NORTHERN FOOTBALL LEAGUE
Founded 1889 - second oldest League in the world
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Sunday, 25 February 2018
31/01/2018 Newcastle Benfield 3 Seaham Red Star 0 – Ebac Northern League Division One The tone for the first half was set in the opening 10 minutes: Benfield on the attack and Red Star defending. Joe Hailes and Marc Dummett both hooked the ball over the bar and Jake Orrell had a shot tipped over. Benfield managed to convert one of their chances in the 21st minute when a cross was only partially cleared; the ball fell to Alex Nisbet who took a touch and hit the ball through a gap between defenders and keeper. Five minutes later it was 2-0 when Orrell was put through one-on-one up against Red Star keeper Jordan Harkess. The Benfield No. 10 took his time and nudged it past him. Fourteen minutes later it was a replay – Orrell one-on-one, this time the Benfield man lifting it over and past the Red Star keeper to make it 3-0. And then a minute before the break it was a replay of the replay: once again Orrell one-on-one with Harkess, only on this occasion Harkess managed to block the shot. For their part, Red Star didn’t produce much and never really got going in the game. In the 32nd minute Robbie Bird got past Benfield right back Mark Turnbull, looked as though he might have been pulled back before he kept going, only for the ball to bobble leading him to miscue his shot wide. Six minutes later Lee Hetherington had their best shot which Benfield keeper Andrew Grainger needed two attempts to gather. The second half was only noteworthy for the fact that there weren’t many incidents that merited a note being taken. The game remained comfortable for Benfield. Just about all of the play was between the two penalty areas, with players putting 4-5 pass moves together before losing possession. Liam Hodgson and Thomas Price had shots for Red Star and Lewis Scorgie put a header from a corner straight at Harkess and that was about it. 30/01/2018 Durham City 1 Ryhope CW 4 – League Cup third round First Division against Second Division. A 4-1 scoreline. That looks fairly straight forward. It was anything but. Durham played some good football for most of the game and looked a match for their opponents. They knocked the ball around with confidence. Not everything they tried worked, but at least it was clear what they were trying to do. A bit more experience and some better decision making, especially up front, will help them improve. Five goals is more than enough to be getting on with in any game, but there could have been a couple more, especially players squandering two absolute sitters. Sitter No 1: In the opening minutes Joey Melvin crossed to James Ellis who failed to hit the target when he was right in front of goal with the net gaping and the keeper stuck in the middle. Durham took the lead in the 6th minute when Daniel Knowd found himself in space on the right and his shot, which looked as though it deflected off Adam Cocks’ boot, sailed over the Ryhope defender and keeper Jonathan Ball. Eight minutes later Cocks made amends when he cleared a header by Durham defender Josh Rodgers off the line. Ryhope went straight up the other end of the pitch and Thomas Bott blasted a shot off the corner of post and bar. They made it 1-1 in the 37th minute when Jack Winship scored from a corner. Despite all their positive play, Durham played catch up for the rest of the match. Corey Nicholson made it 2-1 in the 51st minute with his first of the night – taking a couple of touches across the 18-yard line, spotting his chance and finding the gap between Durham keeper Dean Caris and the post, with not much to aim for. Fourteen minutes later he bagged his second: knocking it sideways just inside the box and striking it into the top right corner, giving Caris no chance to save it. Durham No 9 Bradley Hird had three chances in a six-minute spell, the first a header cleared by Ryhope defender Danni Lay with Ball beaten, the second from outside the box with his most powerful shot of the night and the third when he managed to prod the ball under the Ryhope keeper only for it to go just wide of the goal. In the last 15 minutes or so Durham started to flag. Ryhope scored their fourth and had two more excellent chances to extend their lead. The first was Sitter No. 2: Corey Nicholson crossed the ball, laying it on a plate for Joey Melvin who either had too much time or took his eye off the ball which went under his foot when he was only a few yards from the goal and with only the keeper to beat. Next up was another great cross by Nicholson, this time for Nathaniel Skidmore who got a decent shot on target that was well saved by Caris. Nicholson sealed his hat-trick in the 88th minute. This time it was Melvin passing to him and he made no mistake to make it 4-1. If any of the other two chances had been tucked away, it would have been extremely harsh on Durham who were a pleasure to watch. (Post script: From the “I’m sure I know him from somewhere” files. Sunderland fan, ground hopper, and, most pertinently, Shildon fan Pete Sixsmith was at the game and saw a face that looked familiar among the spectators. “Who are you playing for now?” he enquired. “I’m managing Shildon”. As Pete pointed out later: “They look different in civvies.”) 29/01/2018 Team Northumbria 4 Bishop Auckland 2 – Ebac Northern League Division One This was a bemusing performance by the Bishop Auckland defence. As the first half progressed they started to get caught playing square and with a high back line. The bemusing thing was that they continued to play this way for the rest of the match – leaving big gaps at the back – despite conceding four goals. They seemed determined to stick to their gameplan, whatever the outcome. For their part, Team North had the guile and pace to exploit the space. Time and time again their strikers left defenders in their wake as they beared down on the Bishops goal. They could have scored a few more. The first half was one of those 45 minutes of football that flew by. Five goals helped. Matty Weirs produced a great turn after cutting back in from the right and he managed to get his shot between a gaggle of defenders and past Team North keeper Greg Purvis to put the visitors 1-0 up. Robert Spence levelled it when he managed to poke the ball into the net after running side by side with a Bishop Auckland defender into the box. The chances kept on coming. At a Bishop Auckland corner centre back Stephen Tobin was head and shoulders above everyone else when he planted a header that hit the post and came back out straight into Purvis’ arms. Three minutes later Team North No. 9 Andrei Ardelean got on the end of a great through ball that left the Bishop Auckland defenders standing. One on one with Gareth Young, he tried to nick it past the keeper who guessed right to block the shot. Joshua Bynoe caught the Bishop Auckland defence square again, he ran through them, made a couple of turns and found the back of the net to make it 2-1. Both teams were playing a pacey game, but Bishop Auckland’s tackling was at times robust, in an attempt to put the home team off their stride. Andrew Johnson made it 2-2 with a header in off the post, getting on the end of a Thomas McAloon cross from the left, but the Bishops defence was caught out yet again playing square in the 42nd minute when Kevin Carr raced between and past defenders to slot it past Young. 3-2 and the end to an incident-packed half of football. Team North put the game beyond Bishop Auckland in the 53rd minute: Ardelean knocked the ball out to Bynoe and his cross opened up the Bishop Auckland defence, found Robbie Spence and, in plenty of space, the Team North No. 8 had a simple finish to make it 4-2. Around the 70th minute Bishops had their first good spell of pressure in the second half, including a Johnson shot that went over the bar, but it was pressure that didn’t trouble the Team North goal. In the last 10 minutes of the game Bishop Auckland had their second best phase of play of the half and Shaun Ryder produced three quality passes to players ahead of him, but they all came to nought. Two potentially dangerous attacks were also squandered when crosses were played too close to Purvis. And, for the last time of asking, in the 79th minute, a quick free kick by Team North sent Bynoe past the static Bishops defence where he had yards of space to run onto goal but he put his effort wide with only Young to beat. Team North stood up to the robust, physical play by the visitors but it wasn’t at the expense of their own style of play based on the quick passing of the ball and making the most of their pace, especially up front. One gameplan worked. One didn’t. 27/01/2018 Brandon United 2 Jarrow 0 – Ebac Northern League Division Two 0-0 at half-time. The game had been exactly as it said on the tin: defences on top and not too many chances. Jarrow had most of the play and a few scoring opportunities, but neither team looked as though they were getting close to scoring. The visitors attacked almost exclusively down the right, but their crosses weren’t of the highest quality. For Brandon, No 9 Connor Lowes was busy but closed down a couple of times before he could get a strike on goal. The best opportunity of the half came for Jarrow in the 40th minute when a ball by Michael Watson set Grant Pressling on his way and his poked shot was only just wide of the Brandon goal. It was all a bit lacklustre. Fortunately things got better in the second half, especially for Brandon whose play showed a marked improvement. In the opening five minutes they had two shots – by Niall Fingleton and Jordan Lee. On the hour mark, Pressling could only get a glancing header to a Peter Kane cross only a few yards out with only the keeper to beat. It was to be one of Jarrow’s best chances of the game. The game then turned Brandon’s way. In the 61st minute Lowes threaded a ball through to Lee Blades and he in turn slotted it past Jarrow keeper Ian Ahmed with a smart finish to make it 1-0. Six minutes later Craig Hindmarch saw a header go just wide at a corner. It was from another corner – in the 75th minute – that Brandon extended their lead. Fingleton met the corner with a half-volley which sent the ball back across the box where all Lowes had to do was nod it into the net. Three minutes before the end, Kris Carr back-heeled the ball to Lee and his shot was smothered at close quarters by Ahmed with his best save of the match. It was Brandon’s first win in 11 matches and was three precious points at the bottom of the table. 24/01/2018 Penrith 1 Sunderland RCA 2 – Ebac Northern League Division One There are many factors which can change a game. Last night’s game at Frenchfield came up with a new one. The second half was only six minutes old when referee Steven Lennon was taken ill, with an ambulance called to take him to hospital. It led to a 15-minute delay while he received medical care and a substitute assistant referee was found and kitted out to run the line. The game never quite recovered the tempo and rhythm of the first half, which was a shame as it had been a good match until the interruption. Any latecomers would have missed the opening chance. 