Despite the horrific weather that had seen a week of Biblical storms over the Easter period, Sunderland RCA’s Meadow Park pitch was passed fit for play after a cursory morning inspection. This was highly encouraging, not just because The Lions are still in the unenviable position of needing to squeeze in a third of a season into a month, but because this was to be a clash between the two top form sides in the division. However, there was a late scare as, almost inevitably, the weather provided further cause for concern, on account of a solid 2 hours of rain in the immediate pre-match period. Thankfully this downpour made minimal impact on the pitch, rather like Newcastle Benfield in the second half of this game. The points were taken by an impressive home side who were half a head taller, a yard quicker and considerably more determined than a strangely ineffectual Benfield.
The initial stages seemed to suggest that Benfield could continue just where they left off against Bishop Auckland, their seventh straight league victory, in the previous game, especially when Jake Orrell glanced in Paul Brayson’s precise cross, following excellent work by Dylan McEvoy, to put the visitors ahead.
This was after only 5 minutes and within a minute the threat of the home side’s attack was in evidence, when towering striker Nathan O’Neill went around Andy Grainger, who had raced impetuously from his line, but fired the ball into the side netting. By the time 10 minutes had elapsed, Grainger had redeemed himself with a stunning low stop from a Dylan Elliott free kick, conceded by Rhys Evans. This was the signal for concerted RCA pressure; they are a tall and imposing side, but we are blessed with pace to burn and could hit them on the break. Indeed on 20 minutes, Paul Brayson almost restored the away side’s lead, swivelling in the box and firing in a low effort that the veteran Keith Finch did well to clutch on his line. Grainger again preserved the lead when turning aside a well struck effort by Reece Noble on the half hour. Before the interval Brayson tested Finch with a free kick that the pink-clad custodian did well to hold and in the last minute, RCA almost levelled when Luke Page’s winding run provided Steven Callen with an opportunity to shoot. His effort pinged against the outside of the post and away to safety, leaving Benfield 1-0 ahead at the break.
The second period was an entirely different affair, with RCA scoring three unanswered goals and Benfield folded as an attacking threat, in the face of an impressive home onslaught, courtesy of hat trick hero O’Neill. His first goal saw him get to the ball ahead of impressive Benfield debutant Jon Pendlebury and slide the ball home. The second was desperately hard luck on Andrew Grainger, whose attempted clearance from a James Martin back pass reared up on the undulating surface and spun sideways rather than forward. O’Neill profited and hammered the ball home via the upright, just past Grainger’s despairing dive. This was midway through the half and any chance of a Benfield revival were discounted when O’Neill’s audacious flick from a corner completely bamboozled the opposition rear-guard, to seal a comfortable home win. Late on Brayson had an effort charged down and Mark Turnbull headed just over, but frankly Benfield can have no complaints about their first league defeat of 2018.
Sunderland Rca 3
Newcastle Benfield 1
Not getting to hung up on the loss we had an off day where everybody wasn’t quite at it! We will make sure we put it right on Monday night