Billingham Town 4 Birtley Town 1

All sounds pretty straight forward doesn’t it? Billy Town – the team that’s been setting the pace all season – up against a side with nothing to play for and under-strength due to the unavailability of players and they score four goals.  It was anything but.

For an hour things got more and more nervous as the hosts tried to leap frog over neighbours Thornaby in the race to finish as Division Two champions.

For the opening 10 minutes they had the possession but didn’t particularly trouble the Birtley goal, in part because of some stout defending by Birtley who got plenty of men behind the ball, in part because the home team were not creative enough to find a way through.

They then started to crank up the pressure.  Just after the 13-minute mark they had three shots:  An Ash Lavan effort deflected away by Lewis Whybrow, a chance for Steve Oakley stopped with his legs by Birtley keeper Jordan Bolton and then Craig Hutchinson pulling a shot wide.

For the next 40 minutes it was effectively attack v defence.  Apart from those three chances, I counted another 10 shots and attacks where Billy Town did everything but score.  They kept on being thwarted by Bolton and his defensive colleagues.

Birtley’s No. 11 Ricky Tanoh provided a few half chance efforts, but home keeper Lewis McDonald has had more stressful afternoons in his career.  Until.

Until the 60th minute when the inevitable happened.  Birtley won a corner and Whybrow got ahead of a couple of Billy Town defenders and bundled it into the net.  0-1.  Birtley clearly hadn’t read the script.

To their credit, instead of allowing the nerves to get the better of them, Billingham Town applied even more pressure and were level five minutes later.  Steve Oakley put the ball into the danger area and it was knocked over the line by Jamie Davis.  The relief among the players and fans was palpable.  They started to play at a quicker tempo and the game re-booted as attack v defence.

They got their noses in front when Kris Summers pushed the ball towards the Birtley goal and Hutchinson was hovering close to the line to turn and shoot in one movement to make it 2-1.  You felt that the nerves only started to ease when Hutchinson made it 3-1 from the penalty spot after Elliott Beddow was brought down by Joe Barwick as he ran into the Birtley box.

Lee Moore added a fourth when Hutchinson had a shot saved by Bolton with his legs.  Unfortunately for the visitors, the ball when straight to Moore who hit a first-time shot into the net.

Billingham had put themselves and their fans through the wringer.  What chance some more equally frayed nerves next Saturday when the Division Two title is decided on the last Saturday of the season?  It’s Billy Town’s to lose.  All (all?) they have to do is get a point (unless there is an astonishing turnaround in the goal difference between them and Thornaby).

Town are at Heaton Stannington and Thornaby at home to Esh Winning.  I wonder if the Sky helicopter will be hovering?

Mike Snowdon