In the first of two additional reports, Pete Sixsmith was at Dean Street:

Shildon 2 Sunderland RCA 3 – Ebac Northern League Division One

As a man whose colours are nailed firmly to the red and white mast at The Stadium of Light, I have noticed that there is a preponderance of tall and physically capable defenders and muscular and quick forwards, whereas Sunderland are a little lightweight in comparison.

Should Jack Ross want to increase the physical power of his team, he may well be advised to get himself to Meadow Park and take a look at Sunderland RCA who epitomise the physically strong and mix it with a fair dose of football and a huge portion of commitment.

They earned their second 3-2 win of the season at Dean Street despite being down to 10 men after 25 minutes, when Kyle Davies was dismissed for an elbowing offence on Matty Robson. Davies did not protest a great deal and neither did his team mates as the Shildon support, in a healthy crowd of 290, looked forward to taking advantage of the 10 men.

It didn’t happen. RCA were already a goal up through a well-placed shot in the 4th minute by the aforementioned Davies, aided by some clumsy defending (Jack Ross might have recognised that) and it was already clear that they were going to play a high defensive line and squeeze the Shildon midfield into a very tight space.

They were superbly marshalled by the always impressive Glen Swansbury, who led by example and who gave the usually razor-sharp Zak Atkinson not a smidgeon of a chance. With the prolific Billy Greulich-Smith well handled by Tomas Howard and Nathan Steel struggling to get involved, most of Shildon’s attacking moves came from Robson but his crosses were dealt with by the RCA defenders and keeper Scott Pocklington.

Pocklington has clearly modelled himself on Harry Sharratt (main photo), the somewhat eccentric Bishop Auckland goalkeeper of the 50s – although whether Sharratt used the language that Pocklington did when he was critical of his team mates is highly unlikely. It prompted referee Graham Hopper (an excellent performance from him) to calm the agitated keeper down before a second red card could be produced and for Swansbury to try to pour oil on troubled waters.

The agitated keeper, already suffering from a sore back, absented himself from the visitors dressing room at half time and sat on the rail in front of the Dean Street end goal. Had there been snow on the ground, he could have emulated Sharratt by building a snowman in his six yard box.

RCA were two up at half time thanks to a fine goal by Mark Davison, who latched on to  more sloppy defending by an edgy Shildon back four and crashed the ball home from 20 yards.

Davison is just what you need in a Northern League forward; he is a big man, difficult to knock off the ball and he has an eye for a chance. He was a constant thorn in Shildon’s side, aided and abetted by Nathan O’Neill and well prompted by Colin Larkin in midfield.

When Davison took advantage of yet another basic error at the back to make it 3-0, the game looked over but the strain of playing with 10 was beginning to tell and a Ben Trotter header, with a quarter of an hour left, led to a concentrated Shildon siege on the RCA goal.

“Cometh the hour, cometh the man” as the New Testament tells us and although Scott Pocklington’s first half outburst was not in the spirit of the good book, he made a string of fine saves, catches and punches (at the ball, not his colleagues) before a late Aidan Heywood goal repeated the FA Vase scoreline of December.

Both clubs are just outside of the top six, not quite championship material but a fair bit stronger than the teams who are below them. Shildon have ambitions to move up the pyramid while I would imagine that RCA are happy to continue as a well-regarded, always dangerous Northern League Division One team.

It was an enjoyable game for the neutral (of which I was not one) and once again showed the depth of ability in the league. With our former clubs doing well at National North, Northern Premier (Premier) and Northern Premier One (North), we should be proud of the grounding we have given them and hope that we are not too weakened come the next round of pyramid re-organisation.

But I fear that we will be. And that’s another story.

In the second installment, Andrew Gibson was at the Washington v Birtley game:

Washington 0 Birtley Town 3 – Ebac Northern League Division Two

Birtley were able to complete a hat-trick of wins with a comfortable 3-0 victory over local rivals Washington. Two goals on the hour and a third with the penultimate kick of the game sealed all three points for the hoops in a fiery affair at The Nissan Sports & Leisure Complex.

To be fair it was Washington who looked the stronger in the opening encounters. The home team were playing their first match for a couple of weeks and whatever manager Mark Gibbon had been working on in training, it seemed to be paying off. The Mechanics looked to be playing a more physical game than previously and Josh Allan was controlling the game in midfield.

Both teams had chances to take the lead in the first half, Dylan Quinn coming the closest for Washington with a long-range shot, well saved by Birtley keeper Jordan Bolton. The visitors struck the bar on 30 minutes, Oliver Leedham getting on the end of a deep cross only to head against the metalwork.

Allan then turned from hero to villain for Washington. The home team had lost their way and the tough physical start had turned into a lack of discipline with poor decisions and rash tackles. Thirty-three minutes into the game  and Washington captain Allan was given a straight red card after a harsh two footed challenge on Tony Smith. It could have been worse for Smith if he hadn’t of anticipated the tackle and managed managed to hurdle it. The referee took a bit of time making his decision, and despite his best protest and Allan refusing to leave the field, Washington would have to play the remaining 57 minutes with 10 men.

Washington to their credit were able to steady the ship a little each side of half time. Again, both sides had chances to take the lead and the home side didn’t look to be a man down. But as the game progressed, it was clear Birtley’s advantage looked like it would pay off. And it did, with two goals coming about a minute apart.

The first, a brilliant long range effort by former Mechanic Robbie Williamson, beating Nathin Armin in the top corner. Then 45 seconds later Ollie Leedham found himself in the box with time to take the ball down and finish with class. But the talking points were not over there.

Washington had a strong shout for a penalty on the 72nd minute. Substitute Jak Hanson broke into the box, when foul appeals were waved away by the referee.  From where I was, it looked to be wrong decision from the official. This seemed to be huge moment in the game and with Birtley asserting more control, Washington allowed frustration to build. Further bookings for Ben Gibbon and Alex Ramshaw before a bad challenge from Chris Patterson, leading in with an elbow led to both sets of players surrounding the incident pushing and shoving with hands in faces and players squaring off at each other. Another referee could have produced a few more red cards. But in what was a difficult game to manage, referee Dan Ranson kept the coolest head on the pitch and only booked Patterson and Nicholas Hay for Birtley.

To be fair Birtley could have ended the game with 10 men. A rash tackle from behind by Kanda Mechak should have been a red and might have given Washington a fighting chance to get back into the game. The referee seeing only a free kick as fit enough punishment.

With the penultimate kick of the game Ben Garrity sealed all three points for Birtley finishing right in front of the keeper. To Armin’s credit, having just pulled off a spectacular save from James Davidson, there was little he to do to stop the third.

In an attempt to save Garrity’s goal, Armin accidentally followed through and wiped out the attacker. This resulted in more scenes of pushing and shoving between both sets of players, giving a bitter taste to the match with Daniel Hill for Birtley and Armin both picking up yellow cards. Several minutes after the goal referee Ranson blew for full-time as soon as Washington re-started.