ASHINGTON 0 NEWCASTLE BENFIELD 2
The traditionally British obsession with the weather has permeated the body politic of the Northern League. Only a fortnight ago, 4 months of unending rain and unseasonal snow blasts had seemingly conspired to prevent some grounds from hosting any football for the foreseeable future. Now, as spring has finally sprung and there are more pairs of shorts among the crowd than the players, a few days of solid sunshine has rendered many pitches as adamantine as concrete. Thus was the case with Ashington’s Woodhorn Lane complex, where the groundsman had actually watered the pitch on Friday, though not to any discernible impact as the impacted earth beneath the grass was packed solid, resulting in the kind of variable bounce that makes fools of even those with normally impeccable technique on the ball.
Consequently, the first half was a dismal spectacle; dreary, low-quality football played on a surface akin to a crazy paved driveway. It took 14 minutes for the first effort of note on goal, when Josh Scott tested Ashington keeper Conor Grant’s reflexes, stinging his palms with a venomous shot that the home custodian fended away. This was a rare moment of attacking intent during a somnolent opening period when it appeared to the 178 watching the game that this end of season encounter had nothing really at stake, other than cementing 8th place in the table. It recalled a game at Sam Smith’s between the two sides on 23rd April 2005 that ended 0-0, which was possibly the only game I’ve ever attended where neither side had an effort on goal in the entire 90 minutes. However, at least we were trying to score; on 21 minutes Luke Carr’s excellent low cross was met at the far post by the arriving Jake Orrell. Sadly though, he was unable to turn the bouncing ball home and skied his effort. On 41 minutes, Ashington had their only effort on goal of the first half; the amusingly coiffured Jake Turnbull smashed an effort into the side netting, which confused many of the home supporters who thought it was gone in. It hadn’t, and we reached the interval with a blank scoresheet.
Over the half time cuppa, both sets of club officials bemoaned the sterility of the fare on offer and shared the assumption we’d see no goals all game. Benfield made liars of us all, with a superb second half display that kept the Colliers at arm’s length and allowed us to collect a 10th away win of the season with the greatest of ease. Within 2 minutes of the resumption, Joe Hailes had put the Lions ahead. Great hold up play in the box by Paul Brayson saw him feed Josh Scott, who drove to the dead ball line and pulled a precise ball back for the on-rushing Hailes to tap home. A great goal that seemingly came out of nothing and caused Colliers player boss Steve Bowey to introduce himself to the fray. Unlike the pre-Christmas encounter at Sam Smith’s, when The Colliers waltzed away with the points after battering us 3-0 and Bowey ran the show from midfield, the thrice former Lion had little discernible impact on the game. Benfield almost made it 2-0 on 75 minutes when substitute Scott McCarthy fed Orrell on the edge of the box and the former Spennymoor lad saw his shot deflected inches wide, with Grant a flat-footed observer. However, McCarthy was soon to make an indelible mark on the game with a contender for Benfield’s goal of the season. Picking up a loose ball about 25 yards from goal, he looked up and curled a delicious, bending effort right into the top corner, past the despairing leap of Grant, to seal the points and garner a deserved standing ovation that was only bettered for volume by the news of Burton’s win on Wearside.
Man of the Match: Elliott Forbes
Match report Ian Cusack
Photos Paul Mcfeeley/Luke Vinton
Website Steve Boyle