NORTHERN FOOTBALL LEAGUE
Founded 1889 - second oldest League in the world
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Wednesday, 24 January 2018
26/10/2016 Hebburn Town 2 Hartlepool FC 3 – Durham Challenge Cup For the second night on the trot, the underdogs came out on top. Hebburn, unbeaten in seven games, were up against Hartlepool FC currently seventh in the Wearside League. But it was clear from the off that Hartlepool were up for the challenge of the Challenge Cup, chasing every ball and giving the Hebburn players no space or time on the ball. Hebburn didn’t do themselves any favours – with Kris Summers scoring an own goal with a header back to the keeper only to see it loop over him into the net. Pool almost went two up a couple of minutes later when Andrew Blackburn’s shot went just wide. Hartlepool’s energy knocked Hebburn off their stride and it wasn’t until the 25th minute when they had their best effort of the first half – a snap shot by Alan Pegram which hit Josh Noble’s legs in the visitors’ goal. Other than that, their shots and final balls lacked a bit of quality. Hartlepool went into the break 2-0 up when their right back Luke Naylor checked back on the edge of the box and slotted it home through a tight gap. The visitors were good value for their lead. Things didn’t improve in the second half when John Stephenson’s cross was met by Jamie Tumilty who scored for Hartlepool with a neat, simple header. Hebburn were still labouring, but two minutes after the third goal, Channon North latched on to a through ball to give the home side a bit of hope. It was the first time he’d been given time and space by the Pool defence. It looked ominous when John Stephenson was brought down in the Hebburn box but Tumilty’s penalty was saved well by Lee Burrell, diving at full stretch to his right. When Naylor was sent off for a two-footed challenge, it could have turned the game in Hebburn’s favour. Despite protestations from the Hartlepool bench, it was a pretty clear red card and I thought referee David Carr had a good game, preferring to talk to players rather than brandishing yellow cards. Hebburn got themselves back in the game when Glen Hargrave forced it home. It spurred the team on, they started to show more energy and drive, but Hartlepool held out. The visitors had started the match full of energy and the question was whether they could keep it going for 90 minutes. The answer was yes, even with 10 men for the last 17 minutes. A final thought: Going to see an entertaining and eventful game of football or staying at home to watch the final of a baking programme on the telly? No contest. 25/10/2016 Ashington 1 Blyth Town 2 – Northumberland Senior Cup A couple of weeks ago Secret Hopper saw Blyth Town beat Alnwick and noted that the club new to the Northern League seemed to be finding its feet. This win reinforced that impression. But Ashington played their part too in a cracking game of football which could have seen more goals had it not been for some fine goalkeeping by both Conor Grant and Mathew Crook. The first half especially had the momentum of a boxing match – punch and counter punch swapped for attack and counter attack and played at a high tempo too. Gary Day put the visitors ahead from the penalty spot after 10 minutes. He played a neat one-two with David Robinson who was brought down in the box for an undisputed spot kick. Both Day and Colliers striker David Dormand came close to goals but neither could quite reach crosses which sped across the six-yard box. Blyth manager Mick Connors kept on urging his team to settle down, but they seemed to be more than holding their own in the game played at pace. Meanwhile the Ashington bench were getting more agitated as the half progressed. They were slow to get going in the second half, with Blyth exerting most of the pressure for the first 10 minutes, only for the hosts to level. Kyle Downey sent in a corner and Dormand headed home unmarked in a moment of lost concentration. The equaliser seemed to knock the stuffing out of Blyth and handed the momentum to Ashington who looked as though it was a matter of time before they found a winner…..until. Until Danny Sayer found himself in the right place at the right time to strike the ball home in a crowded penalty area when Ashington failed to clear their lines with only minutes to go. It was a big win for the visitors and a testament to how far they’ve come this season. 