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.