On a day when almost the entire Northern League programme fell victim to the torrential overnight rain, Stan Thompson produced the trademark superb playing surface that Sam Smith’s Park is renowned for. There was never any question of this game being postponed. However, after a comprehensive defeat inflicted by the predatory finishing of Andrew Bulford, the superb distance shooting from Dale Burrell and the impressive passing of Matty Pattison, you’d be forgiven for hearing the odd mutter from Benfield fans who wished the heavens had opened even more profoundly. It just shows the quality of the Northern League first division.
Benfield were forced into one change from the side that won so convincingly away to Penrith the week before, with Dennis Knight starting in place of the unwell Jake Orrell, who was declared hors de combat late morning. Knight played a central role early on, being twice denied by impressive Whickham keeper Tsapalos. At the other end, Andrew Grainger went full length to turn away a stinging Burrell effort, with Bulford flashing the loose ball a shade wide. After 8 minutes Knight flicked home but was denied by the assistant’s flag. On 10 minutes, Dale Pearson swivelled to hit a Brayson cross against the upright. With 12 minutes gone, Knight volleyed a Rhys Evans pass just wide. After this explosive opening, things settled down to an even contest, until Bulford’s ludicrous miskick from a Burrell cross put Whickham ahead. He missed the ball entirely when trying to shoot, only for his standing leg to deflect the ball home. The same pair combined on 42 minutes, but this time Bulford’s finish was a beautiful header. It was a great goal.
Within 5 minutes of the restart, Benfield ought to have been level. First Knight and then Pearson fired left-footed efforts against the base of the far post and wide. For 10 minutes, Benfield absolutely battered Whickham, but simply couldn’t find a way through the opposition defence, but it was all to no avail as Burrell fired an unstoppable effort from 30 yards right into the top corner. It was an incredible finish, but Benfield kept going though absolutely nothing went for us, as we suffered one of those Performance of the Week batterings that happens from time to time. Grainger denied Bulford a hat trick on 65 minutes with an acrobatic one-handed save, but it only delayed the inevitable as the experienced striker cut inside and fired home on 80 minutes to make it 4-0.
Tsapalos again distinguished himself with a breathtaking save from Pearson, though James Martin was on hand to bundle the ball home. The final act of the game again had Tsapalos at the centre of things, pulling off a stunning one handed save to tip Brayson’s venomous effort round the post. Just one of those days unfortunately, but fair play to Whickham for pulling a rabbit out of the hat with this one.
Photos/website Steve Boyle