23/10/2016 Atherton Laburnum Rovers 0 Chester-le-Street 3 Atherton Collieries 5 Jarrow Roofing 0 For those of you who like your football clichés, look away now. This wasn’t a game of two halves, it was two games of one half. (Sorry about that, but I couldn’t resist it.) As promised, Secret Hopper followed Chester-le-Street and Jarrow Roofing over the Pennines as they played two teams from Atherton from the North West Counties League in the FA Vase, taking in the first half of one and then moving to the other for the second. First up was Atherton Laburnum Rovers. Their ground is on the edge of a housing estate and nestles alongside a railway line. Their facilities, ground and pitch are as good as those at some of our first division clubs (they’re in the second tier of their league) – a good stand and plenty of covered areas for those wanting to stand. The pitch reminded me of a combination of the slope at Spennymoor and the undulations of Ryton and Crawcrook, but it was in pretty good nick. As far as the football is concerned, the opening and closing seconds of the half provided the drama of the first half. Within 10 seconds Chester-le-Street’s left back Michael Graver drilled a long cross-field ball for Dominic Laws. He was within inches of scoring, but he couldn’t quite control the ball and that allowed Thomas Goodwin in the LR goal to clear. The hosts responded with a shot by Adam Owens but his effort flashed past the post, taking a deflection on the way. Cestrians captain Andrew Grant-Soulsby was inches away from giving his team the lead, just failing to connect with an Alex White cross. The next best chance fell to the visitors too – and once again Dominic Laws found himself in space on the right. His shot looked goal bound but was pushed past the post by Goodwin. Laws was Chester’s busiest player of the half. As the half progressed, Chester-le-Street started to get into their stride, although they didn’t quite get to grips with the slope, over-hitting many of their long passes. They seemed in a rush to get it up to the front men as quickly as possible. A more patient build-up might have been a bit more fruitful. LR ceded more possession as the half progressed, and at times were reliant on a few breakaway attacks. They couldn’t sustain their passing and possession. Their best player was midfielder and driving force Boic Bofana. It was Lee Mole who sent the visitors into the dressing room ahead (and your correspondent out of the ground), breaking the deadlock with a header from a corner in a crowded penalty area in the dying seconds of the half. It was then a quick dash to the car for the short trip down a couple of roads to take in the second half of Atherton Collieries v Jarrow Roofing, with Collieries up 2-0 from the first 45 minutes. Roofing needed a good start to the second half, but it never came. From the off, Collieries were the better team, with Mark Battersby leading the way. The striker was a handful for the Roofing defence and opened the second half scoring. He was set up by Ben Hardcastle, rounded keeper Andrew Hunter and walked it in. He was the pick of an impressive front line for the Collieries, with Hardcastle, Sherlock and Bailey also causing problems, combining well and timing their runs to stretch the defence. The whole team looked sharp, fit and well organised. For Roofing there wasn’t much to shout about. Their main threat was flick-on headers by Paul Chow, but there was no-one around to take advantage. With five minutes to go, Roofing’s Arjun Purewal scooped a chance over the bar. It was their best chance of the half, but it never looked as though they were going to turn the tide. Earlier Kieran Graham had a chance but was denied by a last-gasp block. Within a minute, the hosts went four up when Jordan Cover turned the ball back for Vinny Bailey who had a pretty simple tap-in. And then came an absolute beaut of a goal. Gareth Peet got to the byline and crossed it. Lurking at the edge of the box was Justin Pickering who turned and volleyed it into the far corner of the goal, past the despairing hands of Hunter. He couldn’t have hit it any more sweetly and he was mobbed by team mates and the coaches. One of them said: “He needed that.” Apparently Pickering has been getting a bit of stick from the fans for recent performances. The goal would have been all the sweeter for it. It was a sensational strike. Jordan Cover should have made it six. He beat the defenders and tried to bend it past Hunter but hit it straight at the keeper. My match notes had the names of nine Collieries players and four from Roofing – and that told its own story of which team had the better of it. Roofing fielded a depleted team, with several players injured, playing with injuries or unavailable. It was a bit of a patched up team but they’ll be disappointed by their second half performance. Collieries are second in the top division of the North West Counties League, and it’s easy to see why. Their players made an absolute racket as they got back to their dressing room…..and they thoroughly deserved it. It was a fine performance and win. A couple of thoughts: as with the Northern League, players, officials and fans mix in the clubhouse after the game. Both referees had good games – getting the calls right and controlling the game with clear, succinct communication. The grounds are of a similar standard too. And referees still get the blame when things go wrong. Finally, many thanks to Jane and Ronnie at LR and Emil at Collieries for their help and hospitality as well as to North West Counties League media officer Ian Templeman for helping to fix the arrangements. PS - Secret Hopper also won £20 on the pre-match draw at LR, gratefully received and a useful contribution to the petrol. PPS – the other good news is that Jan McLoughlin is still talking to Secret Hopper (see the blog from the Easington Colliery v Jarrow Roofing game). 