Before the game, manager Tom Wade was forced into a defensive reshuffle. With skipper Mark Turnbull only fit enough for the bench, Ritchie Slaughter donned the armband and Alex Nisbet took Sparky’s place at the centre of defence. In addition, McKenzie Heaney was given his first league start on a heavy pitch that had seen the previous 2 fixtures postponed, first because of frost and secondly because of prolonged rainfall. On a mild afternoon, Benfield were soon on the attack against the unbeaten league leaders, who had escaped from Sam Smith’s Park with an undeserved point in an early season stalemate, when Benfield simply couldn’t score for toffee. It seemed the same curse was afflicting The Lions in their first attack; McKenzie Heaney saw his effort hacked off the line and two follow-up, goal-bound efforts by Paul Brayson blocked by desperate defending. Then, in the next passage of play, came the incident that cast an ominous shadow over the whole affair.
Perhaps the most eagerly anticipated Northern League Division 1 game so far this season was marred, if not ruined, by a sickening injury sustained by Benfield’s Joe Robson in the 4th minute. The popular and reliable centre half suffered a triple fracture of the eye socket, cheekbone and jaw after an aerial challenge with Dunston’s Michael Pearson. The UTS player clearly did not intentionally mean to injure Robson, but to lead with his elbow was a reckless act that has ended the Benfield player’s season. Every single one of us associated with The Lions wish Joe the speediest recovery possible. After a prolonged delay, Joe was stretchered off and James Novak came on to replace him.
Clearly the injury had deeply affected the Benfield side and Reece Noble was booked for a brutal lunge on Jordan Nellis soon after. However, better fortunes occurred after 20 minutes when handball in the area saw the visitors awarded a penalty. With regular taker Dennis Knight on the bench, Brayson took the responsibility. While Karl Dryden dived low to his left to keep the ball out, he was powerless to prevent Brayson knocking home the rebound. It was to be a brief period of ascendancy however, as a soft free kick on the touchline on 25 minutes was beautifully delivered by Liam Marrs, allowing Scott Heslop to power home a textbook header into the roof of the net. Somewhat improbably, this was to be the end of the goals for the day, but not for the want of trying, especially by Benfield. On the half hour, Dale Pearson was scythed down at the edge of the area and Brayson’s free kick was tipped wide by Dryden at full stretch as Benfield began to show mastery and control from front to back. The home side were dangerous from corners and crosses into the box, with Nellis a permanent threat up top.
After the break, Benfield ought to have taken the lead on 50 minutes; a superb Rhys Evans pass set Jake Orrell away and the young striker was impressively denied by Dryden, who spread himself well at his near post to block a powerful effort. This was an atypical Benfield attack, as we tended to play patient, possession football that pushed the increasingly ragged hosts back. Dunston’s main threat was pace on the break and, in a desperate act of defence, Nisbet received a caution for unambiguously checking Heslop’s progress down the wing. Surprisingly, Dunston’s best chance came from a corner when, with the goal gaping, Andrew Grant-Soulsby shot high over the bar.
Twice subsequently, Benfield almost the win they so clearly deserved. Dale Pearson was denied by an unbelievable block as he seemed ready to turn the loose ball home and then Dryden came to his side’s rescue with another brave stop. Pearson was clearly identified as the dangerman by Dunston and Jake Stafford was shown a straight red card for the crude and deliberate scything down of the powerful attacker as he broke through the centre late in the game. Sadly, all attacking momentum was lost and Dunston hung on, though they will know that they have been mightily lucky in both games against Benfield in 2018/2019.
Match Highlights below
Match Report Ian Cusack
Photos Paul Mcfeeley
Highlights Luke Vinton
Website Steve Boyle