30 seconds into the game and Andy Murray-Jones intercepted an RCA pass, broke through the defence and had a clear sight of goal only to pull his shot wide. Penrith set the early tempo of the game, left winger Brandon Robertson in particular making some pacey runs and a Martyn Coleman shot blocked by a massed RCA defence. Robertson had a half-chance himself but RCA captain Greg Swansbury did just enough to stop the Penrith wide man from getting a clean shot at goal in the 7th minute. RCA depended on getting plenty of bodies in their six yard box to block a shot by the home side’s captain Grant Davidson in the 14th minute. The hosts got their reward for their positive start by taking the lead in the 20th minute. Robertson took a touch and then drilled the ball, RCA keeper Keith Finch got his hands to it but couldn’t keep hold of it and Coleman was in the right place to tap the ball in from a few yards out with one of the easiest goals he’ll score this season. For the first half an hour RCA looked as though they weren’t going to crack the Penrith defensive nut but that all changed soon afterwards and the game turned within a couple of minutes. In the 33rd minute a cross-field ball found Nathan O’Neill. He took one touch to control it and then fired it home with a confident finish. Two minutes later RCA were in front. Luke Page ran at the Penrith defence, turned Tyler Bowman and scored with another confident shot which hit the left post and then looked as though it hit the right post before crossing the line. In the last 10 minutes of the half RCA left back Ross McNab got in the way of a Shaun Gardner shot with a diving block and Finch had to be a full stretch to save a Coleman shot just before half-time. After the 15-minute delay, the game was scrappy but, of the two, it was RCA who managed to get back to something close to their first half play. Twice Stephen Callen made runs across the 18-yard line. He hit one shot at Penrith keeper Stuart Dixon and had another effort blocked. At the other end Murray-Jones had a header well saved by Finch. But the game never fully flowed in the second half. RCA will be thankful that they’d already got their noses in front at the unscheduled stoppage. And finally, we hope Steven makes a speedy recovery. 23/01/2018 Washington 1 Whitley Bay 2 – Ebac Northern League Division One The headlines from this game were: a couple of goals from open play, a last-minute penalty and two red cards. The game didn’t quite live up to the headlines. Just over a week ago Washington put on a real fighting display and were unfortunate to come away with nothing at Team Northumbria. Last night they weren’t able to replicate that performance, in part because they had several key players missing, including defensive linchpin Alex White. At the back there was plenty of space for Whitley Bay attackers in and around the box. And it certainly doesn’t help the cause when your captain – Pascal Chimbonda - gets a booking for dissent, keeps on talking and is shown a red card seconds later instead of shutting up. With all his experience, he should know better. Up front Jak Hanson had another busy game, as he did against Team North, making moves and runs to keep the Whitley Bay defenders on their toes. Jake Pickard scored the penalty in the 89th minute for the Mechanics, but they’d struggled to create many goal-scoring chances up until then. They relied on a lot of long balls which didn’t give their front men much to work with. Andrew Brown almost got on the end of a long free kick just before half-time but he just couldn’t reach the ball at the far post. For Whitley Bay it was another valuable three points from one of the several games they have in hand over most of the teams around them. It was a steady performance by the visitors; they certainly weren’t firing on all cylinders. They took the lead in the 19th minute when Tom Potter sent a ball between a couple of Washington defenders for Liam Brooks to run on to. He didn’t have much to aim for but he found the gap between Washington keeper Dan Gladstone and the post. In the 29th minute Chris Salmon hit the ball over the Washington defence and Callum Johnston in turn tried to lob Gladstone, but the keeper managed to race back to get the ball before it crossed the line. The visitors continued to attack with more pace and purpose than Washington in the second half. Their best spell was for five minutes just after the hour mark when Gladstone made some crucial saves and Ross Gardner cleared another chance off the line. They got their second in the 72nd minute when Gladstone could only block an Alex Kempster shot and Johnston stole in to poke it past the Mechanics keeper. Six minutes later they had two chances from crosses with Scott Jasper and Potter within a whisker of connecting. They had Josh Neary sent off in the 87th minute for a sliding/lunging tackle and then the last-minute penalty for Washington wrapped up the night. 20/01/2018 Whitley Bay 2 Guisborough Town 2 – Ebac Northern League Division One A couple of minutes into time added on Guisborough looked as though they were going home empty handed – despite a second half when they matched their hosts. And then up popped Steven Roberts to snatch an equaliser in the 93rd minute and gain a draw that was probably the right result. In the opening 10 minutes Whitley Bay had the possession and the passing moves without threatening the Guisborough goal. For their part, the visitors’ play was scrappy and it was 20 minutes before I made a note that they’d got the ball into the Whitley Bay box. The Bay defence were keeping them at bay, and relatively comfortably too. Despite Whitley Bay being on top, the most clear-cut chance of the first half fell to Guisborough, with Ben Hugill meeting a cross with a first-time shot that produced an acrobatic save by Tom Flynn in the Bay goal. A brisk start to the second half set the tone for the rest of the game, with both teams playing better and creating more chances. In the 47th minute Thibault Charmey turned a defender on the edge of the box and Guisborough keeper Jordan Nixon had to be at full stretch to tip his shot to safety. Eight minutes later Flynn managed to clear his lines with two Guisborough players bearing down on goal. In the 58th minute Flynn had to make a diving stop to block a Mark Robinson shot. Guisborough had replaced their first half hesitancy with more positive, confident play. Despite that improvement Whitley Bay took the lead in the 63rd minute. A free kick from the right was adeptly flicked on by Ross Wilkinson and the side-footed flick was met with a first time volley by Kyle Patton. In the 67th minute Flynn tipped a cross over the bar with two Guisborough strikers just behind him at the far post, ready to get on the end of the cross. At the other end Patton had the chance to double his and his team’s tally with a shot which just crept the wrong side of