Sunday, August 26, 2012

Last gasp equaliser earns Priorymen a replay

Shildon 1 – 1 Guisborough
It is a curiosity of modern Britain that however many shops are being boarded up or however light people’s pockets are in the financial crisis, two types of shop appear to be thriving – tanning studios and nail bars. Newton Aycliffe is home to Tanz in ere and as I drove through Shildon to take in yesterday’s FA Cup tie with Shildon, I was faced with Browned up. By the end of the ninety minutes, an apt description for Shildon manager Gary Forrest’s mood might have been browned off. Having failed to take their chances, Shildon were punished by a fighting Guisborough side who never gave in and were rewarded with an injury time goal to force a midweek replay.

I recently attended the Northern League Managers’ talk in at Bishop Auckland. Included on the panel was Gary Forrest and I have to say that I was impressed as he spoke eloquently and honestly about management and its’ challenges. Last season had been a disappointing one for Shildon, but he was at pains to point out that for two thirds of the season he was without a full strength squad due to injury. In the final ten games of last season, Shildon’s form was vastly improved and with summer signings added to boost an already good squad, Shildon have hit the ground running.  They thumped Whitehaven 6-0,  beat Dunston (away) 3-1 and followed this with a 2-0 win against Newcastle Benfield. Naturally, they will have been brimming with confidence going into this game.

Against Spennymoor on Wednesday, on several occasions Guisborough shot themselves in the foot. After ten minutes today the Priorymen once again gifted their opposition the initiative. A ball was played back to ‘keeper Ben Escritt, but the pass was underhit and left Escritt in no-man’s land. As the ball was taken around him, Escritt clipped the striker. There was no doubting the fact that it was a penalty. Collective Guisborough hearts were in mouths as the referee reached in his pocket. It could have been red. It was yellow. The referee’s rationale must have been that a covering defender may have got back with the striker taking the ball slightly wider. Escritt remained on the field, but could do nothing about Johnston’s well struck penalty. After a 6-0 drubbing against Spennymoor, to be a goal down in an important FA Cup tie was a true test of character and for fifteen minutes Guisborough had to pull together, batten down the hatches and weather a storm. At this point, Shildon’s Chris Hughes appeared to be everywhere on the pitch. He seemed to cover every blade of grass. He would skip past tackles, try his luck from distance, feed players into space and latch on to through balls himself. He must have touched the ball twice as much as any other player. For all this, Shildon could not score another goal. With half-time approaching, Johnston went though on goal. His goalbound shot was superbly deflected by Escritt, but the ball looped onwards. It was an agonising moment where I fully expected the ball to ripple against the back of the net and for the home side to celebrate. Miraculously, the ball bounced the other side of the upright. I hardly dared to think it, never mind articulate it, but I just started to sense that maybe this was our day.

The visitors came back in to the game in the closing stages of the half and whilst clear chances on goal were few and far between, Guisborough enjoyed a spell of possession which gave their defence some much needed respite. As ever, the bullish Austin Johnson was at the forefront of whatever was done well. He harried, pressed, pushed forward and played men into space. He and opposition player Hughes were the eyecatching players and it felt that whichever man won the battle would win the war.

The Bengali poet Rabindranath Tragore once noted that age considers, youth ventures. Perhaps this was the gist of Chris Hardy’s teamtalk, along with the important instruction to keep the ball and value it when they had it and to pressure Shildon into giving it back when possession had been surrendered. Guisborough’s young side, with an average age of not much more than twenty, came more and more into the game and looked to have equalised with twenty minutes left when McPhillips rose to head goalwards. Home keeper Finch threw out a hand to pull off a miraculous one-handed save. This came in a spell of Guisborough dominance and had they scored, the visitors might have gone on to win. But minutes later, Adam Johnston appeared to have sealed the game for Shildon when he finally beat keeper Escritt in open play but saw his driven shot strike the base of the post before being cleared to safety. As Guisborough manager Chris Hardy noted afterwards, had Shildon taken their chances they could have won by a two or three goal margin. They didn’t. With their never-say-die attitude, Guisborough threw all but the kitchen sink forward. A ball was whipped in by Blackford from the right and as Austin Johnson leapt to head goalwards, a home defender only succeeded in diverting the ball past his own goalkeeper.

It is a long time since I have been so pleased with a draw. A midweek replay now beckons and despite Shildon vastly outnumbering Guisborough in terms of efforts on goal, even one or two home fans admired Guisborough’s fighting spirit. “I couldn’t begrudge you that goal” said one. “Your lads never gave in. There’s a lot to admire in that”.

I wasn’t about to disagree. Wednesday’s replay will be just as tough, but who knows what will happen? That is the beauty of the FA Cup.  On this same day in 1768, Captain James Cook began his first voyage. Both sides will be hoping that their journey continues beyond Wednesday and that their respective ship does not suddenly and abruptly come in to land.

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