Match report by Ian Cusack
Photos/website by Steve Boyle
After the euphoria of the 4-0 rout handed out to Guisborough Town in the previous game, it was back to earth with a bump for Newcastle Benfield on St. Stephen’s Day. In a game dominated by two outstanding performances between the posts, near neighbours Team Northumbria completed the league double and eased their relegation worries with a merited 2-1 victory against a seriously depleted home side, further hampered by injuries during the game itself.
The absence of the lively and creative Dylan McEvoy from midfield meant that Benfield were missing 4 players from the centre of the park: the other non-combatants being Jack Errington, Alex Nisbet and Richie Slaughter, all of whom can pick a pass and love a tackle. Also unavailable was Andrew Grainger, but in the shape of Dan Nimmins, Benfield have a more than adequate deputy for the finest Northern League keeper in living memory.
The crowd was boosted by a couple of dozen Whitley and Shields fans, who were left at a loose end by their game falling foul to a waterlogged pitch. In contrast, Sam Smith’s Park was in pristine condition, though one must query whether the directive of kicking off Bank Holiday games at 11.00 is always the best idea, when maximising attendances are concerned. However, all those who were present would concur that this was a lively and entertaining game, where the instincts of both teams to get the ball down and pass it to feet were fully in evidence, with the majority of chances in the first period falling to the visitors, who impressed with the eye-catching fluidity of their play, although skipper Mark Turnbull almost tasted glory after he embarked upon a run reminiscent of Maradona versus Belgium, only to be thwarted by a good defensive block. Excellent keeping by Nimmins and profligate finishing kept the score blank, until the returning Jake Orrell swivelled in the area, following excellent work down the right by Rhys Evans, and buried a half-chance to give Benfield an interval lead they scarcely deserved.
At the break, Benfield were forced to withdraw left-back James Novak with a back problem, which was the first time this season the Lions had lined up without the tenacious former Morpeth player. Soon after, Luke Carr limped off and Benfield were truly up against it. That said, the game defining moment occurred after 65 minutes when Lewis Scorgie’s bullet header from a Paul Brayson corner seemed destined for the top corner, only for Team North keeper Greg Purvis to fly across the goal and fingertip the ball wide. This seemed to renew the away team’s spirit and on 75 minutes, the predatory Ben Dibb-Fuller finally worked an opening in the area, before shooting low past Nimmins into the corner. Within minutes TN were ahead; Scott Gunn stroked home an outrageously well-struck free kick, reminiscent of efforts by both Liam O’Brien and Scott Sellars against sunderland in years gone by, in off the post, past a despairing Nimmins, to settle the contest.
Benfield had one last period of pressure, when Purvis broke home hearts. Firstly, he dived smartly to his left to deny Jon Mellish’s curling effort, stood transfixed as Scorgie hammered the rebound off the inside of the post, before launching himself into save of the season to keep out Lacquan Esdaille’s full-blooded volley from 8 yards. Truly, a keeping performance that won the day for the visitors, while the home custodian was similarly superb in his handling, but sadly ended on the losing side.
Man of the Match: Dan Nimmins