the post with Nixon rooted to the spot. Guisborough pegged the hosts back in the 74th minute. Nathan Steel ran into the box, Wilkinson tackled him from behind, looked as though he got a touch on the ball but also tripped the Town No. 9. Referee Shane Sugden gave a penalty which Steel converted himself. The scoreline reflected a much more even contest than the first half had presented. The quicker pace to the game also made it more enjoyable. And it looked as though that’s how it was going to remain as the game went into added time, but there was still time for a couple more goals. Around the 90-minute mark Whitley Bay had a couple of minutes of pressure, including a couple of corners, the second of which looked to have swung the game their way when Anderson met the ball with a header to make it 2-1 in the 91st minute. Guisborough had one last chance and they took it. Roberts worked himself a bit of space on the right of the Whitley Bay box and managed to find the gap between Flynn and the post to level it up in the 93rd minute. Justice done. 17/01/2018 North Shields 1 Stockton Town 2 – League Cup third round The game kicked off at 7.44pm. By 8pm North Shields should have been in the fourth round. And there were three simple reasons why the contest should have been over after only 16 minutes – their excellent play, three excellent chances (and a couple of others too) and Stockton playing like 11 men who’d never kicked a ball together before. Shields were just getting warmed up with two early opportunities – a Gareth Bainbridge shot which Stockton keeper Michael Arthur needed two attempts to grab and an Adam Forster volley over the bar. Shields were quickly into their stride. The visitors’ No 6 Dale Mulligan bellowing “Get organised. Get going” in the 8th minute showed what a poor start they made. It got worse. It was then time for the three quality chances. Dan Wilson and Bainbridge combined, with the ball finally falling in front of Lee Mason who had a clear sight of goal and he hit a gaping hole in the Stockton defence to make it 1-0. Only a couple of minutes later a cross just eluded Bainbridge but found Wilson unmarked by the far post. His shot was cleared off the goal line by Max Craggs. The defence was all over the place. And then in the 16th minute Mason knocked the ball through to Bainbridge who took it to the left of Arthur and he shot across the goal line, with the ball just creeping past the post. North Shields looked on top of their game. (Mind you there’s no pleasing some people. In the 23rd minute a home fan berated his team with a “Come on Shields man” when they had the temerity to pass the ball back to keeper Sean McCafferty. Like the rest of the home fans, perhaps he’d been spoilt by the opening quarter of the game.) For their part Stockton weren’t at the races in the first half; losing the ball cheaply after only a couple of passes, knocking long balls with no team-mate within yards and failing to hit team-mates with other simple balls. In the opening minute of the second half, Bainbridge was within a foot or two of connecting with a Mason cross with only the keeper to beat. It was to be their last, best chance to put a bit of breathing space between the two sides. Their slender lead was only to last another 10 or so minutes. Craggs tried his luck from 25 yards out and McCafferty could only parry the shot. Jamie Owens was quickest to react and picked up the loose ball to equalise. They could hardly believe they were back in the game. Apart from getting them level, the goal also gave them a much-needed fillip. They started to play like a team, stringing more passes together and putting the North Shields team under pressure. For their part Shields lost the edge that had allowed them to dominate the first half. Stockton’s best chances of the half were around the 78th minute. James Risborough was getting ready to shoot when he had the ball poked away from him and an Owens header skimmed wide of the goal. And then in the 92nd minute Stockton won a corner. Captain Adam Nicholson rose above everyone else to plant a header into the roof of the net to grab the dramatic winner. Seconds after the goal a Shields fan shouted: “Unbelievable.” He wasn’t the only home fan who was stunned by the result. 16/01/2018 Seaham Red Star 4 Easington Colliery 1 – League Cup third round This game got off to a promising start – the promise being a close, competitive cup tie. It looked even more promising when Easington Colliery took the lead in the 13th minute. From a corner, Shane O’Brien rose above the Red Star defence to head the visitors ahead. The ball seemed to move in the air leaving the defenders and keeper unsure about who should be going for it. After the goal, the play was in Easington’s half but their defence looked organised and were relatively comfortable in dealing with Seaham attacks up until the 26th minute. After that, the game ebbed away from them, Red Star started to find their feet and impose themselves on their opponents. Alex Ramshaw levelled it up when he squeezed a shot between Easington keeper Kyle Donaldson and the near post. Four minutes after that Liam Hodgson made it 2-1 when Lee Chapman poked the ball between defenders, Hodgson ran on to the pass and nudged it past Donaldson. All of a sudden gaps were appearing in the visitors’ defence. Seaham’s third came in the 38th minute when Robbie Bird blocked an attempted clearance on the edge of the Easington box. The ball fell just right for him and he had an easy finish to make it 3-1. Easington started the second half with more gusto than they finished the first but they faded after 10 minutes and Red Star controlled the rest of the half. Most of the chances went Red Star’s way: a stinging shot by Ramshaw, Luke Bailey pulling one shot wide and seeing another just scrape past the post and a shot by Tommy Scott which spun off Donaldson and looped on to the bar and out. Red Star didn’t have to exert themselves too much in the second period and Bird completed the scoring in the 80th minute when an