Shildon started the league season with serious intent. Experienced players had been brought in and promising youngsters had been signed up. The pre-season programme had been deliberately testing with performance levels and fitness being far more important than results.

The opening league game had seen Thornaby swamped by 8-1 and three days later, in front of your correspondent, a competent Ryhope CW side had been well and truly put to the sword by 5-1. The Railwaymen sat proudly at the top of the league with half an eye on the new Northern Premier League that will be with us next season.

An FA Cup tie against Garforth Town was welcomed. It was against outside opposition so no over familiarity with the opposition. Garforth had been beaten by Shildon on the last three occasions they had met in the competition. And, despite the Yorkshire club having a good win over Handsworth Parramore in their opening league game, they were short of players who were on holiday and only named 14 for this game. The omens pointed to a Northern League victory and a clash with Colne in the next round.

By 4.50, the rather disappointing crowd of 238 concluded that omens, like opinion polls, politicians and football pundits, are not infallible.

Garforth came, worked hard, chased around and thwarted the previously free scoring Railwaymen with a defensive display which featured some good goalkeeping from Toby Wells, some superb marshalling from skipper James Beaston and his colleague Sam Barker and some sheer graft up front by Mark Simpson.

That Shildon could not break them down was a disappointment. That they resorted to a series of aimless long balls as the game went on was doubly so.

Neither Zak Atkinson nor Kurt Matthews are proficient in the air. They are proficient at running at defenders and putting them under pressure. To do this, they need players further back to provide the opportunities for them to use their pace.

It didn’t happen. Maybe Danny Craggs was missed in midfield – his drive might well have got a goal at some stage. Other players were below par, with the normally so reliable and cultured Aiden Heywood’s passes up the line to Kurt Matthews ending up in the stand, the bushes or in what remains of Brown Street.

Chances were spurned throughout and, as the minutes ticked away, there was the fear that a breakaway by Town could see them nick the game. Shaun Newbrook had to be on his toes to make a couple of smart saves, but the game fizzled out and the blue and yellow clad supporters celebrated a good result and looked forward to a replay at Wheatley Park on Tuesday.

The afternoon was tempered by the news of a Sunderland equaliser at Ipswich and by the fact that it didn’t rain. The excellent quality of the Dean Street pitch is a testimony to the hard work that Norman Smith and Peter Rowley put into it. Both are members of that band of people who keep clubs at this level going i.e. volunteers. I imagine that both would be just a little pleased that there is a replay and that they don’t have to prepare for the league game against Northallerton Town on Tuesday. Instead, they may well want to try The Gaping Goose at Garforth, one of the finest alliterative pubs in this benighted nation of ours.

Meanwhile, the management team of Daniel Moore and Mark Hudson will be looking for signals to get the Railwaymen back on track without any more delays (enough of hoary old railway analogies – ed).

Pete Sixsmith