REPORT CARDS FOR ESH AND CESTRIANS

They often say in football you should refrain from passing judgement until you reach the milestone of 10 games into the season.

Esh Winning reached that landmark on Thursday when they welcomed an out-of-sorts Chester-le-Street to the WindowsPlusRoofs Arena and their first quarter report card will be graded with the letter ‘M’ for ‘mid-table’, with the comments section noting ‘must do better’ none more so than in last night’s contest which saw the Stags spectacularly squander a one goal advantage to eventually lose 4-2 to a Cestrian’s side skippered by former Esh man Craig Marron.

Chester-le-Street arrived in the Deerness Valley, or ‘Gods little acre’ as a wise man once declared it, for their eighth successive away game of the season, still to play on home turf, and found things difficult in the early stages as they defended down the slope in the first half.

They found things so difficult in fact they were behind inside the first 15 minutes from a root one Esh freekick as Lee McMahon lofted a long diagonal into the penalty area where captain Max Stoker was able to simply loop a header back over goalkeeper Jack Wilson into the back of the net. Easy as you like.

You’ll have had more joy trying to remove your car from the swampy marsh that resembled a car park than what the majority of the rest of the first half would offer as both sides cancelled each other out in the scrappiest of scrappy affairs that left the notes section somewhat empty.

That was until Tom Orton was forced into an excellent point blank save in the closing stages of the half to keep out Josh Akel’s goal bound header before the combination of Owen Henderson and Liam Dixon contrived to waste the excellent work of full back Fraser Colling and his pull back by missing the ball completely and then lashing over from close range.

It was a first half low on quality with more people in the half-time bar queue than there were talking points as Esh went in with a slender lead at the interval.

But if the first half was as cold as the encompassing night sky, the second half ignited quicker than the nearby coal fires of Fields Fish shop as the visitors not only restored parity to the scoreline they went ahead inside just five minutes of the restart.

First it was Dixon who capitalised on a miscue from Stags centre back Nathan Burrell in the 49th minute to race clear on Orton’s goal before superbly drilling the ball into the top corner to spark wild celebrations among the visiting contingent.

A minute later and the Cestrians had the chance to take the lead after Luke Collins was allowed to race down the right and into the area. A drop of the shoulder and a jink of the hips was enough to draw a cynical challenge from Jamie McLeod – who had little idea just how much worse his night would get from this ‘bad.’

Down went Collins and up stepped the wise old head and foot of Marron who calmly slotted the penalty down the middle to give Chester-le-Street the lead and complete a remarkable turnaround.

Last weekend I was at a fixture in Division One where the manager announced afterwards that the game resembled more of a basketball game at times and that was very much the case here as Esh looked for an immediate response through Callum Boakes with the away side looking threatening on the break.

But the home side would take just seven minutes to respond when McLeod’s long throw was headed away to the edge of the area where Jay McLean was on hand to strike a wonderful volley low through the crowded penalty area and into the bottom corner of Wilson’s right hand post via a slight deflection.

Akel steered narrowly wide for the visitors before Andrew Clarkson forced Wilson into a smart stop as the second half continued to show zero correlation to that of the first.

And then came the moment in the game with which the pendulum swung in favour of the away side. Burrell’s miscue again allowed Dixon a sight of goal but this time he was brought down by McLeod who would see red for denying a clear goal scoring opportunity.

The resulting freekick just outside the penalty area was smashed into the wall with the rebound landing at the feet of Akel who at the first time of asking arrowed a strike low into the bottom corner to put the Cestrians in front.

A goal down and a man down meant the task facing Esh was bigger than the slope in which they were kicking up and 10 minutes from time their huff and puff was extinguished when Chris Stephenson and Orton couldn’t decide which of them should clear a through ball with neither of them doing so as the pair collided with one another allowing Henderson the simplest of tasks of running the ball to an empty goal line and nudging it in.

There was still time for the night to get worse for Esh as Orton managed to get himself a slightly earlier shower than the rest of his nine remaining outfield players when he handled outside of the area as opposed to clearing with his feet from the on rushing Henderson.

There was no such time to revel in the delights of seeing an outfield player in between the sticks akin to John O’Shea’s display at Tottenham Hotspur or Niall Quinn at Bradford City with referee Morton bringing the game, and a bonkers second half, to a close soon after.

Esh players found themselves locked in the dressing room for quite some time after the final whistle, perhaps divulging on how they can improve that letter ‘M’ grade as Chester-le-Street go away with their second win of the season and move ever closer to finally playing a home game.