Easington defender lost the ball. It was passed out to Bird who found himself in bags of space and he had the straight forward task of bending it round the keeper and in. (The second half also had a rather optimistic shout for a penalty from a Seaham Red Star defender. The fact that he was 50 yards away from the incident and there wasn’t a squeak out of his team-mates a couple of feet away didn’t seem to deter him. Unsurprisingly the referee didn’t look unduly troubled in coming to his decision not to award a spot kick.) 15/01/2018 Team Northumbria 2 Washington 1 – Ebac Northern League Division One It’s an unforgiving league. Washington have found it a struggle for much of this season but they were desperately unlucky not to get something out of this game. When I’ve previously seen them they’ve been second best, but this was an improved team – they looked more compact, played as a more cohesive unit and matched Team North – a team sitting comfortably in mid-table - for the whole game. They conceded their first goal in the 53rd minute when an Andrei Ardelean pass bi-sected the Washington defence who collectively lost concentration and didn’t track the runner - Alex Djukic – who had a free shot a goal with only the keeper to beat. They were level in the 69th when Team North failed to clear their lines, the ball dropped at Vincent Gash’s feet and, only a few feet away from goal, he managed to thread it past Team North keeper Greg Purvis. And then the killer punch right at the death. In added time Team North broke down the right and the ball was pulled back for Kevin Carr breaking from midfield. His first-time shot from just outside the box went just past Daniel Gladstone’s out-stretched hands and nestled in the goal. Seconds later the referee blew the final whistle and all their hard work by the visitors was undone. For Team North it was all about one clinical move and one piece of clinical finishing. The sub-plot to the game was both team’s defences and midfields holding the upper hand for most of the 90 minutes. But both teams had their chances, the best of which were: 13th minute: Gash seeing a shot blocked by Purvis’ legs. 17th minute: Carr shooting from outside the box but hitting the side netting, quickly followed by Joshua Bynoe pulling a shot wide. 29th minute: The best effort of the lot – Jak Hanson’s shot coming back out after hitting the inside of the post. 34th minute: A Djukic shot from wide left forcing a diving save by Gladstone. 39th minute: The best save – Gash heading the ball down from a free kick and seemingly bound for the goal, but scooped clear by Purvis. 89th minute: A David Webster effort for Team North that Gladstone needed two grabs to take in. Overall, Washington were much more competitive but Team North’s centre backs Ross McKeown and Angelos Eleftheriadis a step ahead of the Washington attackers, allowing them to step in and stifle attacks. 13/01/2018 Marske United 5 Hinkley AFC 0 – Buildbase FA Vase fourth round Comprehensive. Emphatic. A win at a canter. The Seasiders got off to the perfect start and everything went their way from then onwards. In the second minute Marske captain and centre back Adam Wheatley was left all alone by the Hinkley defence at the edge of the box. As the ball fell to him he took one touch and pulled the trigger with a strike that left the visitors’ keeper rooted to the spot. For the next 25 minutes it turned into the Craig Gott show whose approach was simply: “ball here, goal there, I’m going to give it a go”. Most of his efforts were from outside the box, and it was surprising none found the back of the net. Despite the early setback, Hinkley settled into their game and didn’t seem too daunted by the Marske chances, with Danny Earl chipping in with a couple of efforts and opportunities too. One of those opportunities came in the 30th minute when he decided to pull it back to team mate Liam O’Sullivan rather than shoot himself when he had a clear sight of goal. Northern League President George Courtney wasn’t the only one thinking “a golden opportunity spurned”. It was an opportunity soon forgotten. Six minutes later Earl ran on to a through ball, nudged it past Hinkley keeper Carl O’Neill and he had an open goal in front of him when he was brought down by Richard Munday. There were few complaints from the Hinkley players when the referee awarded a penalty and sent Munday off, with Gott scoring the spot kick, despite O’Neill getting a hand to the ball. The penalty was the opener for a three-goal six-minute goal blitz by the Ebac Northern League side. In the 40th minute Leon Carling made it 3-0 with a header from a corner and in the 41st minute Curtis Round broke down the right and pulled the ball back to Chay Liddle whose first time shot made it 4-0. The second half was a formality. In the 52nd minute Earl waltzed past Hinkley left back Dominic Perkins after latching on to a through ball. The Markse No. 9 looked up, saw Mikey Roberts sprinting into the box and he duly tucked Earl’s cross away for Marske’s fifth. For the record in the second half Markse: - Had just about all the possession - Knocked the ball around at will - Didn’t have much defending to do - And could well have added to their five goals - Carling almost doubled his tally with a 25-yard shot which grazed the bar. It was damage limitation for Hinkley. The second half was one-way traffic and the Seasiders have a one-way ticket to the fifth round where they have a home tie against Bradford Town from Wiltshire in three weeks’ time. 12/01/2018 Today's guest blog comes from the Mad Hatter who took in the local derby between Willington and Crook Town. It was a proper old fashioned Northern League affair, with something for everyone. The evening started with some bait from the Willington tea hut, exceptionally well stocked and with some of the tastiest burgers I’ve had this season. Their “square” burgers really hit the spot to the delight of the Willington chairman, Richard Tremewan. He’ll have been even more pleased at the bumper 230 crowd that turned