22/10/2016 It’ll be FA Vase day with a difference for Secret Hopper today. Two of our teams are in Atherton, playing teams from the North West Counties League and I’m aiming to go to both games, swapping games at half-time. First up will be Atherton Laburnum Rovers who take on Chester-le-Street. Cestrian chairman Joe Burlison says that the two teams met almost 20 years ago in the FA Cup. They won 4-1, with one of their team scoring a hat-trick and netting the club £5,000 for ground improvements. The player in question? Morpeth manager Nick Gray. Then it’ll be a dash across town to take in the second half of Atherton Collieries who host Jarrow Roofing. It will be the second time this year that Secret Hopper has seen the home team – back in January they played Newton Aycliffe, with Newton Aycliffe winning 1-0. Collieries are second in the Premier Division while LR are 19th in the First Division. 19/10/2016 Crook Town 0 Tow Law Town 4 – Ernest Armstrong Memorial Cup Patience was rewarded for the spectators at this cup derby. It was 10 minutes for the first noticeable action, with Crook’s left winger Daniel Smith cutting inside the defender only to shoot straight at the keeper. He was the host’s most lively player, so it was unfortunate that he was injured and had to be substituted. They never really got going again. It took 20 minutes for some football to break out. Jordan Lee had Tow Law’s first effort and then Crook’s Damon Reaks had a long-range shot parried, but Kieran Megran couldn’t pick up the scraps to finish the move off. Dean Thexton broke the deadlock for Tow Law on the 37-minute mark with a pile driver from outside the box. It was the highlight of a very average first half. The Lawyers doubled their lead when a free kick fell to Matthew Soulsby at the back of a crowded box and he forced it home. Tow Law finished the half in control of the game and the never relinquished it for the rest of the 90 minutes. The Tow Law defence looked comfortable all through the match, with everything played in front of them. The match was put to bed in the closing 10 minutes when Christopher Mordue got on the end of a long ball, he squared it for Thexton who despatched it. Jordan Lee finished it off in the closing minutes. Tow Law had two standout players: Thexton and left back Scott Oldfield. Apart from his two goals, Thexton was a handful for the Crook defence all game long and the ball stuck when knocked forward for him to hold up and then release for team-mates. Oldfield was a constant threat down the left, making well-timed runs and was involved in many of their best attacking moves, particularly in the second half. Meanwhile, it was a bad day at the office for Crook. Michael Allen in the Tow Law goal was kept more busy by some wayward back passes by his own players than shots by Crook. Their passing left a lot to be desired and their chances were few and far between. It was that kind of match for them. By the way, Liam Whitworth was sporting some rather nifty slip-on boots after his normal pair apparently went AWOL. The shiny heels were particularly “noticeable” (to be diplomatic). 18/10/2016 Whickham 1 – Stockton 3 It was a tetchy affair at the Glebe. Niggling fouls and confrontations were peppered throughout the Ernest Armstrong cup tie. Stockton kept their composure and that probably saw them through. Whickham were trying to bounce back after three defeats and they got off to the perfect start, Mark Fitzpatrick’s pace proving too much for the Stockton defence. He ran on to a long ball, leaving the defence standing, rounded the keeper and tucked it away. He should have doubled his tally within minutes after latching on to a weak back pass, but he could only pull his shot wide. Stockton were knocked out of their stride by Whickham’s impressive workrate. They closed them down at every opportunity, not giving them time to get their passing game going. The second half didn’t get off to the most auspicious starts with a confrontation between Kallum Broadhead and Chris Stockton; both were lucky to stay on the pitch, but for Broadhead it was only a reprieve – he was sent off not long after. By then, the visitors had equalised through Kallum Hannah. Stockton then started to control the game and it was no surprise when they went ahead thanks to a fine long-range shot by Joe Carter. They kept their best to last with a curling shot by Joseph Scaife Wheatley in added time. Referee Stephen Beresford tried his best to keep bookings to a minimum. Other referees could have had more names in the book and some of the players couldn’t have complained if they had ended up with yellow cards. It was not the most elegant of games. 