his chance: scoring from the halfway line at the re-start with an absolute peach of a goal, struck very sweetly, leaving the keeper stranded. Dunston UTS v Chester-le-Street at the end of August was one of the great come from behind victories. There looked no way back for the newly-promoted Cestrians at half-time. From 2-0 down they scored five times without reply to get their first league points of the season at the sixth time of asking. Northallerton Town v Billingham Synthonia was an unremarkable game. The Synners won 1-0, but, as I commented at the time, it’s the kind of result that gets clubs promoted. It was late September before I caught up with South Shields again. By this time they were well into their stride with a confident and impressive 5-0 win against Jarrow Roofing. Seaham Red Star v Whitley Bay was one of the most one-sided games of the season. Red Star took the Tynesiders to the cleaners and Whitley Bay didn’t offer much fight. It was the nadir of their season and makes their sixth placed finish all the more commendable. The FA Vase is always a great opportunity to visit new grounds and see what the standard of football is like at other Step 5 and 6 leagues. Taking in the first half of the Atherton LR v Chester-le-Street and the second half of Atherton Collieries v Jarrow Roofing provided a great matchday with a difference experience. Atherton Collieries were far too good for a depleted Roofing squad and it was a big surprise that they didn’t make the final. Although they faltered towards the end, Billingham Town were in the promotion mix for much of the season and their 5-0 win at Ryton and Crawcrook showed why. Craig Hutchinson was a revelation. One spectator posed a question to one of the referee’s assistants, wondering whether he could keep up with Hutchinson. In a frank bout of honesty, he admitted he couldn’t, but added that neither could the Ryton defence South Shields were impressive throughout the season, but their away win at Seaham Red Star was by the skin of their teeth. Red Star were desperately unlucky not to get anything out of the game. The Mariners knew they’d been given a real test. And then there were the floodlights. Twice within days, floodlights brought an early conclusion to proceedings. First it was Blyth Town v Team Northumbria and everyone knows what the second one was. All I’ll say is that it was a shame that the first game between South Shields against Morpeth had to end in the way it did – it had been a great contest between two great teams. Chester-le-Street chairman Joe Burlison told Secret Hopper towards the end of the season that during the season I’d seen them at their best…..and their worst. Their 2-1 win over champions Shildon at Chester Moor was definitely the Cestrians at their best. It was a classic case of what could and should have been for Sunderland RCA when they travelled to Newport Pagnell in the Vase. They were streets ahead but somehow managed to lose a game against weaker opposition. “They’ll be gutted. Absolutely gutted…” was my take on their defeat. The Northern League got its revenge when the Mariners put paid the Newport Pagnell’s Vase dreams in a 6-1 thumping on South Tyneside. It was clear that Stockton Town were among the favourites for promotion from Division Two. Their 4-0 win over fellow promotion contenders Billingham Town confirmed them as favourites to go up. North Shields were the kings of the penalty shoot-outs. All three of their games which could only be decided by penalties were gems. First it was Chester-le-Street in the League Cup, next it was Newcastle United in the Northumberland Senior Cup and finally against Marske, again in the League Cup, despite being down to 10 men. Ear worms can be very irritating. I classed Guisborough’s 4-1 at Chester-le-Street as a possible Great Escape. I had the theme music from the film going through my mind for several days later. Game of the season? Two contenders (and apologies to Bishop Auckland fans). The first was Bishop Auckland v Billingham Town in the Vase. The second division two more than matched their more illustrious opponents and kept playing their football, even though a red card forced them to play with 10 men for the last 30 minutes. It was one of the top performances of the season. Fans of Billingham Town will be waking up this morning with smiles as wide as the Tees flyover after a famous win at Bishop Auckland in the FA Vase last night And number two also involved Bishop Auckland, this time in a 6-3 goal fest at Morpeth. The game started at break neck speed and never relented for the rest of the 90 minutes. It was simply thrilling. Nine months of wonderful football and hundreds of goals. It’s tough enjoying yourself. 