out for this big local derby, including a fair helping of youngsters, the future of the Northern League. The surface looked in good nick and the new terracing installed recently really makes the ground look spick and span. The clubhouse also has been spruced up and the log fire in the corner really warmed the place up, not that we needed it on a relatively balmy night at 4 degrees. Well it’s warmer than of late anyway. The game kicked off at a fiery pace, and the tackles started to fly in, but to his credit the referee kept things calm without needing to revert to his notebook. I then spotted a takeaway pizza box in the Crook dugout. Somebody clearly had missed their tea tonight. An injury to the Crook number 9 meant an early change as their chairman Vince Kirkup informed me that they had now lost four forwards to injury in the past week, leaving them without a recognised front man on the field. Willington created the better chances, but Daniel Scott in the Crook Town goal kept them out, until in the 38th minutes a Crook player clattered a Willington player and the referee confidently pointed to the spot. Connor Winter equally as confidently despatched the penalty to put the home side deservedly in front, despite strong resistance by Crook. Moffat made it 2-0 just before the break with a neat finish. The second half saw the Home side take over as Winter completed his hattrick, with Evann Graham and Jason White completing a six goal haul for Willington. Crook might feel the score was a little harsh, but Willington had the better fitness and it told. The second half was spent on the far side chatting with fellow groundhoppers and a small contingent of referees where we debated the awarding of penalties, and the Mad Hatters past referee’s rants. Well we all have a past, don’t we? A thoroughly pleasant evening with many friends and members of the Northern League family, and two cracking clubs playing out a slightly one-sided affair. 10/01/2018 Willington 1 Chester-le-Street 1 – Ebac Northern League Division Two These are two in-form teams: going into the match Willington were top of the recent form table with 16 points from the last six games, while Chester-le-Street had won 14 out of the last 18 available. So it was no great surprise that there wasn’t much to separate the teams at the end of 90 minutes – albeit with Chester-le-Street benefitting from a big deflection to draw level. Willington started like a house of fire. In the opening four minutes they had three chances: the first a weak header by Tom Lazonby, the second Matty Moffat only inches away from getting on the end of a Damon Ellis cross and the third a curling effort by Jeff Smith which just went the wrong side of the post. Moffat was instrumental in Willington taking the lead in the 9th minute. He ran across the Chester defence before getting a shot away. The effort was deflected off a defender and fell nicely for Ellis who had a simple tap in. It took the Cestrians 15 minutes to get their first chance, a Michael Hepplewhite shot just over the bar. At the other end Moffat was involved in all of Willington’s best chances of the half. Breaking down the left, linking with Ellis and then nudging it to Smith whose shot went just wide; and then on the half-hour mark turning a defender on the edge of the box before shooting, forcing Chester keeper Jack Wilson to turn it away. Moffat squandered the next best chance – Ellis breaking down the right and finding Moffat all alone with the nearest defender 10 yards away. He played a one-two with Conor Winter but Moffat’s shot went well over, with defenders racing back to try and close him down. It wasn’t quite a turning point but Chester-le-Street started to match the host’s play and had more of the ball without really threatening the Willington goal, failing to find a way past a well-organised home defence. Most of the visitors’ shots were off-target. They came closest when Danny Naylor had a cracker of a shot from 25 yards out well tipped over for a corner by Willington keeper Lewis Graham in the 70th minute. Cestrian No 5 Callum Greaves had a clear run and header as the corner was sent over, but he put the ball just over. In the 76th minute the visitors got a stroke of luck. Craig Marron took a free kick in a relatively innocuous place wide left. He launched the ball and it got a massive deflection off Willington midfielder Jason White before sailing over and round everyone in the box before slotting into the goal at the far post. Their work rate, particularly in the second half, probably earned them a spot of good fortune. Both teams went for the winner with ten minutes to go and in the 85th minute Willington sub Michael Brown had a big penalty shout turned down by the referee. Apart from the goals, both goalkeepers didn’t have to make too many decisive saves. Their kits were relatively clean at the end of the game, thanks to most shots being skied well over and well wide of the mark at both ends. Willington sit comfortably in the top half of the second division while Chester-le-Street seem to have found their feet after early season issues adjusting to life back in the division. 