15/10/2016 Non-League Daily editor Mark Carruthers reports on Bishop Auckland's FA cup exit. The run is over but Bishop Auckland should come away from their FA Cup Fourth Round Qualifying tie at National League North club Stockport County with nothing but credit. The Two-Blues were bidding to become the first Northern League club to make the First Round of the FA Cup since Shildon in 2003 but key moments in the game didn't go their way. After a shaky start, Bishops were grateful for the alert goalkeeping of Ed Wilcznski as he denied Hatters winger Danny Lloyd after he had been played in one-one-one with the Bishops number one. It wouldn't be the last duel between the pair in the first half. Bishops did settle after that chance and Ian Ward had their first chance of note with a low drive that was comfortable for Ben Hinchliffe in the home goal. Shortly after the Hatters took the lead as a weak defensive header landed at the feet of Lloyd and, rather than smashing a shot, he produced a calm, accurate volley that nestled inside the far corner, much to the delight of the majority of the Edgeley Park crowd. Bishops kept going, playing their attractive brand of football and really should have levelled after Ward played in Andy Johnson, with the number nine escaping the attentions of the back four but surprisingly the usually prolific striker could only find the chest of Hatters keeper Hinchliffe. That miss was punished moments later as Lloyd was afforded too much time on the edge of the Two-Blues area. There was nothing cultured about this finish, as he smashed as drive into the same corner that he had found with his first goal. That gave his side a two goal lead at the break, leaving Bishops with a mountain to climb in the second half. The second half was all about two things in all honestly. Could Lloyd get a deserved hat-trick and could Bishops get back into the game? Surprisingly neither happened! Lloyd went close on a number of occasions, while Bishops failed to test Hinchliffe in the home goal. There were chances for the Hatters to extend their lead but in all honesty a third would have been cruel on them. It was to end 2-0, but Bishop Auckland showed up well on and off the pitch against their National League North opposition. Their FA Cup run has given them the belief that they can match clubs at a higher level and that will mean a lot to the Two-Blues. 14/10/2016 Andy Potts previews the game involving the last Northern League club standing in the FA Cup: My last encounter with Stockport County was worlds away from the non-league game or National League North. A freezing December day, the Stadium of Light pitch carpeted in frost and Peter Reid’s Sunderland edging a 1-0 win on the way back to the Premier League. Times change. Stockport saw their local derby move from Manchester City to Hyde United. Sunderland carry on the region’s unhappy tradition of being too big for the second tier but never really convincing in the top flight. County’s latest engagement with a County Durham team comes on Saturday. The crowd won’t match the 36,000 who saw Nicky Summerbee’s winner on Wearside, but Bishop Auckland – proud cup battlers themselves – are bringing at least 300 to Edgeley Park for the FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round tie. It’s a big deal for Bishops, who are looking impressive this season and could finally be poised to start climbing the pyramid once again. For a club that spent so long struggling for survival during those nomadic years at Shildon and Spennymoor, an impressive cup run means a lot. It’s not just about money, although club chairman Nick Postma reckons their success to date is worth an extra 23% on the playing budget for the season. It’s about reconnecting town and team. Attendances at Heritage Park are up – 328 on average in the league this season and better in the cups. There’s a feel-good factor that has old-timers reminiscing about the good old days at Kingsway. Back then, of course, Bishops were in the heart of their town; the roar that greeted a home goal could be heard in the market place. The ground, shared with the cricket club, had a ramshackle charm that found no place in the modern pyramid but lives on in the hearts of those who remember it. Like so many clubs at this level, they were forced to move on. It takes time to build a new generation of glorious memories, to imbue the history that makes a field into a football ground, a stand into a spiritual home. Back in Sunderland, that 1998-99 promotion season helped to establish the Stadium of Light as a true home; in Bishop Auckland this season’s cup run is doing the same. A first-round tie, perhaps with TV coverage, would cement that legacy. A strong league campaign and promotion to the level many feel the team should never have dropped below, would do the same. For now, though, the most important thing is that the Bishop buzz is back at last. Non-League Daily Editor Mark Carruthers is travelling with the squad for today's game and will report back in tomorrow's blog. 13/10/2016 Easington Colliery v Jarrow Roofing - League Cup Last season Easington Colliery edged Morpeth out of the League Cup in a thrilling match at Craik Park Another game against a first division team in the same competition would be a good barometer for how they might compete if they get promotion. For the first 45 minutes they fell a bit short. Calvin Smith opened the scoring for Roofing with a shot