21/05/2017 Peterlee to Wemberlee Part IV (and conclusion) Cleethorpes United 0 South Shields 4 – Buildbase FA Vase final Four nil and the quadruple. South Shields brought their remarkable season to a conclusion in style at Wembley yesterday. Beating Cleethorpes by such a decisive margin doesn’t really tell the whole story. It could and perhaps should have been even more. The Mariners were simply dominant. From start to finish, from front to back they were on top of their Lincolnshire opponents. It was only some heroic goalkeeping by Liam Higton that prevented it being embarrassing. His counterpart in the South Shields goal – Liam Connell – had one decent save in the first half and that was about it for the first 45 minutes. At the other end South Shields were creating chance after chance but they couldn’t quite find a way past Higton. But with only a few minutes to go before the break, a run by Gavin Cogdon proved decisive. He jinked his way past a defender who tripped him in the box and Carl Finnigan scored the penalty. It was no more than they deserved. The second half was a mirror image of the first – South Shields creating most of the chances, with Cleethorpes restricted to a handful of chances on the break. Julio Arca had the run of Wembley, and he revelled in it. With just over 10 minutes to go, it looked as though Shields were going to have to settle for the single goal until they cranked their play up a couple of gears and put the Owls to the sword. Dillon Morse doubled their lead in the 80th minute when he headed in a Robert Briggs free kick with a far post run. David Foley helped himself to a brace of goals with two superb finishes in the last five minutes to seal the win in emphatic style. The Ebac Northern League’s dominance in the Vase continues. One parting question: Was there anyone left in South Shields on Sunday, or did everyone make it down to Wembley? Playing in front of a handful of spectators at their temporary home in Peterlee seems a world away now for the Mariners. (Tomorrow’s blog will be Secret Hopper’s review of the season.) 06/05/2017 North Shields 0 South Shields 5 – Camerons Brewery Brooks Mileson League Cup final This isn’t going to be the blog I was expecting to write. Y It was going to be about two quality teams going head to head for the third time this season. Instead of which, it’s a blog about one team riding the crest of a wave and another facing serious issues about players’ commitment and a club now looking for a new manager. For South Shields it’s three down and one to go. They’ve won the league, midweek won the Durham Challenge Cup and yesterday won the Camerons Brewery Brooks Mileson League Cup. Even at 2-0, the game looked won. The Mariners continued to pile on the agony: a Gavin Cogdon hat-trick and one apiece from Jon Shaw and Carl Finnigan. South Shields won at a canter. At times it looked more like a training session. That was partly down to their own abilities to control games, exploit weaknesses and put opponents to the sword. It was also partly down to the North Shields team. They didn’t turn up. They hardly troubled Liam Connell in the South Shields goal and players from front to back produced lacklustre performances. After the game it was announced that North Shields manager Jon Mcdonald had left the club. The move exposed issues between the manager and the dressing room - a manager who had taken over in difficult circumstances, steered the club to the top of the first division, which they led for much of the season, and won through to two finals. It can be a cruel game. For the Mariners the quadruple is within sight. It must be very short odds indeed for them to complete the set and win the Vase in a couple of weeks time. 03/05/2017 Penrith 1 Workington 2 – (AET) Cumberland Cup Final (Played at Carlisle United) Penrith came very close to causing an upset. The Ebac Northern League team gave it a right go against their Evo-Stik Premier opponents but just fell short. Despite some weary legs, they were within two minutes of taking the final to a penalty shoot-out, only to see Workington snatch a late, late winner. Martyn Coleman had put the Bonny Blues ahead just before half-time when his free kick took a deflection off the wall and into the net. It ended a first half when Penrith had created all of the chances. In the first minute they had a Matthew Read corner cleared off the line. Twenty minutes in and Coleman skipped past a lunging tackle and pulled it back for right back Richard Faustino. His shot went over the bar. Workington were playing the better football but not troubling Johnny Jamieson in the Penrith goal (he didn’t have to make a meaningful save until the 80th minute). Workington’s shooting was pretty woeful at times – one attempt on goal went for a throw-in. His bright yellow strip won’t take much cleaning. That pattern continued into the second half: Kevin Connelly put in a great cross only to see Andrew Murray-Jones fluff his chance, while another Workington shot hit the roof of the stand 20 feet above the goal. Their first attempt on goal saw them draw level. Dave Symington sent over a cross and Scott Allison’s header looped over Jamieson who was left stranded. Penrith had more chances to win it. Coleman decided to pass the ball across the six-yard box instead of shooting – giving the Workington defence the chance to clear and Ben Jackson had a header bounce off the bar. In extra time Penrith also had a penalty appeal for handball turned down by the referee. Workington won it thanks to Allison and Symington combining again – this time Allison set it up with a strong run before passing it to Symington who stroked it past Jamieson. The Penrith keeper tried to recreate a bit of history - also at Brunton Park - in the dying moments; he threw caution to the wind, went up the other end for a corner but, unlike Jimmy Glass, he couldn’t find the net. Martyn Coleman won the man of the match award. Personally I’d have given it to Penrith’s back four – they defended superbly. They kept Workington at bay for most of the game with hard work and some great tackles and clearances.