Newton Aycliffe 4 - 2 Guisborough Town
Had the full-time whistle blown after thirty minutes, Guisborough fans would have gone home happy. Two goals to the good and tormenting their disjointed opposition, visiting fans quite rightly thought that their team would go on to win the game. Newton Aycliffe came into this game on the back of a poor run of results and in their early play they looked sapped of confidence and vulnerable to diagonal balls over the top for Stewart and Roberts to run onto. The home side struggled to cope with Luke Bythway’s close control and Guisborough’s midfield looked compact and creative.
If only this pattern of play had been maintained. The notion of a game of two halves is perhaps football’s biggest cliché, but never has it rung more true than here. A big factor in Ayclliffe’s second half showing was Warren Byrne. As I read the (excellent) programme notes prior to the game, I was unsure as to which statistic to be most startled by - the fact that Byrne netted 45 times last season, or that he had failed to score at all since his return to Aycliffe in November. Had Warren Byrne really lost his touch? It seemed unlikely. Most goalscorers feed on confidence. Byrne’s confidence must have been limbo-dancer low, but flooded back in waves once he had reduced the arrears prior to half time as he finished with aplomb.
Quite what Aycliffe manager Alan Oliver said at half time is unlikely to be revealed. It is fairly easy to guess, though. Guisborough had been afforded too much time on the ball and too much space in midfield. Oliver’s solution was to pack the midfield and effectively narrow the game. Aycliffe emerged from their dressing room after what seemed like an eternity, but Oliver’s words clearly hit the mark. Aycliffe looked hungrier, more purposeful and the gaps which had opened up for Guisborough in the first half were emphatically closed off.
Perhaps it was a figment of my imagination, but after his first half strike Warren Byrne looked like a man relieved of a burden. He appeared a yard quicker and likely to add to his goal. When Dixon hauled down an Aycliffe forward for a penalty, Byrne still appeared a touch tentative as he stepped forward to take the spot kick. It was well saved low to his left by Dixon, but the ball came straight back to Byrne who tucked away his second attempt. Byrne’s smile was one of relief, but also one of suggestion that he knew that today was his day. Having broken his duck, he was going to make the most of it. The penalty was the turning point in the game. Had Byrne not finished the follow up, the outcome could well have been different.
By this point, Aycliffe’s self belief returned and they seized the initiative. Byrne duly completed his hat-trick as he slammed the ball home from the edge of the area and Mellanby then completed the scoring as he arrived off the bench and within minutes turned, swivelled and finished in customary fashion. You had to admire Aycliffe for their fightback and it was difficult to deny that they deserved their victory. Games between Guisborough and Aycliffe are always hard battles that are difficult to call and there was no end-of-season feel about this one.
Having been promoted last season from Division 2, both sides have achieved their main objectives of remaining in the First Division. Aycliffe are a well run club and it was a pleasure to see just how much off-field progress they have made in the last two years. They have two smart new stands that have added character to the ground and a superb tea hut, which offers a fantastic range of delicious hot foods but poses a serious risk to the metabolically challenged. In addition, their programme is more than just a labour of love and is supreme value at just a pound.
The American historian Paul Fussell once said that he found ‘nothing more depressing than optimism’. After twenty minutes I had every reason to feel optimistic. But over the course of the game this slowly receded, like Wayne Rooney’s hairline. But like Rooney’s hairline, my sense of optimism will return as I head to Marske tomorrow for our derby match. I don’t agree with Fussell; optimism is what keeps us football fans going. Without it, we’d all just pack in and support Man Utd.
We’ve had a very good season at Guisborough. The squad has evolved and strengthened as the year has progressed and Chris Hardy is doing a terrific job. A derby win at Marske would be the icing on the cake.
Oh, and you can add a cherry to that too.