that had Easington Colliery keeper Ethan Anderson grasping at thin air – the 30-yarder had movement, swerve and dip. The visitors’ second came from a cross by Alex White. It fell to Michael Mackay who laid it on for Paul Chow to score. The 0-2 scoreline was a fair reflection of the play. Roofing had made the most of their quick, short passing and disrupted Easington’s play. The hosts had problems connecting as a team and resorted to some wayward long balls from the back. The teams’ play flipped at the interval. Whatever was in the half-time cup of tea, it seemed to work for Easington. They were the ones making all the running, putting the Roofing defence under pressure and within a couple of minutes they had got back on level terms – thanks to two quality goals by Nathan Renton. He latched on to a precise through ball and matched it with a precise finish which just beat Andrew Jeninson in the Roofing goal. Roofing were on the back foot and Easington were playing quickly and accurately and on the hour mark Renton levelled it up with a powerful header from a corner while the defence stood flat-footed. Chow almost nicked it with a few minutes to go with a header that forced a good save out of Anderson, but it finished 2-2 and was decided on penalties. The win at Morpeth was also on penalties. They couldn’t quite repeat the feat – this time losing 4-5 on pens - but they came pretty close. PS - There was one notable absentee from the Jarrow Roofing contingent. Chairman and joint manager Richie McLoughlin was wondering why his wife Jan hadn’t made it to the game so rang her to give her directions. There was only one slight logistical problem – she’d gone to Willington instead of Easington Colliery. To compound matters, Roofing do indeed play Willington in a couple of weeks’ time. At home. PPS – Secret Hopper just hopes this anecdote doesn’t scupper the chances of getting another cup of tea at Roofing. 12/10/2016 Ashington captain Craig Scott looks like an archetypal centre back. And he put in a typical centre back’s performance in their League Cup game at Billingham Synthonia – some crunching tackles and tussles with Synners forwards. But he was the unlikely source for the game’s one moment of brilliance. He’d pushed forward for a corner, the ball bounced on the edge of the box, he turned and hit the sweetest of volleys, curling it into the top left hand corner. It was a goal any striker would have been proud of. I wonder if it's the best goal he's scored. He seemed as surprised as anyone that he had struck it so well. The rest of the team certainly weren’t expecting it, judging by the smiles and congratulations afterwards. It was a rare moment for the spectators to enjoy. It had been a pretty ordinary match up until then. The Synners went into the half-time break 1-0 up and they deserved to be ahead. Max Craggs’s free kick was perfectly delivered into the gap between defenders and keeper. Danny Brunskill made a run to the far post and struck it home. Ashington struggled to get much passing going. My assessment was that Kyle Downey was the Colliers’ main threat only to be corrected by a fellow ground hopper. “He’s their only threat.” Even his chances were in the main limited to long-range efforts, mostly free kicks from outside the box. He got the visitors on level terms, converting a penalty eight minutes into the second half. To be honest there wasn’t much else to report from the game, but the Scott goal made up for it. 11/10/2016 Blyth Town seem to be hitting a bit of form. It has taken them some time to get used to the new league, but their 3-0 win at Alnwick in the League Cup was pretty comfortable. It was game decided by pace and movement, with Alnwick struggling at times during the first half to contain the visitors. Five minutes in and left back Danny Sayer put in a decent cross, Dean Walker ghosted in on the blind side to plant a header into the net. Two minutes later Sayer was at it again, but this time no-one made the run to get on the end of the cross. Blyth were crafting all the chances and it was no surprise when they doubled their lead on 12 minutes when Tony Stephenson had a shot blocked by Alnwick keeper Dominic McMahon. Unselfishly he pulled the rebound back for Gary Day who squeezed it under the diving keeper. The second half was disappointing. For the first 15 minutes Alnwick looked a bit more fired up whereas Blyth didn’t get going and were in danger of trying to coast through the rest of the game. But on the 62nd minute Day and Stephenson combined to set up Liam Gillesphey who tucked it away. It effectively finished the tie as Alnwick didn’t look as though they believed they could get anything out of the game. Their chances were few and far between throughout the match. Joshua Nay worked hard but there wasn’t much help and support around him until substitute Jake Morrison joined him up front. He gave the Blyth defenders something else to worry about and he was unlucky not to grab a goal. The ball was played over the defence, he tried to prod it over Mathew Crook in the Blyth goal, but he dived high to his left and managed to get his finger tips to nudge it wide. It was the best save of the game. Morrison broke free in the dying minutes, but was ruled offside. It was their last chance. 