Joe Ramage

Penrith 5 Billingham Town 2 – Ebac Northern League Division One

A dour, relegation battle involving two teams at the wrong end of the table?  Nope.  Anything but.  One of the better games I’ve seen so far this season; and definitely worth the 180-mile round trip.  Some of the goals were top quality.

Penrith came out of the traps quickly and were 3-0 up within 15 minutes.

In the 5th minute Sean Law just overhit a ball into the Billingham box.  Seconds later he got another chance and didn’t waste it, delivering a perfectly weighted ball through the Town back line, allowing Ryan Errington to get on the end of it without breaking stride and the No. 7 stroked it past keeper Matthew Wilkinson.

Five minutes later, winger Kindsley Grandison was brought down on the edge of the box and the No. 11 took the free kick himself, hitting it perfectly into the top right hand corner of the Town goal. And then in the 13th minute, Luke Brown sent over a near-perfect cross, allowing captain Grant Davidson to meet it with a header that went back across the goal and in.

Penrith could have extended their lead – Davidson with another shot that Wilkinson was able to scoop away for a corner and Max Brown turning the Town defence before hitting a shot into the side netting.  Meanwhile, Billingham were struggling to get any kind of flow into their game and they weren’t getting an awful lot of change out of hitting long, high balls forward.  Three strikes and they could have been down and out.  Instead, the showed character and worked their way back into the game, even if it did take them until around the 30th minute when they started to have their best spell of the match.

And in the 33rd minute they were able to turn that into a goal.  Good work by Alex Bruton down the right ended with him almost losing possession before he managed to scramble it into the box.  Penrith were unable to clear it and Harry Close struck it in.  At 3-1 they had something to build on.

The momentum in the game continued to switch to the visitors.  Bruton continued to put pressure on the Penrith defence down the left and Ashley Lavan had a shot, but put too much curl on the ball, sending it wide of the goal.  They managed to pull it back to 3-2 in the 36th minute.  A ball in from the right byline found captain Daniel Boyle in space and he hit it across the goal.  Penrith keeper Luke Miller managed to get a touch on it but was unable to stop it from bouncing into the goal.

That was as good as it got for the visitors, who were unable to maintain the momentum in the second half, despite some chances and half chances.  In the 47th minute No. 9 Thomas Hinchley was poised to get on the end of a Boyle cross, only for Penrith left back James Metcalfe to get a tackle in.  In the 53rd minute they launched a quick counter attack and Lavan hit a powerful shot that Miller could only parry away.

It was a different matter for Penrith who kept pressing forward and were rewarded with two more goals.  Eight minutes after the break Brown and Mickey Williamson had shots within a couple of seconds of each other and then in the 74th minute they got their fourth goal.  The ball was sent up to Brown who won a tussle with Town No. 5 Oliver James before turning No. 6 Stephen Oakley and stroking the ball past Wilkinson, to complete a well-executed goal.

The match was then sealed in the 78th minute when Grandison took a touch to a Williamson pass and managed to hit the ball through a defender’s legs and into the net, past Wilkinson’s outstretched hands, to seal three valuable points.

Mike Snowdon

Whitley Bay 2 Newton Aycliffe 1 – Ebac Northern League Division One

The game started at a fast and furious pace, and hardly let up for the rest of the match.  It was a tough, competitive 90 minutes that simply flew by.

Two minutes in and Aycliffe No. 9 Adam Burnicle was almost put through by Marc Costello, only to be crowded out by Whitley Bay No. 6 Liam Gillesphey and keeper Chris Bannon.  And the visitors should have taken the lead in the 6th minute when Sam Dibb-Fuller had a gilt-edged chance with a big target to aim for, only to put his shot wide right.

For the opening 15 minutes Aycliffe had a shorter passing game while Whitley Bay relied more on longer passes and balls forward, looking more dangerous down their right; but it was down their left that they came closest to opening the scoring.  Left back Jamie Dunn made a surging run, lost the ball to Aaron Brown, regained possession as Brown was caught waiting to pass it back to keeper Adam Pickford, allowing Dunn to hit the ball into the heart of the Aycliffe goalmouth with the ball cleared off the line by Callum Munro.

The numbers seemed to give the edge to the visitors.  Their defenders outnumbered Whitley Bay attackers, while they committed more men forward than the hosts when launching attacks.  That didn’t stop Whitley Bay creating their best chance of the half in the 32nd minute when a well-placed cross by Matthew Weirs was met with a header by Adam Shanks who put the ball only just over the bar.

There was no let-up to the pace at the start of the second half and Aycliffe took the lead three minutes after the re-start when Connor Phelan was brought down in the box, with Burnicle striking the penalty low and left, just inside the post to make it 0-1.

