NEWCASTLE BENFIELD 1 WEST AUCKLAND TOWN 0
Perhaps one of the most unfortunate side effects of the fixture backlog for this season has been the fact that when games are finally played, they occur with such regularity that the spectator has little time to draw breath and reflect on what has been seen. Scarcely two days after a superb display of controlled, possession based football that had swept Ashington aside in the second period at Woodhorn Lane, Benfield were back in action against a thoroughly excellent West Auckland Town side, who had such riches available to them that they could afford the luxury of leaving Alex Francis on the bench until 30 minutes to go. Players of the calibre of Michael McKeown, Adam Mitchell, Lewis Dodds, Nathan Fisher and Amar Purewal are a treat to watch and so this victory, based on adventurous attacking intent for an hour and thirty minutes of dogged, and indeed desperate, defending, should be celebrated as much as the famous 3-0 thumping handed out to West by a rampant Benfield side back in November 2014.
For the opening exchanges, the main focus was on the tremendous work rate and inventive array of passing courtesy of the all action Adam Mitchell. Many in the ground thought he’d opened the scoring, but he had been denied by a sprawling Andy Grainger, who forced the ball into the side netting at his near post. For Benfield Joe Hailes and Josh Scott were both running their blood to water, with lung bursting runs to create danger and one end and snuff out the opposition threat at the other. Scott McCarthy, fresh from his wonder goal at Ashington, was also heavily involved and could have put Benfield ahead when Jake Orrell put a sumptuous cross on his head. Sadly his flicked effort went wide, but this incident was the start of a period of utter dominance by The Lions. Moments later the decisive goal was scored. McCarthy crossed low and hard from the left side of the area, completing eluding the visiting defence, to allow PAUL BRAYSON to appear unchecked at the back post for a close range tap-in. Seconds later Brayson was at it again, finishing off a rebound following a low effort from Joe Hailes that struck the inside of the post with West keeper Shane Bland beaten. Sadly, the offside flag was raised to curtail home celebrations. Brayson was twice further inches from doubling Benfield’s lead before the break. On 39 minutes, he collected a loose ball in midfield, drove forward and flashed a drive just over the angle of post and bar. Finally, on 43 minutes he chipped a free kick onto the head of Lewis Scorgie, who was unlucky to see the ball smack the bar and be ushered away.
Immediately from the restart, it really should have been 2-0. Josh Scott wove down the left and fired in a dangerous ball that Scott McCarthy deflected onto the underside of the bar. If VAR were to exist at Northern League level, we would have had a decisive answer as to whether it crossed the line; as it was, the officials said to play on and the chance was gone. Soon after West introduced Alex Francis and the balance of play shifted decidedly to the other end of the pitch. On the hour Nathan Fisher turned beautifully and fired in a strong effort from 12 yards that Andy Grainger did well to block for a corner. This was only a prelude to an absolutely astonishing stop from Purewal. The tall striker worked space on the right hand side of the area and fired a low shot that appeared to be arrowing to the far corner, until Grainger miraculously spread himself to stop a ball that already seemed to be past him, to ensure he had a second consecutive clean sheet and that Benfield picked up a notable maximum set of points against a team who will surely start next season as favourites for the Northern League title.
Man of the Match: Scott McCarthy