Esh Winning 1 Billingham Syntonia 1 – Ebac Northern League Division Two:

Recent league form by these teams has been contrasting, to say the least.  Esh Winning came into the game on the back of three wins, while they Synners had lost four on the bounce – albeit some of the games dating back to October.

As so often happens, a controversial moment at one end was quickly followed by a goal at the other.  Initially, Esh had to deal with some early Synners pressure but then they started to pose more of a threat.  Striker Joe Bates hit a half-volley that was blocked by Synners right back Alfie Simpson.  A minute later Bates got on the end of an excellent through ball by Cobi Jones.  The No. 9 took his time before shooting, only to see the ball rebound back out off the inside of the post.

At the other end, most Synners attacks floundered on the edge of the Esh box.  Their best two attacks came halfway through the half.  Liam Travers found Danny Earl wide right and Esh keeper Jak Wells was able to grab his cross before it reached Matthew Willshaw.  Willshaw then had a shot stopped by Esh defender Liam Colledge.

In the 28th minute a Synners defender was lucky to get away with a clip on Bates just outside the box as the striker got past him and was about to get a clear run at goal.  He followed that up with a shot across the Synners goal.

Both goals then came in a 10-minute spell towards the end of the half, with controversy surrounding the first.  There was contact between Synners defender Connor Johnson and Bates as the Esh player ran into the box.  The referee waved appeals for a penalty away and on the counter attack, Synners got the ball to Willshaw who had plenty of time to curl the ball round Wells and into the net.

(For what it’s worth, I thought the ref should have given a free kick and booking for the 28th minute incident but got the second decision right – it looked like a solid shoulder-to-shoulder challenge.  Others disagreed.)

With the half ebbing away, Esh captain Jonny Swift guided a free kick on the left past Synners keeper Ben Fairless and into the net, clattered into for his troubles too.

As in the first half, Synners got off to the better start in the second.  Swift made a crucial interception of a Ash Lavan cross before a Synners striker could connect with it and then Willshaw and sub Joshua Hatton couldn’t get much power or placement in shots.

Esh then started to gain the upper hand.  Full back Andy Taylor hit a dipping shot that Fairless had to scramble away round the near post.  Bates hit a cross across the face of the Synners goal that Willian Alves Olimpio was within a whisker of connecting with and scoring.

Esh had most of the late pressure.  A strong run allowed Lewis Heap to find Reece Wilkinson overlapping on the right and his cross/shot skimmed just over the bar and then Bates’ final effort was well off target.  With only minutes to go, Synners sub Elliot Duff saw a header loop over the bar.

It finished all square, ending the teams’ very different run of form.

Mike Snowdon