10/10/2016 TWO DAYS IN OCTOBER By Pete Sixsmith I enjoy International Break Weekends. I hasten to add that I am more interested in the results of the Brandon and Byshottles Leek Club draw than I am in the results of an England side that are making it clear that a single World Cup, won half a century ago is the only trophy they will ever win in my lifetime – unless FIFA or UEFA award trophies for hapless managerial appointments. It also gives me a break from the slog of watching Sunderland this year and I took off on a two match double both sides of the Brexit/Remain border for my football fix. Saturday saw me travelling by Trans Pennine Express and GM Buses to Prestwich Heys, newly installed in the North West Counties First (Second) Division, for their League Cup clash with Litherland REMYCA. Adie Moran Park, named after a much loved and much missed Prestwich stalwart is in the Badlands on the border between Bury and Manchester. The traffic on the M60 thunders by behind a wall, but all in the ground is tranquil. It was a school field and over the years has been turned into a ground that would struggle to get into the Northern League pyramid but had no problem being accepted by an expansionist NWCL. Floodlights have recently been installed and there is hard standing all around. The club house was warm and welcoming with a splendid selection of pies on sale and the programme was excellent for this level. Yes, there is a but coming; there was no seating for spectators other than eight white, plastic chairs similar to those sold at large DIY stores or any discount store. And they were not under cover. Fortunately, the sun shone all afternoon and Whitefield (the area where the ground is situated) enjoyed a very pleasant autumn day. Litherland were the better footballing side and impressed me with their skills and demeanour. It may be pandering to stereotypes, but I often find that Merseyside teams can be physically and verbally aggressive but they contradicted that, playing the game in an excellent spirit. They appeared to be sanguine about the 2-1 loss, having a local derby with City of Liverpool midweek and an upcoming FA Vase tie with Shildon a week on Saturday. The next morning, after a good night’s sleep, I heaved myself out of bed, fired up the Mazda and set off for Dumfries. The capital of South East Scotland is a lovely town and they have a team that must have a place in the heart of every football fan if only for its name. Queen of the South are the only club whose name appears in the bible (I don’t count Bury in that) and they are also the only senior club in Britain to play on a ground that shares its name with a Prime Minister. Granted Lord Palmerston may be a name that many of the readers vaguely remember from O Level History, but PM he was. The attraction of this game, an Irn Bru Scottish League Challenge Cup tie, was the opposition. Queens had drawn one of the two Northern Irish clubs invited into the competition and here was a great opportunity to see Linfield from Belfast, the most decorated of IFA clubs and at one time permanent fixtures in the European Cup. They brought somewhere in the region of 1200 supporters with them and they were noisy, banging drums, singing songs (some of which did not directly relate to the beautiful game) and probably enriching several pub landlords in the vicinity of Palmerston. It was an enjoyable game which featured two veterans who were worth the admission money alone. For Queens there was Stephen Dobbie, now 33 and with, as the old cliché goes, more clubs than (insert name of favourite golfer here). Some big ones in Rangers and Crystal Palace and some not so big as in Dumbarton and Fleetwood, but wherever he has been he has shown his class. He did so twice in this game, first of all setting up Lyndon Dykes for the opening goal in the first period of extra time and then sealing the win for Queens with a splendid free kick that left the other outstanding veteran flat footed in the Linfield goal. That was Roy Carroll, once of Manchester United for whom he played 46 times and lately of Olympiacos, OFI Crete and Notts County. He has come home to “Norn Iron” and showed what a good keeper he is by pulling off a string of fine saves. He received a hearty round of applause from the Dumfries faithful as he took up his position in front of the covered terrace at the start of the second half of extra time only for the applause to turn to boos when he wiped out a home team player seconds later. The fickle football fan is alive and well and living in Dumfries and Galloway. The next break is in November. I am already looking forward to it. 09/10/2016 West Auckland Town 3 Consett 2 You don’t expect a team of West Auckland’s reputation to be propping up the first division. Consett had their own challenges too on the day – they were missing seven players. The game got off to a scrappy start but a neat give and go by Jack Elliot and Matty Moffat gave the young