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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Sun shines on slick Priorymen


FA Vase 1st Qualifying Round

Stokesley 0 – 5 Guisborough
North Yorkshire could not have looked prettier as I drove through Hilton and Seamer from Stockton under clear blue skies and September sun to get to today’s game. The town of Stokesley bustled with life as I was held up on the high street outside Chapters, the town’s high class Bistro/restaurant. In the story of Stokesley Football Club, recent chapters have been ones to forget. After climbing up through local leagues and then the Wearside League, under the guidance of Ted Watts the club won the Northern League Second Division and held their own the following season in the First Division. Then problems arose. Watts left the club, many officials followed and not a single player from the previous season remained at the club. The task for new manager Monty Alexander was one of mammoth proportions. Reputedly operating on a budget slashed more savagely than the Amazon rainforest, Alexander and his side had to be commended for their enduring commitment. They went through the whole of last season without winning a league fixture. This season has started more promisingly. In the previous round of this competition they beat Thornaby 3-0 and in a landmark moment, travelled to Chester Le Street during the week and returned as 1-0 victors.

As a Guisborough fan, this appeared a touch ominous. Whilst the visitors had to be firm favourites, a cup competition often galvanises a side and the supposed gap in quality can be bridged. The early proceedings were even. The two teams both squandered possession at regular intervals. It was Stokesley that had the better of the early chances and with more composure and greater venom two opportunities to test visiting ‘keeper Escritt may have been better utilised.

The reality was that if Stokesley were to cause an upset, realistically they needed to score first. Guisborough began to exert more influence across the central areas of midfield and as the half wore on Gell, Johnson and Guy started to pull the strings. The opening goal was a well rehearsed routine as Johnson made a diagonal run across the defence to latch on to a well taken free-kick to pass the ball past the home goalkeeper. Stokesley had not tracked Johnson’s run. They had been caught napping. To make matters worse for the home team, the same player doubled the scoring before the interval. Incredibly, the same free-kick routine resulted in an identical outcome. If they had been guilty of being half asleep before, this time the home defence were virtually comatose. Manager Monty Alexander exercised his vocal chords and scratched his head in frustration. A third goal was scored on the stroke of half-time when McPhillips – who until this point had been relatively quiet – suddenly sprung to life. He ghosted past four players in a mazy dribble before taking the home keeper off guard with a low left footed shot into the corner.

Stokesley have a young side that are learning. To their credit, they didn’t give up the ghost. Two more goals were scored in the second period by Luke Bythway – the second a driven shot into the roof the net – and other Guisborough goals could have been scored. A combination of disallowed efforts and wayward shooting kept the scoreline respectable.

Stokesley have a pleasant ground, good facilities and a well tended playing surface. This was their first defeat in three games. Today's game aside, they appear to be moving in the right direction.
For Guisborough, our next stop in this competition is Morpeth. The conquerors of Marske United beat Whitehaven today and we travel to Northumberland in four week’s time. They are unbeaten at home and have only conceded seven goals in ten games at the time of writing. It promises to be tough and tight. Two hours on I drove back through Stokesley High Street. By now, the earlier buzz had given way to a low afternoon murmour, except outside of Chapters where early evening diners were heading out for the night. Today, Guisborough got their just desserts for a clinical performance. It is to be hoped that this win in the competition is just for starters.

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