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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Two blues, but not too blue in defeat.

Bishop Auckland 2 – 0 Guisborough Town

Bishop Auckland’s roots stem from a group of Theology students from Cambridge and Oxford University who were studying at nearby Auckland Castle in the 1880s and decided to set up a football team. Bishops’ Oxbridge connections may be a thing of the past, as is their old Kingsway Ground, but there is no doubting that (keeping to the University analogy) their new facilities are very much first class. They have a smart new stand which is like a larger version of Penrith’s new home. At the back of the main stand is the bar and function rooms and to satisfy the hardcore home support that insist upon standing behind the goal, a smart covered area at one end.

Degrees might occupy university students’ minds, but degrees of a different sort were present in the minds of many present at today’s game; it was distinctly chilly and with a strong wind blowing the length of the pitch, very much winter coats weather. I can hardly believe that the season is at an end. Perhaps one reason for this is the weather. This time last year, Guisborough were celebrating promotion in the bars of Penrith on route back from Gillford Park. There were lots of sore heads the next day through a combination of twelve hours of sun and the liquid refreshment that accompanied it. Today a brandy would have been more in order. It was so cold that I had my coffee on a stick.

Bishops have enjoyed a solid season. Their strides in recent seasons have been steady ones, with gradual improvement year on year. This was the third time I have seen them play this season and over the three games, two players have stood out. They have a man in goal in Peter Jeffries who pulls off at least one world class save per game and a centre forward in Andrew Johnson who scores almost every time he walks onto the pitch. As the game involves scoring goals when possible and working hard to prevent the opposition from achieving the same objective, these two players are rather handy and men to build a team around.

Guisborough play attractive football. I’m biased – of that there is little doubt – but their philosophy of playing the ball out from the back and finding feet has attracted several favourable comments from opposition teams this season. Today was no different. For a fifteen minute spell in the first half, the visitors carved out four good chances which could easily have seen them go into the interval a goal to the good as opposed to one behind. The impressive Joel Guy burst forward beyond the defence and lobbed Jeffreys, only to see his effort beat the goalkeeper but land on the roof of the net. Moments later, a terrific ball was whipped in from the by-line for McPhillips to thunder his header towards goal. I was behind the goal and celebrated. My celebrations were premature though, as from nowhere Jeffreys pulled off a tremendous reaction save to preserve his side’s slender lead. The ball was turned around the post and Guisborough were left to reflect that this was also perhaps the moment that Jeffreys turned the game in his side’s favour. Shorn of forward Luke Bythway (suspended), Guisborough’s main attacking threat came from runs from deep. A goal would have buoyed them going into half time and perhaps instilled them with the necessary self confidence to secure something from the game.

As it was, the second half started in a fashion that Guisborough could ill afford. A mistimed tackle inside the box resulted in a penalty for Bishops. The penalty looked a stone-waller and the referee was left with an easy decision. If the penalty was certain, I felt equally certain about the likely outcome as Andy Johnson stepped up to take it. He made no mistake. Now two goals down away from home, the wind continued to whip across the ground but it was partly taken out of Guisborough’s sails. Bishops began to exert themselves and as the visitors pushed harder to get themselves back into the game, the home side looked an increasing threat and just as likely to score again.

Three Guisborough players stood out today, but nobody had a poor game. Lee Bythway – as commanding as ever – marshalled his side from centre half, whilst just in front of him James Decosemo pulled the central midfield strings. He has quick feet and a good touch, but perhaps most impressively he glides across the surface of the pitch almost effortlessly as he surges forward. The third player was Michael Roberts, in what looks like being his last game for the club. Still only in his early twenties, Roberts has become something of a fans’ favourite with his jinking runs down the right. As they say in the trade, he puts in a good shift too and always tracks back to support his full-back. Roberts has signed for Australian side Swan United, based in Perth. I can only assume that his motives are purely football-based. Given the virtually sub-tropical climate in Bishop Auckland today, he surely can’t be going to Australia for the weather.

Bishops were extremely hospitable and it was impossible not to admire their set-up. After many previous years in the Northern Premier League, they certainly now have the facilities to climb back up the pyramid. If they can add players of the calibre of Jeffreys and Johnson to their squad, they well return there by rights. For Guisborough, their motto at the start of the season was “it’s good to be back” after a five year absence from the league’s top tier. It still feels good. The end of this season has passed without the hysteria or heights of the previous seasons. But our objective of First Division survival has been comfortably achieved. Let’s see how we build from here and what personnel we bring in over the summer. After all, it’s less than a hundred days until our first pre-season friendly.

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