winger a chance on goal which he took with a precise finish. It was just the start West Auckland needed. The next 10 minutes saw the best football of the first half – a Consett free kick well saved by Town keeper David Knight and another long-range shot shaving the post. Town’s Adam Preston almost capitalised on a poor back pass and Moffat saw a shot go just wide. Dave Edwards made it 2-0. Loitering on the edge of the box, the ball fell to him and his sharp shot gave the keeper no chance. Jordan Nellis pulled one back for Consett thanks to a heavy deflection. It looked a speculative shot from long distance, but it careered off Thomas Marron and gave Knight no chance of stopping. Moffat and Preston combined for West Auckland’s third goal. Consett’s left back Clark Kay got one back with a strike that sailed over everyone into the far top corner. It looked suspiciously like a cross, but I’m prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. It wrapped up the scoring. Consett kept on pressing but couldn’t get the equaliser. The missing seven players might have given them the edge they needed. West Auckland chairman Jim Palfreyman said they had struggled with a young team and have now got more experienced players in. Two of their young players who were in the team had good games. Right back Alex Nelson was kept busy, especially in the first half. A couple of times he was up against two Consett players. He was up to the task. Winger Jack Elliot showed pace and enthusiasm for taking the game to the Consett defence. The club will hope that they’ve turned a corner. 08/10/2016 There was plenty of action on the pitch when West Allotment Celtic played Morpeth Town last night, but the big news broke after the game when the Highwaymen announced that co-manager Nick Gray is leaving the club. He’s off to take up a coaching job in China and he could have gone through the motions on the touchline. Not a chance. He was just as fired up as usual, shouting orders to his players and showing his frustration when things didn’t go their way or chances went begging. He’ll be a big miss at the club. On the pitch the 2-0 win for Morpeth didn’t tell the whole story. They were one up on the 19th minute when Keith Graydon’s free kick found Chris Swailes. His towering head looked as though it had been saved by Chris Bannon in the West Allotment goal, but he couldn’t get quite enough on the ball to keep it out. Graydon and Swailes almost repeated the trick eight minutes later. This time the header went just wide. They were 2-0 up on 35 minutes when West Allotment conceded a penalty for a push in the box. It was confidently despatched by Sean Taylor. In the second half the visitors had some great chances to extend their lead but their finishing was less than clinical. Morpeth’s last chance fell to Brandon Williams. He was clear on goal a few feet out, but an Allotment player flung himself across the goal line and managed to get a heel to keep the ball out. As far as West Allotment is concerned, Secret Hopper last saw them a few weeks ago when they played at Newton Aycliffe and were on the wrong end of a bagful of goals. Last night they weren’t a team transformed but there was a marked improvement all through the team. Their best chances and most sustained pressure came in the last 20 minutes. Dale Pearson and Shaun Reay tested Karl Dryden in the Morpeth goal. On the 75th minute there was a goal mouth scramble but a West Allotment couldn’t get close enough to poke it home. If they’d managed to have scored they would have made the game very interesting. Bannon was their best player and pulled off some fine saves. Morpeth could and should have scored a few more but that would have been harsh on the hosts who wouldn’t have deserved to have conceded five or six. The Northern League won’t be quite the same without Nick Gray. FA Vase winners isn’t a bad sign off from him. We wish him well. 05/10/2016 Guisborough Town got back to winning ways with a 3-1 win over Washington last night – their first victory since the back end of August. It will have done their confidence the world of good. Almost a quarter of an hour into the game Matty Pennal took a pass down the right channel, shrugged off a defender, went past the keeper and struck it home. It seemed to settle the team down and gave them the lift they needed. Six minutes later Leon Carling struck a low, hard drive at goal. The rebound fell to Anthony Hume who took his chance to make it 2-0. It spurred Washington on. Mark Davision hooked the ball over a defender but his shot was blocked by Ryan Catterick in the Guisborough goal. Two minutes on and they got themselves back in the game. Anthony Callaghan sent over precise cross and Matty Waters was on hand to score with a delicate header. But it was Guisborough’s third goal was the most decisive. A long clearance found Pennal. The Washington defence seemed to freeze. He struck it on the volley and into the net. He probably knew it was a goal as soon as he hit it. It seemed to knock the stuffing out of Washington who took a good 10 minutes to get going again, but their play remained