09/01/2018 Jarrow Roofing 0 Penrith 3 – Ebac Northern League Division One Ten days ago I saw Penrith beat Guisborough – a win based on a solid defence and having Martyn Coleman up front. Last night at Jarrow Roofing it was more of the same as the Cumbrians recorded their third away win on the bounce. Right from the off they looked to have bags more confidence than a month or so ago, although for most of the first half they were matched by Roofing in an open game which belied their respective positions down towards the bottom of the division. It certainly wasn’t a half of two teams trying to grind out a result; but it was a game where the good old-fashioned art of tackling was to the fore. Twenty five minutes in and both teams looked to have the measure of each other. The deadlock was broken two minutes before half-time: Connor Shields passed it right to Coleman who took a touch and thumped it past Roofing keeper Shaun Newbrook. In the 48th minute the visitors thought they’d doubled their lead when Coleman struck again, with Newbrook only able to push his shot away, with Shields ready to pounce. He put the ball in the net but was ruled offside – it was a close call. They only had to wait 10 minutes before they got their second when Andy Murray Jones pulled the ball back to Coleman whose first-time shot going in, in the narrowest of gaps between the post and Newbrook’s out-stretched hand. Roofing responded just after the hour mark but Anth Myers couldn’t squeeze a header past a crowded goal line and a couple of minutes later Oliver Martin had a shot but it went straight at Penrith keeper Stu Dixon. The killer punch followed soon afterwards. In the 66th minute a looping pass over the Roofing defence by Matty Moynan was matched by a looping header by Shields over Newbrook. 3-0 and the game was effectively over. With 15 minutes to go, Newbrook pulled off a smart save for a Shields shot and Shaun Vipond cleared a dangerous cross. Just as Penrith started full of confidence, so Roofing’s confidence ebbed away as they conceded each goal, with the third sealing the win. They pressed for the last 5-6 minutes with half chances for Matthew Fisher and Liam Anderson but it never looked like they were going to mount a late comeback. They’ve only won once since mid-October and they’ll need a Penrith-like turn-round to get their season back on track. Better organisation, conceding fewer goals and having someone up front who can consistently score sees the Bonny Blues leap-frog over a couple of teams at the bottom of the division. 06/01/2018 Stockton Town 2 West Auckland Town 1 (aet) – Buildbase FA Vase fourth round A moment of mindless idiocy marred what was otherwise an absolutely thrilling contest between two teams in a match that seemed destined to go to a replay. Just like in their win over Consett earlier in the competition, Stockton left it later than late to knock another Northern League side out of the Vase. Two typical striker’s goals by Jamie Owens and a sublime back heel for the West Auckland goal were the highlights of a game that was filled for 120 minutes with a catalogue of shots, blocks and tackles, with both defences stretched to the limit. For the opening 10 minutes both teams were having difficulty holding on to the ball, with Stockton doing most of the pressing, although neither keeper had to make any crucial saves until a Max Craggs free kick forced a diving save by West Auckland keeper Adam McHugh. West’s best chance was a cross by Arron Wearmouth (who was a constant thorn in Stockton’s side). Nathan Fisher was only inches away, but couldn’t connect with it. Less than a minute later they took the lead when a sublime back heel by Ben Wood to Anthony Bell completely wrong-footed the Stockton defence. Bell took a touch and then finished, squeezing the ball into a tight gap between Stockton keeper Liam Jordan and the near post. After the goal West Auckland started to play with more spring in their step and were quicker in their play and running. From then on in, it was a series of shots from around the edge of the box - shots that were repeatedly blocked by defenders; crosses and high balls into the box and both keepers making important saves. Stockton finally pulled it level in the 72nd minute when a Nathan Mulligan header was only partially cleared, Owens struck the loose ball with a first-time shot to score. The last 15 minutes of normal time saw the sides swap possession and chances with end-to-end play. Not even a thin piece of cigarette paper could separate the two sides and it was no surprise that the game went into extra time. In the first period of ET Jordan denied two West attempts by Amar Purewal and Fisher, while at the other end McHugh had to parry a Hayes shot away. Purewal and Daniel Parker had a chance in the second period too, with Hayes coming closest for Stockton when he cut inside from the right and hit a swerving shot that was just a foot over the bar as Stockton finished the stronger of the two. And then, with only three minutes of extra time to go, that man Owens broke the deadlock with one of the moves of the match: Kevin Hayes knocked it to Matthew Garbutt making an over-lapping run down the right and his cross was perfectly placed between the West back line and keeper. Owens was in the right place at the right time to slot it in and cue mass celebrations by team-mates and supporters. A minute later West had one last chance to take it to a replay, but no-one could get on the end of a cross that flashed across the box. And then the act of mindless idiocy – a spectator jumped over the barrier and attacked a Stockton player, leading to a mass brawl involving players, with coaching staff running on to the pitch to try and separate the players. When everything had eventually settled down, Kevin Hayes and Nathan Mulligan for Stockton and West’s Anthony Bell were sent off for their part in the melee. (And in an incident-packed game, the referee Nathanial Cox had to be substituted after pulling up in agony with a leg injury.) It should have been a game where Stockton celebrated one of the biggest wins in their history. Instead, the spectator/brawl incident left a sour taste in the mouth. Both clubs deserved better. It had been a cracking cup-tie. 03/01/2018 An assessor’s tale: Just for a change I thought I’d focus on a part of the game that never gets any attention – what a referee assessor/observer does when covering a game. The game was last night’s El Coastico – the North Tyneside derby between North Shields and Whitley Bay. The assessor was Ted Ilderton (who was a referee for more than 30 years) and the officials were referee Michael Burrows and assistant referees James Lowery and Matthew Cain (although this blog focusses on the role of the assessor rather than the officials). Ted arrives at 6.15pm for a 7.30pm kick off. 6.40pm he has a short briefing with the referee and assistants. He stays as the referee briefs his