Having been on the end of a 3-1 home reverse to Northern League champions elect Morpeth Town at Sam Smith’s Park back in October, it was a wary Newcastle Benfield who ventured north to Craik Park for this rearranged fixture, shorn of the injured Lewis Scorgie who joined Dylan McEvoy on the sidelines. Despite the gloriously sunny, if still cool, day that preceded the game, it still required a referee’s inspection to ensure the game went ahead, in conditions that would be termed soft in the racing fraternity. Indeed, certain parts of the pitch were placed somewhere on the marshland to swamp continuum. One person who did not allow this to bother him was ace marksman Paul Brayson whose first half hat trick took his tally for the season to 39 goals in 39 games, as well as ensuring The Lions took the spoils after their most impressive performance of the season.
Morpeth Town are undoubtedly a class football side and one who will win the Northern League by a considerable distance, but tonight they were outfought, outthought and outplayed from first whistle to last by a skilled, committed and fluent Benfield side where every player, from front to back, earned the generous applause of the travelling support at full time. Brassy’s contribution we’ve already mention, but the midfield pairing of Richie Slaughter and Alex Nisbet utterly snuffed out the threat of the division’s best player Ben Sayers, while Joe Hailes performed admirably in an unfamiliar left back role and Josh Scott produced a superb cameo of hard running and boundless energy when coming off the bench. Best of all, Andrew Grainger lived down last season’s nightmare red card with a display of assured handling and territorial dominance, as well as glorious saves when required, that must rank with several of his other gold medal games over the past 15 years. Truly he was in inspired and inspirational form.
The first goal came on 16 minutes when Elliott Forbes played an astute pass on a dreadful surface through to the onrushing Brayson, who finished with verve and aplomb through the keeper’s legs. Home cries for offside were as desperate as they were erroneous, as was demonstrated 10 minutes later when a wild slice of a clearance fell to Brayson who demonstrated guile and panache by going round keeper Dryden’s impudent dash from his line, before rolling the ball into an empty net. Dryden redeemed himself with a full length save to deny Luke Carr a third after 39 minutes, but the former Morpeth attacker turned provider with a stupendous pass to Brayson, setting the veteran striker free and able to again stroll past Dryden and slot home for a scarcely believable 3-0 lead at the break.
The second period saw Benfield withstand periods of Morpeth pressure, after adopting a more circumspect approach with the departure of the hamstrung Dummet leaving the Lions denuded of defensive bodies. It was then that Andrew Grainger showed his worth, catching every single ball into the box, whether on his tip toes or down in the dirt. When former sunderland and Manchester City striker Stephen Elliott, a full international cap for Ireland, reduced the arrears in stoppage time with a classy turn and shot, it was small consolation for a well beaten home side. Morpeth will be champions, but they’ll not come up against many teams as good as Benfield were in this game.
Match coverage courtesy of Morpeth Town