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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.

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