Sunday, January 22, 2012

Mackay's magic divides the sides

Consett 4 – 2 Guisborough Town

(Or a week where it was Michael Mackay 9 – 3 Guisborough Town and Jarrow Roofing)

It is oversimplistic to suggest that Consett are a one man team and whenever a player scores, someone has to supply the goods. But the simple difference between Guisborough and Consett today was a centre forward who is too good for this division. Incredibly, after a lean spell of just one goal in seven games, Michael Mackay has now scored nine goals in three days and
every one of his side’s goals in the last one hundred and eighty minutes.

Consett has a rich history, including a rich seam of coal that was tapped into and utilised for generations before de-industrialisation ravaged communities such as this. Regeneration has been (and still is) a government buzz-word, as though a few glossy projects can act as a sticking plaster over a gaping sore. Nevertheless, the most recent plans are for a new ground for Consett as part of a reputed £20 million complex for the community. Consett’s current home at Belle Vue is soaked in history and it is perhaps for the last time a Guisborough side will travel there.

I cannot pretend to be disappointed if this is our last journey as the ground holds few positive footballing memories for Guisborough fans, not least the humbling 12-1 club record defeat 6 seasons ago. There was never any risk of such a scoreline today, but Guisborough kicked against an incredibly strong wind in the first half where players looked as though they were wading through treacle as they battled against a gale and muddy pitch. On more than one occasion goal kicks which were heading for the half way line were sucked back by the wind and the ball was out of play frequently. Despite such a strong advantage, for much of the first half Consett struggled to capitalise.

As the wind rattled the floodlights and whistled around the main stand, the Consett home support struggled to suppress their mounting frustrations. As these frustrations threatened to boil over, right on cue arrived Michael Mackay. He opened the scoring from close range as Guisborough failed to clear their lines, before dinking the ball delightfully past Norton to double
Consett’s advantage. At 2-0, with the elements as they were this was far from game over. But despite having to defend manfully against the wind, Consett were quick to break and looked to have sealed the game when Mackay (who else?) eclipsed the brilliance of his second goal by repeating the feat at the other end of the pitch but this time having to contend with the wind in his face.

The game, however, was far from finished. Nathan Steel nodded home to reduce the deficit before repeating the trick only moments after the restart. With Consett hearts in mouths, Steel somehow connected with a swirling cross and appeared to have levelled the tie, only for a smart one handed stop from the young Consett stopper. Despite Mackay’s four goals, this incident was
perhaps the defining moment of the game. Had Guisborough levelled the game it is quite likely they would have gone on to win. Poole – against his old side –nodded over from close range and for a short time it was all Guisborough.

Mackay though was not finished. With the visitors pouring forward in search of a goal, he put the game to bed with his fourth goal and extended Guisborough’s winless sequence against Consett.

Despite the defeat, this was a good Guisborough performance. The conditions were treacherous and we were shorn of six regular players. Johnson, Luke and Lee Bythway, I’Anson, Wood and Boland were all missing and a young side battled hard and almost pulled off a miraculous turn around.

Consett has a rich tradition of producing footballers and referees – Frank Clark and Mark Clattenburg both being notable examples. Another less well known name is Michael Kay – a youngster plying his trade with Tranmere Rovers. As I left Belle Vue today, I was left with the overwhelming feeling that a man of almost the same name should perhaps still be playing League
football given his clinical performance over the ninety minutes here.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Town's second half spell sinks Mariners

South Shields 3 - 4 Guisborough Town

Football is a funny game. What often should happen doesn’t and just when a game seems to be heading towards a particular conclusion, up steps an individual to twist and contort proceedings and send the game on a different course. At half-time in today’s game, with the score 1-1, control of the game looked to be with Guisborough. Having played against a gale-force wind for the first forty-five minutes and taken a hold of possession, the visitors seemed destined to take advantage of the wind at their backs and go on to win comfortably. Of course, football – and life for that matter – rarely follows a predictable path and the home side may consider themselves a touch unfortunate not to share the points having carved out several second half chances that they failed to convert.

