For most of the time since returning to the Northern League, Bishop Auckland have been serial underachievers, whose on field performances have lagged far behind their supporters’ opinion of themselves. However, under the stewardship of Ian Chandler and Brian Rowe, Bishops have finally found a team to match their palatial surroundings at Heritage Park. Today the Two Blues gave a masterclass in counter attacking football and precise finishing. That said, if one were to reckon up the chances created by both sides, there would be no doubt that Benfield outstripped the hosts by two to one in creativity. It speaks volumes that home keeper Nick Liversedge was Man of the Match by a country mile today.
Despite an encouraging opening by the visitors, including Scott McCarthy being played in by an astute Paul Brayson pass, only for Liversedge to race from his line to block the shot, it was Bishops who went ahead after 10 minutes. Ex Benfield full back Michael Hoganson took an inswinging free kick on the right that Andrew Grainger solicitously tipped over. Despite the referee signalling a corner from the right, Bishops took it from the left and an unmarked Kieran Gailbraith headed home. Of course, the goal should not have stood, but I seemed the only person in the 286 crowd to have noticed this.
Benfield did not allow themselves to be discomfited by this misfortune and took the game straight to their hosts. On 12 minutes McCarthy’s deflected effort fell to James Martin who shot over from a tight angle. Martin was again involved soon after, flashing a ball across the box that Dennis Knight just failed to convert at the back post. Knight hit another effort that deflected agonisingly wide and from the subsequent corner, Alex Nisbet just failed to direct a header on target. Both McCarthy and Reece Noble shot from distance in quick succession, only to see Liversedge twice extend himself to the utmost and tip the ball wide, while Brayson’s free kick from the edge of the box after Jake Orrell had been upended was a shade too high. For Bishops, Chris Winn had twice had efforts held by captain for the day Andy Grainger, though it was a shock when the Two Blues doubled their lead just before half time when Fryatt intercepted an attempted pass by Nisbet, before waltzing into the box and burying a low effort into the far corner.
In the second half, Benfield came out swinging; Orrell flashed a drive wide and Knight was denied by Liversedge’s reflexes at his near post. However, as the temperature plummeted and darkness fell, Bishops were content to allow Benfield possession and try to this the Lions on the break. This they did with uncompromising ruthlessness, when the previously anonymous Andy Johnson turned in the box and fired past Grainger for 3-0. The game was up, despite Brayson’s glorious volley on 71 minutes that gave Benfield hope. However, when Liversedge denied Dale Pearson with the save of the game and Nisbet’s header from the corner was knocked off the line, the sense that it won’t be your day becomes all too pervasive. So it proved, as Bishops saw the game out to win 3-1.