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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Whitley edge close encounter

Guisborough Town 1 -3 Whitley Bay  

Whitley bay is famous for many things – its former status as a seaside resort and current tag as a Stag and Hen Party hotspot perhaps chief amongst them.  Less well established is Whitley Bay’s rather impressive record for producing footballers and bass guitarists. Current Newcastle United defender Steven Taylor heralds from the town and his namesake - Andy Taylor - was quite literally instrumental in Duran Duran’s 1980s dominance. It is rather apt that Duran Duran’s biggest international hit – The Reflex -  was exactly what turned the game in Whitley Bay’s favour today. Those reflexes belonged to visiting goalkeeper Kyle Hayes. With the game approaching half-time, Guisborough enjoyed a spell of dominance which saw them equalise and carve out a number of good chances. They looked to have taken a half-time lead, but for Hayes’ outstanding low stop. The ball was turned away and the game turned in the visitors’ favour. From this point onwards Whitley Bay never truly looked like surrendering their lead again. Or, as Duran Duran may have put it, they were not about to let themselves Come Undone for a second time.
Whitley Bay have some rather impressive pedigree, though last season (by their own exacting standards) represented a disappointment. Having won the FA Vase in three consecutive seasons, it must become rather difficult to fulfil expectations. Also, as with all great sides, key performers begin to age or players move on to pastures new. Manager Ian Chandler has been working hard to blend new talent with the old formula and in recent weeks Bay’s results suggest that he is nearing the perfect recipe. For the first twenty minutes today they looked slick. Movement was good from front to back and with Paul Chow spearheading the attack, they will always be dangerous. Chow did not have his most influential game today, but a measure of his worth was that when he was presented with a chance, he finished it with aplomb. It rather reminded me of Gary Lineker; not in looks – Chow is more reminiscent of Gary McAllister in this respect. Nor is he like Lineker in style. But he seemed to similarly come alive in the box and have the same predatory instinct. With the twenty minute mark approaching, Chow slipped free of his marker as the ball was played into the box. Home ‘keeper Escritt narrowed the angle as he left his line. Chow knew just how long to wait before dinking the ball over the onrushing keeper. It was a goal that smacked of quality and experience. Chow has scored hundreds of them and there is no reason to think that the tank has run dry yet.

With the opportunity to take the game by the scruff of the neck, the visitors seemed to get sucked back towards their own goal, defending ever more deeply and surrendering midfield possession. Guisborough have an excellent balance in midfield at present. Adam Gell and Lewis Wood add subtlety and look to unlock defences, whilst the other Wood (Gary) and his fellow midfield general Austin Johnston are the engine of the midfield. Johnston undoubtedly benefits from Wood’s presence, being able to thunder forwards when given the opportunity, safe in the knowledge that Gary Wood will often do the less desirable but equally important task of snuffing out attacking threats and breaking up play. Yet Wood is more than that, as proven in recent weeks. His range of passing has widened, as has his ability to control the tempo of the game. What appeared to be a temporary move into midfield has proven to be a masterstroke.
As the half hour approached, the home side enjoyed a spell of dominance. They moved the ball at pace and every time the ball was played into wider areas, resultant crosses caused panic in the visiting defence. Guisborough eventually got the goal their play deserved when Luke Bythway picked up a loose ball in the penalty area, before turning and picking his spot in the bottom corner. Had Guisborough scored another goal at this point, the outcome of the game could have been very different. Hayes’ excellent stop put paid to that. His handling and general awareness were excellent throughout and it was not difficult to see why he had been chosen as the Northern League’s young player of the year last season.

Perhaps warmed by Ian Chandler’s words as well as their half time cuppa, Whitley Bay looked far more organised in the second half. They had strengthened their wider defensive areas and whilst the home side enjoyed spells of extended possession, they found it ever more difficult to unlock the visiting defence. This was a conundrum made all the more testing when Bay retained their lead from the penalty spot. Whilst the award of a spot kick was a touch dubious, the manner in which forward Ashley Davis dispatched the penalty could not have been more clinical. Guisborough continued to push hard for an equaliser, but were thwarted by an organised and committed visiting side, made all the more tenacious in midfield with the introduction of Lee Paul Scroggins. Whilst Scroggins helped to break up play, the introduction of Bay forward Denver Morris gave the home side a tremendous attacking option. Morris – who terrorised our defence whilst playing for South Shields last January with his pace and trickery – is a bigger outlet than the A19’s Dalton Retail Park. With twenty minutes remaining, Bay turned defence into attack in two passes. Morris surged forward at blistering pace and would have finished the game but for an excellent low save from Escritt in the Guisborough goal. When a side pushes hard to equalise, there is an obvious double edged sword. With bodies committed to attack, Bay finished the game when Robinson wriggled past his marker and shot low into the bottom corner. On balance, Whitley Bay probably merited their victory, but the two goal margin perhaps leant the score a sense of comfort which never truly existed.