Both teams began the game with enforced changes. Shields were shorn of their two centre forwards through injury, whilst Luke Bythway and Austin Johnson – both instrumental in Guisborough’s bank Holiday win at Benfield –were suspended. In stepped Liam McPhillips and Willie Boland. The latter once again demonstrated his experience, awareness and class. Good players are very rarely rushed when in possession and more than once Boland invited challenges before casually slipping the ball sideways or into feet. There was an economy to his movements which would have pleased any deficit crunching finance minister as he allowed younger opposition players to do the extra running off the ball whilst he held his position and created the illusion of having the ball on a piece of string. Boland – quite appropriately given the opposition – was able to shield the ball with his body and find openings that less aware players frequently do not spot. It was Boland that spread the early seeds of the move that led to Guisborough’s opener. Boland sprayed the ball wide and as the ball was driven across the box Nathan Steel was first to react to prod in from close range.

Buffeted by the wind but buoyed by the goal, there then ensued a fifteen minute period of play where Guisborough played some of their best football of the season. Slick passing, tremendous running and movement off the ball and trickery from the midfield duo of Decosemo and Roberts could conceivably have resulted in a second goal, but for good defending from the hosts. As the half wore on the lead remained a slender one and Shields began to gain a foothold in the game. They duly equalised when a dipping corner driven in from the left was admired by the Guisborough defence as they stood, statuesque, as the ball was headed unchallenged into the net by Feasey. It could have been worse; with half-time approaching another excellent corner almost resulted in a replica outcome. This time a Shields’head also met the ball but the ball flew over the bar, over the fence and signalled the end of the half. Shields are a big, physical side and a feature of their play in the reverse fixture at the KGV was their set plays. Today was no different.

When the second half began, it was as though two different sides had entered the field of play, such was the transformation in South Shields. Perhaps warmed by a managerial rocket as much as their half-time cuppa, they looked quicker, sharper and far more incisive. Having demonstrated flashes of creativity in the first half, Shields’ winger Denver Morris came to life as his side kicked into the wind. At any level, pace worries defenders, especially when a player picks the ball up from deep positions and runs at defenders, who are forced to back-pedal. Having dominated the opening exchanges of the second period, it was no surprise when Shields went ahead as a slick move was finished from close range by Colvin as the ball was lashed past ‘keeper Norton from close range.

For a period of the game, it was not only backs to the wind for Guisborough, but also backs to the wall. Yet there was an underlying feeling that as good as the home defence were in the air, they looked less comfortable when forced to turn and face their own goal. It perhaps needed something spectacular from Guisborough to wrestle the initiative and momentum back their way. Jamie Poole duly delivered. As the ball was curved into the box from the right touchline by Roberts, Poole brought the ball down before swivelling and shooting in one movement. He lashed the ball into the top corner before any defender was able to react. Poole’s two touches – carried out on within a split-second of each other – were game changers. Just moments later Poole turned provider as his perfectly flighted cross was nodded home by Steel to turn the game on its head. Guisborough now had an extra spring in their steps – one that only a goal can create – and whilst the presence of the wind remained, it appeared to have been well and truly taken out of the Mariners’ sails. When Roberts – an ever-present thorn in the home side’s defence – raced clear, there was only one option, but still a lot to do. As the home keeper advanced to narrow the angle he arrowed a rasping drive into the bottom corner to seemingly put the game to bed. But following Guisborough is not for the faint-hearted or those of a nervous disposition. Shields almost immediately reduced the arrears through Fenwick, setting up a tense, nervy last ten minutes where Norton and his defence had to be at their best to preserve Guisborough’s narrow advantage.

It sounds impressive when you say that your side has been unbeaten all year, even if the year is less than a week old. Realistically, to hope for six points from two away fixtures in a week is perhaps more than Guisborough fans could have hoped for. A belated Christmas present, or perhaps part of a New Year’s resolve. Either way, it is six points. As we left Filtrona Park– linked to the nearby Filtrona factory which manufactures cigarette filters, Shields were left to reflect on a game that they could have secured, but that ultimately went up in smoke. Next week brings Shildon to the King George V, which promises to be a close encounter of the third kind after two tough contest between the two sides already this season.