ragged for much of the rest of the half. Guisborough improved the longer the game progressed. Their most effective play was breaking quickly on the counter attack. Washington, on the other hand, seemed to go backwards. Moves broke down after a couple of passes and they didn’t cause too many problems for the host’s defence in the second half. Secret Hopper always enjoys watching the Mechanic’s left back Anthony Callaghan – one of the quickest left backs in the league and he delivers precise dead balls. That dead ball delivery was on show last night, the only trouble was that his team mates weren’t busting a gut to get on the end of them (goal excepted), much to the frustration of their coaches. Washington’s last real chance fell to Mark Davison on the 77th minute. He had a free header from another corner by Anthony Callaghan but he put it over the bar. A well-deserved win for Guisborough. (A couple of side notes to the game. Guisborough’s keeper Ryan Catterick was wearing colours that were more suited to a hi vis vest. It was so luminescent that he would have been spotted even without floodlights. And secondly, there was more chat on the field than an edition of TV’s Loose Women. I know communication between referee and players and between team mates is to be commended, but it was non-stop. It’s a pity there wasn’t a mute button on hand.) 04/10/2016 Exquisite – (Adjective.) Extraordinarily fine or admirable; consummate. Sunderland RCA 2 Bishop Auckland 1. A game decided by two exquisite passes. The first came on the 13 minute mark. Liam McBryde found himself with a bit of time and space, looked up and saw Colin Larkin make a run across Bishop’s back four. McBryde delivered the perfect ball into space for Larkin to move onto. His looping effort fooled some people into thinking it was going well over. All of a sudden in dropped into the net and RCA were ahead. The second? That man McBryde again. Another pass timed and weighted to perfection. Callum Hassan didn’t have to break stride, he powered forward and thumped it in for RCA’s second. The match had started at a high tempo which lasted the 90 minutes, a testament to the fitness of both teams. At times RCA played a dangerous offside game in the first half which was not surprising, given that Christopher Winn posed a constant threat up front. Bishop Auckland got some return for all their effort just after the hour. Dylan Elliott burst through the RCA defence, got his angles right and drilled it home. With 15 minutes to go James Fairley’s pace got him to a through ball before the keeper. He took it round Sam Guthrie but he could only find the side netting from an acute angle. It was their best chance to equalise and it looked as though he knew it. RCA have been conceding goals late in the game. The bench were understandably eager for the final whistle. “Ref: how long to go?” “Four minutes.” A minute later: “How long to go?” Surprisingly enough it was three minutes. Much of this blog is about RCA, mainly because most of the notable incidents involved them. But Bishop Auckland played their part in a cracking game of football. They had bags of energy and kept the pressure on the Wearsiders for much of the match. They cranked up the pressure even more for the last 10 minutes. They kept knocking at the door but couldn’t find a second. RCA held out. Man of the match? Now, let me think……. 01/10/2016 Sometimes there are lies, damned lies and football scores. But there was no deception in Seaham Red Star’s 6-1 demolition of Whitley Bay yesterday. It was a comprehensive team effort, but in particular, Craig Lynch and Denver Morris had standout games. Lynch bagged himself a first half hat-trick, showed some neat touches and skill, held the ball up well and brought others into the game. Morris has moved from North Shields to Red Star for four weeks to regain full fitness and get some games under his belt. Even if he’s not 100%, he still had too much pace and guile for the Bay defence. Whitley didn’t know how to cope with them. Red Star’s scoring was completed by Lee Hetherington whose deft goal was the best of the bunch – hooking it over the defender and past the keeper. David Paul added the fifth and could have had a hat-trick too. Proceedings were closed with another Paul shot which was parried by Thomas Flynn. It fell to Robbie Bird who had a simple tap in. Red Star are on a roll. Meanwhile, for Whitley Bay it was a grim afternoon. For much of the game the team looked lacklustre – lacking energy and drive. Beaten to the ball time and again and coming off second best in 50-50 balls. Their best play was halfway through the second half when there was just a hint of a fightback. They capitalised on sloppy play by Seaham who had switched off. Tom Potter found space on the left. His cross was met by Callum Anderson who managed to get a shot away. Shaun Newbrook’s save fell to Kyle Fryatt who scored to mark one of their few good moves. They had another chance blocked, but any revival was soon snuffed out by Seaham. There was a lot of shaking of heads by Bay fans. Their team had given them precious little to cheer.