Guisborough Town 0 – 7 Sunderland RCA
They say that it’s not over until the fat lady sings. In which case, she was heard belting out a resounding tune after just fifteen minutes of today’s game when the visitors – fast up front and quick out of the blocks – had taken a two goal lead and the game by the scruff of the neck.
When you’re top of the league and feeling the warmth of competing sides’ breath on your neck, every game is a big one. What RCA don’t lack is intent; they are quick to move the ball, quick to break and soon feel the wrath of their management team when sloppy passes go astray or when chances go begging.
The fact that the visitors were four goals up by the interval had much to do with giant forward Andy Jennings. There is a natural presumption when a beanpole striker lines up in attack that every ball must be thumped in an airbourne fashion towards the giant target. Jennings is good in the air – of that there is little doubt. But this ignores the fact that for a big player he is remarkably adept at intricate touches and fleet-footed movements which cause just as many problems. This was not lost on RCA. Having gone two goals up, Jennings effectively sealed the game mid-way through the first half when he raced onto a long ball having lost his marker. Despite being well in advance of the Guisborough defence, there was still an awful lot for Jennings to do. His mind was made up; as the ball arrived in front of him he lashed an unstoppable left-footed drive into the roof of the net from twenty yards to send the visiting bench into raptures.
Seven days ago Guisborough had played a perfect hand against Spennymoor. A couple of early Spennymoor chances had been well defended and as time wore on, the hosts were forced into mistakes. Opportunities then opened up for Guisborough. The 1-1 draw last week, given the quality of the opposition, was a tremendous effort and one of the best team performances I have seen in years. So why was today so different? The composition of Guisborough‘s side was broadly the same and there was certainly no denying that the effort and intent was there. But the two early goals put Guisborough in a very tough predicament. No pattern had been established in play and already they were two goals down. A Guisborough goal was needed to wrestle back some initiative and momentum, but perhaps Chris Hardy’s men were guilty of pushing too hard, too soon. By half-time, a 4-0 scoreline no doubt prompted talk of damage limitation.
The second half was an oddity. Much of the play was conducted in the visitors’ half. In part, this was due to RCA being able to sit on their lead and try to preserve their clean sheet. It was also due to a far more incisive Guisborough display. Yet despite their superior second half possession, there was not the same cut and thrust of RCA’s front men. When the visitors surged into Guisborough’s half they looked as though they could create chances at will.
It is tough when your side loses by such a heavy margin. It is even tougher when it happens twice in ten days. But this year is a learning curve for Chris Hardy’s men. There have been several highs this season and preservation of first division status is and always was the first priority, to then build further in the second season.
Yet even in defeat, Northern League football can conjure some great moments. As the result became a certainty, I found my attention turning to the mercurial brilliance of RCA’s coach, George Herd. Now in his mid-seventies, Herd leapt around on the far touchline with the energy and effervescence of a nuclear fission. His distinctive, Lanarkshire tones could be heard above all other noise. Herd epitomises all that is good about football. Despite having been a Scottish international and playing more than two hundred games for Sunderland as a goal scoring midfielder, Herd’s enthusiasm remains undimmed. I was fascinated to establish his secret. As I strolled past him, I sensed a possible answer as by his feet was a can of energy drink. At one point in the second half, the play fell eerily silent. It became apparent that Herd had stopped barking orders. Instead, the energy drink was being poured down his
throat as he rapidly refuelled. As if instantly revived, Herd then fired further instructions at his side. You would think that at 7-0 even his thirst (for success, as well as for the caffeine laden drink) would be quelled. Alas, no. As a pass went astray Herd threw his energy drink to the floor in frustration and leapt in the air, as though a Hornet’s nest had worked its way up his trouser leg.
Herd’s mentality, as well as that of manager Hixon and his assistants, has clearly spread to the whole side. They were incredibly well drilled, but also constantly looking to improve further. They have now thumped 88 league goals this season, more than half of which have been away from home. They are top of the Northern League tree at the time of writing and should anyone else displace them they will deserve to win the league. Jennings’ strike partner Davison bagged a hat-trick to go with Jennings’ brace. They have now beaten Whitley Bay, Dunston and Guisborough in a week. If nothing else, at least we are keeping illustrious company.
By the end of the game, the Fat Lady’s throat must have been pretty sore. George Herd’s must have been sorer. They say that Red Bull gives you wings. I’ll say that RCA are flying.