In the 57th minute Whitley Bay were level.  A corner was sent over the Aycliffe penalty area where it was met by Dunn at the right hand post with a towering header that went it just inside the opposite post, despite a last gasp attempted clearance by a defender on the line.

The visitors were awarded a second penalty four minutes later when Jake Petitjean was brought down in the area by his opposite number Scott Lowery.  Burnicle stepped up to take the spot kick but hit it too straight, allowing Bannon to save it with his legs as he dived and then he pulled off a second superb save from a follow-up shot as he tried to get back to his feet.

Shots in the 71st and 79th minutes by Aycliffe’s Jarvie and Lewis Walton were both put over the bar but it was Whitley Bay who scored the third and decisive goal of the night.  Lewis Orrell had one attempted cross blocked, the ball fell back to him and his second cross found Richard Coulson at the far post and he planted his header in.

The goal spurred Aycliffe on to attack with more urgency, trying to get the ball forward as quickly as possible but Whitley Bay were able to defend their lead to take the points.

As competitive as the game was, it was encouraging to see so few fouls and free kicks.  If I have one slight complaint is that too many shots were straight at either keeper.  There were more goals there for the taking for both sides.

But it was fast, furious and a credit to the fitness levels and skill of the players.

Mike Snowdon

But who’d be a goalie?

Newcastle University 1 West Allotment Celtic 1 – Ebac Northern League Division Two

There was much to commend this game – the pace, the passing, two sides with game plans, good team work and some excellent defensive work.

However, the game centred around a couple of players.  Two strikers did what they’re meant to do.

In the 19th minute, West Allotment Celtic No. 9 Matthew Hayton produced a goal out of not very much.  His team mate Liam Beeston tried to turn the University defence only for his shot to hit a defender.  Fortunately for the visitors it fell to Hayton who turned a half chance into a quality goal – striking the ball first time round a bunch of defenders and finding the tightest of gaps between keeper Daniel Dekanski and the right hand post.

And for the rest of the game it looked as though that was going to be enough to secure Allotment all three points.

University No. 10 Niza Chilufya then dramatically snatched two points away from them with an equaliser in the last minute of the match – by being in the right place at the right time to stroke the ball into the net from only a couple of feet away from the Allotment goal.  But his good fortune was at the expense and misfortune of Allotment keeper Finlay Hodgson who dropped ball into the box from a corner, giving Chilufya his chance.

It was a tough, eventful, turbulent evening for Hodgson; four minutes before the goal he needed treatment after being on the receiving end of a late tackle by University’s No. 6 Ehizojie Oifoh who was lucky to be only booked for the challenge.

Chilufya’s late equaliser made amends for missing a bit of a sitter as early as the 9th minute when he somehow managed to hit the ball against the right hand post with the goal gaping.  At half-time it was a case of defences being able to snuff out just about every clear cut scoring opportunities, with both keepers rarely called on to make a save.

But in the 78th minute Hodgson pulled off the save of the game.  The ball dropped for University full back Adam Redford 25 yards out from the Allotment goal and his shot looked to be flying into the net only for Hodgson to get his fingertips to the ball to knock it over the bar.  It’s the way of football, that people are more likely to remember his mistake right at the end than the quality of the save; such is the life of a keeper.

West Allotment were the best side in last season’s abandoned season and they’ve picked up where they left off: second in the division – only two points behind Crook with a game in hand.  Meanwhile, Newcastle University had a solid season last season and they look as though they’ve stepped up a gear and are among a whole host of clubs who look as though they’ll be pushing for promotion.

Mike Snowdon

Billingham Synthonia 7 Durham City 1 – Ebac Northern League Division Two

There’s a temptation to leave the scoreline as the blog.  Synners were that dominant and, to be frank, Durham were that poor.

It’s been a turbulent season for the Citizens and this game just added to their woes.

Meanwhile, the Synners looked sharp, incisive and full of attacking ideas.  But it’s difficult to gauge their quality within the division, given the opposition they were up against.  All you can do is beat what’s in front of you, and Syntonia did just that with ease, confidence and aplomb.  Running through the goals:

21’ – A free kick and Stephen Morrison is given a free header planted into the net.

34’ – Approach work by Ben Jackson who passes to Ben Bielby who pushes it onto D’Andre Wainwright.  He nudges the ball into the net.

36’ – Wainwright returns the favour:  setting Bielby up and the No 4 curls his shot round the Durham keeper.

44’ – Wainwright hits a through ball to Kurtis Howes and his cross is met by Jackson who hits it in at the far post.

49’ – A Synners shot is blocked by the Durham defence, but the ball falls to Bielby who makes it 5-1.

53’ – The ball is hit across the pitch to Jackson who sends it back across to Wainwright for his second of the game.