Whitley Bay are closely associated with Wembley. But long before the club was even conceived, Whitley bay resident Captain Gladstone Adams travelled down to London to see Newcastle United take on Wolverhampton Wanderers in the 1908 FA Cup Final. A car in those days was something of a novelty, to the point where his 1904 Daracq-Caron motorcar was stored in the safety of a car showroom whilst he was at the game. On the way home, heavy snow resulted in Adams having to stop regularly to clear the screen so that he could see where he was going. His experience led to his subsequent invention  - the windscreen wiper.  Today’s game was terrific with some top quality passing football from both sides. Whilst this may well live on in the memory, Guisborough will be keen to wipe clear today’s result from their consciousness. They have a midweek trip to Carlisle to occupy their thoughts as they travel to Celtic Nation, formerly known as Gillford Park. Hopefully this all goes smoothly and windscreen wipers or not, let’s hope it doesn’t snow.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Extra time ecstasy for Morpeth

Morpeth 1 – 0 Guisborough Town (AET)

I’d tempted fate. By discussing Guisborough’s likely penalty takers with just minutes until the sudden death competition, it was almost inevitable that Morpeth would score a last minute winner. Cue mass celebrations from the home players and supporters and looks of collective dejection from the substantial Guisborough travelling support. Wembley will have to wait for another year.
Morpeth have undergone something of a resurgence in recent months. They are unbeaten in the second division this year and during the week travelled to First Division Team Northumbria in the Northumberland Cup and returned as 2-0 victors. The warnings were all in place and nobody from Guisborough was taking the game lightly. The recent floods to sweep the North East may have been erased from the landscape, but not from local memories. Morpeth was especially badly hit. Whilst the local football side have been rising, so were the local water tables. Heavy rain over the two days prior to this fixture put the tie in doubt. Whilst the pitch was clearly playable, the soft, greasy surface meant that flowing football was virtually impossible. Passes were overhit, passes were underhit and moves broke down more often than a 1973 Skoda.  “This looks like a game where the first goal will be the winner” said one Guisborough fan. Little did he know just how accurate this statement would prove to be.

Morpeth are very organised. The back four were well drilled, the full backs looked to support up and down the wings and the front men were energetic and pressed the visitors when they didn’t have the ball and threatened when they did. But as the first half wore on, Guisborough’s midfield began to enjoy superior spells of possession. The chance of the half fell to Liam McPhillips. He was played in smartly by Stewart from the left and with just the keeper to beat, he deliberated for a split second too long. By the time he struck the ball past the home goalkeeper, a defender had tracked back and cleared the ball off the line. The half time whistle blew with the tie deadlocked.
Half time discussions in both dressing rooms no doubt centred on how to open up the opposition. Whilst managers mused over set plays and potential changes in personnel, it was clear within moments of the second half that Morpeth had opted to change their formation. To counter the visitors’ superior possession , they had moved to three men at the back and added an extra man to midfield. For the initial stages this simply induced further midfield congestion and meant that attacking intent was stymied ever more quickly. But as the half wore on, the game became more stretched. In tight games, the decisions of officials are brought into greater focus and both sets of fans were left infuriated and amused in equal measure at some of the decisions. One Morpeth player appeared so far ahead of his marker when played in that he could have been assigned a different grid reference to the visiting defence. The chance came to nothing, but it invoked furious protests from the traveling fans. The same fans were relieved moments later when the flag was raised. In a neat move, Morpeth scored from close range. As they celebrated the goal, realisation slowly dawned that the goal had been chalked off. As ten different people had different perspectives on the decision, it demonstrated just how difficult an official’s job is.

At the other end, Guisborough had a series of corners and pressed hard, but could not find a route through, as Poole was denied from close range and McPhillips blasted over from the edge of the box.
Extra time arrived and substitute Nathan Evans wriggled free of his marker with minutes left. His right footed shot was crisp and low and looked likely to hit the bottom of the net. Agonisingly, the ball took a coat of paint off the post and the chance went begging.

In all honesty, Ben Escritt in the Guisborough goal was the busier of the two goalkeepers in extra time and in the dying minutes he parried brilliantly from close range. The ball ran free from his grasp, but Escritt was quickly back to his feet to throw himself forward and acrobatically deny the onrushing striker. Morpeth were not to be denied. With virtually the last kick of the game, Anderson lifted the ball over Escritt from close range. The ball seemed to travel in slow motion as it crept into the corner. This time, there was no referee’s whistle and no flag raised on the touchline.  There was no reprieve. Morpeth had scored the perfect goal. There was barely time for the game to restart before the end of the game was signalled by the shrill sound of the referee’s whistle and the resultant cheers from the home support.
Two seasons ago, I won the raffle prize at Morpeth. Today, I won it again. I would have gladly traded the prizes for a win. Instead, the whiskey’s best use would be to drown my sorrows. But I’d driven to the game, so I was not even afforded that luxury.

Well done to Morpeth. In their humbling season two years ago, it was difficult to see a way forward for them as they sank to their lowest ebb. Now, they appear a side rejuvenated. Unless a lengthy FA Vase run results in a fixture backlog, I fully anticipate that they will be in the promotion mix come the end of the season.

For Guisborough, now exists an opportunity to climb the table with several fixtures in hand over all but one side in the league. Our tally of eighteen points from nine games is a tremendous start. Chris Hardy has built a talented, committed side. Being a Guisborough fan at the moment feels good, even if today did not quite go to plan. The club (and team) are moving forward. There was a significant travelling support here today, a sure reflection that people are enjoying the quality of the football being served up.
Next up is a trip to Billingham Synthonia on Wednesday night. The Synners earned an impressive 4-2 victory at West Auckland today and the game will provide another stiff challenge. Synner’s most famous player has to have been the late, great Brian Clough. Perhaps it should be left to the man himself to describe his own greatness. As he once noted, “I wouldn’t say I’m the best ever. But I’m definitely in the top one”.

As far as the Teesside clash on Wednesday goes, Guisborough will hope to be the number one side by the end of the ninety minutes. Either way, at least there can be no extra time.