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year, Newcastle and three welcome points

Back in August of last year, when the grass was a vibrant green and the Guisborough defence arguably even greener, newly promoted Guisborough were given a lesson in finishing by a seasoned, experienced Newcastle Benfield side who eased to a 4-1 victory. Last season Benfield
finished fourth and although this will be tough to replicate this year, they are certainly eying a top half finish. A new year brings resolutions and a fresh chance to look ahead. Should Chris Hardy's side choose a collective resolution, it would surely be to kill teams off when they have games by the scruff of the neck. So often recently Guisborough have squandered points from winning positions, but it is testimony to Chris Hardy and his side that they have remained true to their footballing philosophy of keeping the ball when in possession, breaking at great speed when afforded the opportunity to do so and harrying, pressing and forcing the opposition into making mistakes when the ball is with the other team.

This was my first visit to Sam Smith’s Park and it was an enjoyable one. It is neatly kept with two small but attractive stands on either side of the pitch and a wide and generally flat playing surface. The clubhouse served cold beer with a warm welcome and the officials we encountered were friendly and genuine in their interest regarding Guisborough's recent fortunes.

Losing Chris I'Anson to injury against Marske was a blow and his continued absence today meant that Nathan Steel started the game. I'Anson's boots are big ones to fill, but Steel started well and his link up play with the visiting midfield was a feature of the early play. With a strong wind at
their backs, Guisborough had the better of the opening twenty minutes and after Decosemo went close, centre half Tommy Marron fired Guisborough into the lead when from a swinging corner he was left totally unmarked and had the time to side foot the ball in from close range on the volley as the home defence spectated. Stung by this early goal, Benfield hit back and only good defending and the crossbar prevented them from getting back on level terms. As the half
wore on, Guisborough looked as likely to score again. Having been given one warning of Michael Roberts' pace, just moments later Roberts left his man for dead on the right touchline. He delivered a teasing cross which the home goalkeeper advanced to try to claim. As he slipped on the greasy surface, Benfield's keeper Grainger was unable to reach the ball and as he scrambled to make up lost ground, he could only hold onto an opposing player's ankle to prevent a certain goal. Having stared into a low angled sun for forty minutes, the home Keeper saw a slightly darker colour appear from the referee's pocket and an inevitable and slow walk back to the dressing rooms at the other end of the field ensued. The full back, Paterson, who had allowed Roberts to deliver his cross, then donned the gloves to face the resultant penalty and fully
redeemed himself as he saved well low down to his right to keep out Luke Bythway's penalty.

If Luke Bythway's miss had affected his psyche he did not show it. Within ten minutes of the second half, Decosemo burst forwards on the edge of the box. As a defender desperately slid in to dispossess him, Decosemo coolly side-stepped the challenge before squaring unselfishly for Bythway to pass the ball into the net.

Benfield have some good players, not least their elegant centre half – an Alan Foggen lookalike who brought the ball out of defence with the composure and technical application of Alan Hansen. At the other end of the field is Michael Chilton, a fox-in-the-box born goalscorer who was only two goals shy of twenty league goals for the season as the year ended. Inevitably, both men were involved in the first Benfield goal as they reduced the arrears. As Chilton was played into the box he lashed his shot past Norton on the turn and all of a sudden it was game on. It is amazing how goals shift the emphasis of a game. Slumped shoulders were suddenly raised, the home support were buoyed and New Year Benfield legs suddenly found a new lease of life. Leighton – having had a hand in the first goal – then forced the ball home just moments later to level the scores, a feat that seemed improbable just moments beforehand.

There was an aching sense of déjà vu; leads squandered and seemingly New Year resolutions broken as quickly as Joey Barton’s pledge to avoid a sending off in 2012. It was therefore all the more impressive when Guisborough restored their lead. McPhillips, who had only been on the pitch for a few minutes, delivered a pinpoint cross from the left after great build up play from Wood. Roberts met the ball perfectly at the far post to lash home a winner.

Having clawed their way back from a seemingly insurmountable position, before squandering it again, Benfield tempers flared. With just minutes remaining they were reduced to nine men as Ross Peareth was dismissed for a reckless challenge.

This was a tremendous win and hopefully the start of a run of good results. The result became even more important when news filtered through of Billingham Town’s 7-1 thumping of Jarrow Roofing, maintaining Guisborough’s cushion over the sides below.

Given the quality of the opposition, this was our best away performance of the season. Hopefully this area suits us, as South Shields is our destination in five days time. It may be the new year, but the old feeling of winning away feels just as good as ever.