85’ – The No. 9 completes his hat-trick with an unchallenged header.

The only surprise is that it was only seven.  There were plenty other shots by Synthonia, some of which should have been converted.

There were scant crumbs of comfort for Durham.  No. 8 Calvin Payne looked to be the only player who could cause the home defence any problems.  Fittingly he scored their only goal, finishing a rare, quick break and slotting the ball past Billingham keeper, drawing his team level only two minutes after the Synners took the lead.  It was a false dawn.

The scoreline could have been worse.  Keeper Quinaceo Hunt pulled off a couple of very good saves that probably prevented Billingham getting into double figures:  a diving save in the 6th minute, saving a shot with his legs in the 11th, palming a brisk shot over the bar in the 30th minute; and another shot stopped with his legs in the 61st minute.

If it had been a boxing match, the referee would have stopped it at half-time.  it’s going to be a long season for Durham unless they can turn things round dramatically and immediately.

Mike Snowdon

Northallerton Town 1 Newton Aycliffe 7 – Ebac Northern League Division One

By Pete Sixsmith

I am sure that you are all familiar with the work of the American journalist Lincoln Steffens. He was the man who visited the Soviet Union in the 1920s and made the declaration “I have seen the future and it works,” a statement that could be contested vigorously by many. It goes to show that predictions should be made based on more than one view of that of which you are pontificating.

Well, I have seen Newton Aycliffe twice this season. On the first occasion, a depleted side came back to gain a deserved point from a Shildon side who thought they had the game sewn up. Aycliffe were well organised, knew what they were doing and, although lacking a cutting edge, could well have won the game. I’ll make a prediction here: they have the potential to win the First Division this season.

On Wednesday, I trekked from Tier 2 County Durham, where promotion to Tier 3 is regarded as imminent and most of the inhabitants are infected by boils, pustules and swollen limbs and crossed the River Tees into North Yorkshire where all the men are handsome, all the women are pretty and all the children are above average and where boils etc are all but unknown.

Northallerton is a fine town with its long high street, its independent shops and its place at the centre of North Yorkshire life. It has a Betty’s, purveyors of Fat Rascals to fat rascals, Lewis and Coopers who sell sumptuous hampers and tuck boxes that even Bunter of Greyfriars would not complain about and Barkers, the kind of shop that Binns used to be like before Mike Ashley turned them into a slightly more upmarket version of Sports Direct.

The town football team has never risen to the heights of its shops. They switch divisions on a regular basis and I cannot remember them challenging for honours in the top flight or having a good run in either of the national competitions. This season they are sitting in mid table having played more games than most of those around them and having a goal difference that took a pounding in this game.

Aycliffe were a pleasure to watch, even if it was through steamed up varifocals and they played the crispest, best organised football I have seen this season. Manager Colin Stromsoy has put together a group of players who clearly listen to him and have bought in to his footballing philosophy of moving the ball quickly without giving it away.

There are no stars in this Aycliffe side but there is a collective frame of mind that Lincoln Steffens would have appreciated. Stromsoy is no Lenin, urging the workers on with stirring language and rhetoric as previous Aycliffe managers have. Instead, he is the technocrat who understands what can be done with the (relatively) limited resources that he has at his disposal and in getting the best out of each individual player.

He has, in Marc Costello, a fulcrum around which much of the play revolves. Up front, he has a bustling menace of a centre forward in Adam Burnicle, who caused the Northallerton defence all kinds of problems in the opening half hour as they went three up to leave the home team with a mountain to climb.

Burnicle opened the scoring in the second minute when he drilled home a superb ball from Liam Jarvie. Jarvie made it two, then Connor Phelan put the South Durham lads out of sight. Burnicle put a penalty so far over the bar that it hit the 19.58 to London Kings Cross, before another goal from the quietly impressive Jake Petitjean sent them into the dressing rooms with wide smiles on their faces.

Any hopes that Town had of getting back into the game disappeared when Petitjean headed home a fifth. In fact, their only hope of being spared a humiliating home defeat was when a bank of fog appeared and settled like a trusty Labrador in the far corner of the pitch. It was to no avail.

Further goals were added by Ethan wood and Liam Jarvie and although Nathan Stephenson beat Adam Pickford in the Aycliffe goal with an exquisite chip, it was no more than a consolation – if that.

Predictions made at the start of a long process often fall by the wayside – Steffens did get it wrong about Communist Russia – and there is always the possibility that some of the Aycliffe players could be lured away by bigger clubs with bigger budgets. But I got the distinct impression that this was a collective and a group of players who had developed together and who hoped to achieve together.

If you get the chance to see them, I heartily recommend it.