Newcastle Benfield kicked off the 2019/2020 campaign with a valuable point in a 1-1 draw with local rivals Whitley Bay. With both manager Stu Elliott and player assistant boss Paul Brayson both away on holiday, as well injury denying the Lions the services of Dean Holmes, Reece Noble and long-term absentee Lewis Scorgie, not to mention work commitments preventing Richie Slaughter from turning out, this was very much a mix and match side. Four new signings started the game for Benfield; Guilherme “G” