NEWCASTLE BENFIELD 4 SHILDON 2
There have been some monumental contests between these two sides at Sam Smith’s Park over the years: the brutal first ever meeting in December 2004 that produced the same result, the astonishing 7-1 away win in October 2007, the scarcely credible 5 goal salvo by Shildon after a blank first half on the opening day in August 2015 and then there was today’s incredible game. In a freak piece of fixture scheduling, the return game took place less than 48 hours after the clubs had met at Dean Street, where Shildon had run out 2-1 against a much-changed Benfield side. Today’s game made that contest seem tame in comparison.
With a full-strength side out, Benfield were attempting to play themselves back into form ahead of the League Cup semi final at Bishop Auckland on Thursday. However, the sheer volume of games and the attendant impact this has had on the squad in terms of fitness, exhaustion and undoubtedly motivation, means it is often very difficult to compete both constantly and consistently at the highest levels. Perhaps this was why Shildon were able to take a two-goal lead within the opening 11 minutes. The opener was a solid-gold fluke. DAN GROVES advanced down the Benfield left and, on the edge of the area, completely miskicked the ball; an act that utterly bamboozled Rhys Evans, who unwittingly played a one two with the Shildon player and Andrew Grainger, who was left flatfooted and exposed as the visiting player stumbled over the ball and inadvertently sent it dribbling apologetically over the line. Such a farcical opening played on the minds of the Benfield back line and a minute later a communications breakdown between Grainger and Evans almost allowed Marc Ellison in for a second, but when the ball reached the Shildon man with a presentable opening, he shot weakly wide.
The second goal arrived soon enough. Towering hitman BILLY GREULICH-SMITH benefitted from an inch-perfect cross, to rise high above the Lilliputian Benfield rear-guard and plant a commanding header against the crossbar. The ball was not properly cleared and within seconds Greulich-Smith had acrobatically finished the chance to double Shildon’s lead. At this point, it appeared the score could be just about anything to none in favour of the Railwaymen, but they soon seemed to run out of steam as Benfield grew into the game and forced the hitherto dominant visitors to retreat. Elliott Forbes, who has been a star in midfield during his loan spell from Gateshead, was playing his final game for the Lions and almost marked it with a goal, when letting fly from 25 yards out and seeing the ball whistle just over the angle of bar and post. The sign of the carnage in the Shildon area to come was hinted at when centre back Jack Turnbull took a wild swipe at a Paul Brayson cross, sending the ball only inches over his own bar with keeper Nick Liversedge a bemused onlooker. Several other crosses by the impressive, returning Luke Carr caused panic for the Railwaymen, but the score remained unchanged until the break.
The second period seemed to have settled down into a pattern of attractive but ineffective Benfield passing being thwarted by muscular Shildon defending. With 73 minutes gone, there seemed little prospect of any significant change of fortunes for either side until the away side began to panic at every possible opportunity. Having spurned a glorious chance when Elliott Forbes sliced a Luke Carr cross over the bar from 6 yards out, Benfield cut the deficit when a similar ball from the other side of the field by James Martin was decisively driven home by JAKE ORRELL through the legs of the dithering Liversedge, who received an excoriating volley of vituperative bile from a clearly disappointed Dan “Bobby” Moore. The player manager would soon have far more to complain about, as within 2 minutes Benfield were level. Rhys Evans escaped down the right, hit the by-line, sold a lunging defender a dummy and crossed perfectly for PAUL BRAYSON to turn brilliant on the penalty spot and drive it home into the corner of the net. One player has, above all others, been having an inspired spell of late, so fittingly it was SCOTT McCARTHY who pulled away from a statuesque Shildon defence and touched home a delicious Jake Orrell cross that caused mayhem in the corridor of uncertainty.
Shildon weren’t just dazed or shell shocked; they were suffering from full blown post traumatic stress disorder. The visitors were gone; mentally they were already squatting in tepid water in the shower, shaking their heads both in disbelief and to blink out excess Lynx shower gel and wondering how the afternoon had gone from being so right to so wrong in such a short space of time. It could and should have got far worse as, within 30 seconds of each other, Brayson and then McCarthy both went around the jittery Liversedge and hit the ball into the side netting from tight angles. However, it did get worse; in the last-minute SCOTT McCARTHY almost replicated his wonder goal at Ashington, with a curving effort from outside the box that Liversedge was nowhere near. An incredible, brilliant comeback in what must be the home league game of the season, especially as it seemed all home was lost going into the final quarter of the contest. Benfield truly do have hearts like lions.
Man of the Match: Luke Carr