Saturday, October 22, 2011

Town must tune in again as Consett force a replay

FA Vase 1st Round Proper

Guisborough Town 4 - 4 Consett (AET)

Guisborough Town 4 – 4 Consett
Cup games are meant to provide goals, near misses, controversy and crowd involvement. This game ticked each of the above boxes and after 120 minutes of pulsating, end to end action, both teams were left to reflect on what might of being, before turning their attentions to a much anticipated midweek rematch.
Guisborough entered the game on the back of a 4-0 home reverse against Whitley Bay in midweek. This was no disgrace; Bay were sharp, incisive and supremely organised and at times they cut through our defence like a hot knife through butter. Despite that, Guisborough’s second half showing was promising. Chances were carved out and on another day the deficit may have been smaller. It was clear to see why Whitley Bay have won the FA Vase three years in a row. The basics are done so effectively and professionally and there was no obvious weakness anywhere on the pitch. When they could find the space, Bay looked to play the ball from the back, but were equally adept at playing the percentages when there was any risk of being dispossessed.

Consett are a good side, but for a number of reasons – not least some injuries to key players – their form going into this game was at best patchy, with just three wins in their last eleven games. It was Guisborough who started the brightest and with a strong wind in their favour, Town did the early pressing. Yet the first goal belonged to the visitors. The home defence dallied too long in possession and the mistake was punished clinically as Michael Mackay skipped past the home defence and the advancing Jack Norton before finishing smartly from an acute angle. In a pattern that was to be played out throughout the rest of the game, Consett’s lead was short-lived. Within just minutes of the restart, Onions clipped a perfect ball through for Shane Henry to slide past the visiting keeper. The game then settled into a pattern, with Guisborough good in possession and Consett looking threatening going forward. With half-time approaching, Consett broke clear down the left and a rasping twenty yard effort thundered into the underside of the crossbar and bounced down on the line. In the absence of a Russian linesman, the goal was not given but Guisborough were slow to react and Marc Walton restored Consett’s lead. Consett manager Kenny Lindoe was perhaps mentally preparing himself for a team talk which centred around preserving their lead in the second half and springing at Guisborough on the break. This all went out of the window when more loose marking allowed the persistent I’Anson to break clear and level the tie on the stroke of half-time.

I am usually extremely reticent to be openly critical about referees. It is a tough job and officials, like players, are bound to make mistakes. However, the referee ‘s performance and manner today put him centre stage. This was a keenly fought contest but there was barely a poor tackle. Despite this, six home players received cautions and both sets of supporters were left baffled at some of the decisions. That said, football is a game of angles. In the first period, Guisborough had a goal chalked off for a handball leading up to Joel Guy’s finish past the visiting keeper. From where I was stood, it looked quite feasible that the ball had struck his arm as he challenged the home goalkeeper. Yet a discussion with neutrals on the other side of the pitch provided an entirely different perspective. “He headed the ball” they said. “His arms were up but the ball never touched them” his friend added. Through a different set of eyes and from an alternative vantage point, the same event took on a totally different perspective. You can see a referee’s dilemma.

Both sides had chances to score in the second period before Michael MacKay restored Consett’s lead in the seventy-seventh minute. Aside from the goal, he was the visitors’ stand-out-player. His speed of movement, darting runs and general awareness posed regular problems. MacKay looked to have won it as he stroked his sixteenth goal of the season past Jack Norton. He took the goal with nonchalant ease.

At this point, Chris Hardy opted to take both Onions and I’Anson off and played McPhillips and Roberts up front. What the two players lack in inches they made up for in pace and against a tiring Consett defence, McPhllips found just enough space on the edge of the box late on and he turned and swivelled to place the ball into the corner and send the game into extra time.

McPhillips was proving to be difficult to live with; he burst clear of the visiting defence again in the first period of extra time to give Guisborough the lead for the first time in the match and had he managed to strike his shot to either side of the goalkeeper just moments later, the game would have been sewn up and McPhillips would have completed a twenty minute hat-trick.

