After a thoroughly depressing set of results throughout January, Newcastle Benfield restored some pride with an encouraging display in a thoroughly entertaining encounter which they were a shade unfortunate not to win against a Hebburn Town side who, arguably, had one eye on their FA Vase last 16 tie against West Auckland Town the week after.
Loan signing Thomas Bexton who had made a good impression in his debut at Bishop Auckland was forced to miss out through injury, the same as Mark Turnbull and Richard Slaughter, along with long term absentees Dylan McEvoy, Lewis Scorgie and Joe Robson. Alex Nisbet filled in at centre half alongside James Novak, though he was forced off at the break with a knock, which allowed the imposing figure of Jake Thompson, recently arrived from Queen of the South, to make his Benfield debut.
The South Tyneside outfit, on their first visit to Sam Smith’s since promotion, started off on the front foot. The Hornets had the ball in the net after 7 minutes, when Luke Sullivan, who was to be a thorn in the home side’s flesh all afternoon, tapped in at the back post, only to be denied by the assistant’s flag.
A decent crowd of 175 were in attendance and they almost saw a Benfield goal after 18 minutes, when Paul Brayson’s astute lay-off was fired a touch too high by Dale Pearson. Spurred on by this, The Lions exerted a degree of pressure with a series of testing corners, taken by stand-in captain Dennis Knight. Unfortunately, all the good work went to waste when James Martin was harshly, if correctly, adjudged to have impeded Luke Sullivan in the area. The striker took the kick himself and sent Andy Grainger the wrong way to grab a lead the visitors held until the break, perhaps a shade luckily. Benfield were gaining great traction by the judicious use of diagonal balls and one such pass put Jake Orrell in, only for keeper Jennison to deflect the ball wide. Late in the half both Novak and Rhys Evans saw powerful drives blocked by a resolute Hebburn defence, intent on maintaining their lead.
Benfield’s star performer was undoubtedly Dennis Knight, who revelled in both the captaincy and his midfield playmaker role. It was fitting he scored the equaliser on 56 minutes, when his vicious drive from distance, after Paul Brayson’s astute lay off had set things up on a plate, proved too hot for former Team North custodian Andrew Jennison, who allowed the ball to squirm right through him. It was nothing less than the home team deserved. Twice in the space of 5 minutes, Paul Brayson almost put Benfield ahead. Firstly, a free kick after Dale Pearson was trip on the edge of the box, ended up on the roof of the net. Then a Jake Orrell cross ended up a fraction wide.
As the incessant rain grew torrential, the home side went ahead. Jennison fumbled another Knight thunderbolt and Orrell reacted quickest to put the rebound in. Undoubtedly, Hebburn were second best and potentially hoping for the final whistle and a chance to regroup in time for their big Vase game and twice Paul Brayson broke through and fired agonisingly wide.
Benfield were to rue this as Sullivan strode forward in the final minute of regulation time and fired in a low strike that left Andrew Grainger unsighted, to grab a point for the visitors.
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