assistants on how he will run the game and what he wants from them. The specific points Ted be looking for during the game include: making a note of every foul, substitutions, how well the referee controls the game, is the referee keeping up with the game and sprinting when necessary as quickly at the end of the 90 minutes as at the beginning. How the referee plays the advantage and does he communicate with the offending player and the fouled player. Rule 9.15 – making sure that the defensive wall for free kicks near the penalty area are clearly measured away from the ball. Handballs – is it deliberate? How does the referee lead the team of officials? And looking for consistency in decisions between the referee and the assistants. There are some points for the assistants too: making decisions about offside, free kicks and corners; making sure they keep up with play and support the referee if he is unsure about a decision. Ted also has to keep an eye (and ear) open for the conduct of the managers, coaches and players in the technical areas. It’s also about watching the movement of the referee – keeping up with play and being in the right position to make decisions. It’s a case of following the referee rather than following the ball. It’s also about the referee making quick, clear decisions. During the game itself it’s a matter of logging specific incidents, such as the referee having a word with a Whitley Bay player who committed a foul. On another occasion it’s making a judgement about whether the referee made the right decision to play on for an advantage following a foul. It’s specifically not just about picking up any problems or errors, it’s also about what the officials get right. At the final whistle Ted then starts summarising the game in preparation for the de-brief with the officials: 20 free kicks, two offsides, five substitutions, six cautions and two KMDs (Key Match Decisions) – the two penalties. He then goes into the officials’ changing room where he goes through the main points of the game: why the cautions and penalties were given, how the referee handled the cautions with the players and why the referee decided to chat to both a player and his captain after a specific foul, along with the referee’s fitness and being able to keep up with the game. (When talking about a specific incident, such as a caution, both the assessor and referee talk about “Home 4” or “Away 11” rather than the player’s name.) He then has to write up the assessment and that’s usually filed with the FA within 24 hours. He doesn’t give an immediate mark out of 100 but has to give marks against a specific criteria and if he doesn’t keep to that criteria, that’s raised by the FA with the assessor – a case of the assessor being assessed. Writing the report will usually take an hour or two. The game itself is only about half the process. The FA gets reports and marks both from the referee and each club as well, but it’s the assessor’s marks that are used when making a decision on whether a referee is ready for promotion to officiate at a higher level. Thanks to Ted and the officials Michael, James and Matthew for letting me sit in on the process. (As a completely un-official assessment, I thought the officials had a good game, got the major decisions correct and allowed the game to flow. It seemed a fairly straight forward game for them – even with the two penalties.) It was interesting to see a game from a different point of view and it was a bit strange not to be making notes about the game itself. By the way, Whitley Bay won 2-1. 02/01/2018 Dunston UTS 2 West Auckland 2 (Dunston win 4-3 on penalties) – Durham Challenge Cup For 60 minutes or so this game wasn’t much to write home about – in no small part because of the rain and heavy pitch. It looked as though one early goalkeeping error might be enough to decide the cup tie. But as the weather got worse, the game seemed to pick up and it turned into a half-decent match. West Auckland got their noses in front in the fourth minute Dunston keeper Aidan Grant didn’t get much distance as he tried to punch a cross away. It fell straight to Arran Wearmouth and he had a simple task to tuck it away. The game then fell into the pattern of Dunston trying to exploit the pace of Mark Fitzpatrick up front while West Auckland were more patient in their build-up play. Most moves by both teams falling down on the edge of the box. A couple of chances right at the end of the half were the best for each team – Dunston’s Dale Burrell seeing his shot saved by West keeper Adam McHugh with his legs and Nathan Fisher running past defenders and just about to shoot when Ben Pollock blocked the ball with a last-gasp diving tackle. Up until the hour mark the game had been one of workman-like effort rather than one marked with skill or flair and then it started to improve, with space opening up around the pitch – no doubt because of some tired legs with the heavy going. Dunston got back on level terms in the 73rd minute with a penalty when Dan Parkin clipped Fitzpatrick as he took the ball past him. The Dunston No. 9 converted the spot kick. They were only level for a matter of seconds. West Auckland went straight up the other end to re-establish their lead. Wearmouth held the ball up long enough for Nathan Fisher to run across the Dunston defence and create some space. He took one touch and scooped the ball just inside the far post. Michael Hall almost levelled it again in the 83rd minute when his header flashed across the goal only to hit the post and two minutes later they pulled it back to 2-2 when Dan Lowther sent in a long cross into the box from the left. It eluded everyone and sneaked in – a cross had turned into a game saver. Going into the closing minutes, both teams went for the win and Dunston in particular had several shots blocked and chances cleared by the West defence, but no-one could find a winner and we headed into a penalty shoot-out. Both Grant and McHugh pulled off some fine saves in the shoot-out which Dunston edged with the sixth kick.