There was an aching sense of inevitability about Consett’s equaliser. In fairness, despite Guisborough’s late surge, Consett merited a replay. Having led three times, Consett may have left thinking about what might have been. Equally, having carved out numerous late chances, it could have been Guisborough picking up a cheque for £900 and looking forward to next week’s draw. After eight goals in one hundred and twenty minutes, the crowd were royally entertained, even if Alan Hansen would not have eulogised about some of the defending on show. Wednesday will determine the fate of the two sides in a replay at Belle Vue Park. You can bet there will be goals and on this showing, quite possibly a lot of them.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Chances sealed as Shields' defence is punctured

South Shields are comparative giants in Northern League football; not necessarily for their exploits on the pitch, as they were positioned only marginally higher than ourselves in the League table prior to today’s game – but because of the size of the population. At around 85,000, South Shields is more populated than Macclesfield, Shrewsbury and even Burnley who were Premier League inhabitants only a couple of years back. Perhaps the moral is that South Shields is a club with potential; slumbering giants of the Tyne and a side that played league football in the early years of the last century. By Northern League standards, South Shields are well supported with crowds just shy of two hundred. They brought a healthy away contingent to the game today on a crisp, clear October afternoon where the calm atmospheric situation made for perfect playing conditions.

In terms of star quality, two names sprung out from the South Shields team sheet as I cast my eyes over it before the game – Davey Southern and Alex Benjamin. At one point, perhaps seven or eight years ago, I remember Southern as the scourge of our visits to Dunston, where he then plied his trade. He was quick, incisive and had great awareness. Southern was one of the leading lights in the Dunston side which dominated the early parts of this decade. Alex Benjamin is renowned for his Northern League goalscoring feats and it was a surprise to me that he left Bedlington in the close season. With these two players as the fulcrum of their side, there was no doubting that the visitors could be very dangerous.

Several years on, Southern’s role at South Shields appears an altogether different one. Rather than haring down the wing, he now plays in a less advanced role. He was nevertheless central to everything that Shields did; he would lay the ball off, switch play, float the ball into gaps and invariably take every free-kick and dead ball, more often than not very effectively. Benjamin is a strong, direct and traditional centre forward and one of the first contributions he made was to stroke the ball with precision into the bottom corner from the penalty spot as South Shields took an early lead. The chief architect in winning the penalty was the fresh-faced Yanis Galas, whose pace was a constant threat.

Despite this early set-back, Guisborough soon settled into a clear pattern of play. The evergreen Willie Boland would pick the ball up from goalkeeper or centre half, draw a challenge and play the ball into a forward or fellow-midfielder’s feet. More often than not, it was to the feet of Luke Bythway who was at his effervescent best. Bythway created panic as he ran at defenders and whilst Shields looked dangerous as they sprung forward at pace, they looked equally as likely to be undone by speed and running themselves. An equaliser soon followed. Bythway swung in a perfect free-kick from the left and Austin Johnson applied a deft headed flick into the roof of the net. The delivery of the free-kick was nigh on perfect; it was almost impossible for the centre half to get in front of and left the hapless (and totally blameless) visiting keeper stranded and exposed to any diversion from either attacker or defender.

Momentum is everything in sport. Capitalising on this momentum is crucial. Before long Guisborough had taken the lead. Brimming with confidence after his hand in the first goal, Bythway embarked on a mazy dribble towards the visiting goal. As defenders backed off, Bythway kept going and as still no real challenge was made as he entered the area, he wrong-footed the keeper to complete a great piece of individual skill. Guisborough soon had a two goal cushion courtesy of an own goal and having fallen behind early on, could not have wished for a better half time scoreline.

Credit here has to go to South Shields; they came out for the second half rejuvenated and for the first ten minutes of the second period they virtually camped in Guisborough’s half. They had more corners than the Pentagon and such was the intensity of pressure, it felt a matter of time before they pulled a goal back. Had they scored, South Shields would very much have had the momentum and may have gone on to secure at least a point from the game. But on several occasions, the ball was scrambled away and shots went narrowly wide. The real turning point was when Goalkeeper Norton somehow spooned the ball over the bar as he flung himself down low, akin to Gordon Banks’ 1970 World Cup save from Pele. At every set-piece Shields looked dangerous and Southern’s free-kicks - floated across on some occasions as though he had used a nine-iron and whipped across at pace at other times – caused serious problems. Yet the home defence stood firm and gradually the early second-half thrust and energy of the visitors petered out. Guisborough’s Onions had the chance to seal it as his relentless running put him through, but his tired effort fell wide.

This was a fiercely competed and enjoyable encounter between two well-matched sides. It’s amazing what a difference a week makes – in the space of two games, we have doubled our points tally with back to back wins. With games in hand, the picture looks brighter. We now have the small task of taking on Whitley Bay on Wednesday night as they travel just a few miles more than Shields from the other side of the Tyne. The talk is that Whitley Bay’s derelict amusement park – The Spanish City – is all set for renovation. Like the infamous Spanish City attractions, Wednesday evening will no doubt throw up lots more twists, turns, thrills and spills.