Despite Dale Pearson giving Benfield a dream start with a bona fide Goal of the Season contender after only 2 minutes, The Lions fell to a deserved home loss to a resilient and powerful Shildon side who thoroughly merited their victory. However, there are positives to be taken from the game. Firstly, manager Tom Wade was back in the dug out after his trip to New York and his presence helped to bring about a more ordered performance from front to back, while debutant Joe Shepherd, making the step up from Northern Alliance football with Blyth Spartans Reserves, showed he has the wherewithal to compete at this level. Indeed, for the opening 30 minutes Benfield were the better team, before Shildon got their act together and eventually won at a canter.
It seemed as if last week’s crushing defeat to Northwich Victoria in the FA Vase had been exorcised when a second minute free kick by James Novak, in at left back for the vacationing James Martin, was headed out to the right hand edge of the area, from where Dale Pearson returned it into the top corner of the net, with a sumptuous first time volley off the instep, leaving visiting keeper Shaun Newbrook a bemused onlooker. Minutes later, a presumably shell-shocked Newbrook made an almighty mess of a clearance, slicing the ball across his box, but with enough spin on it to defy the home side’s attackers. Soon after, Pearson almost produced another gem of a goal, but his shot from a similar spot to his previous effort, having worked the opening for himself, flew inches over the corner of bar and post. Shildon’s sole effort in the opening half hour was a weak header wide by Zak Atkinson when well placed in front of goal, whilst Benfield’s third superb attempt saw Paul Brayson take a Pearson pass and chip Newbrook from a tight angle, only for the ball to drop agonisingly on the roof of the net.
Unfortunately, this marked the end of Benfield as an attacking threat in the game as Shildon pushed the home side back for the remainder of the half, with Atkinson and the towering Gruelich-Smith displaying uncharacteristic profligacy, meaning the home side held a slender lead at the break. If Benfield thought they’d ridden the storm, they were sadly disabused of such a notion within a minute of the restart, when Bradley Hird tapped in at the back post after Benfield had failed to clear their lines. If the first half had all been about Dale Pearson for the hosts, the second period was Andy Grainger’s property.
Despite the final score, the experienced keeper was the sole reason The Lions did not suffer a heavier defeat; his catching, punching, distribution and reflexes kept the contest alive. He distinguished himself with a fine tip over from David Palmer and a superb reflex save to deny Ben Trotter, only for Greulich-Smith to pounce on the loose ball after the latter save and bundle the ball home on 65 minutes for what proved to be the winner. The goal came as no surprise and it is of great credit to The Railwaymen that they denied Benfield a credible chance of an equaliser in the remainder of the game, despite the best efforts of the probing Jake Orrell. The game was finally up in the last minute of regulation time, when substitute Nathan Steel accepted the ball with his back to goal in the penalty box, turned sharply and fired home to give the final score a more realistic reflection of the balance of play.
Men of the Match: Dale Pearson and Andy Grainger
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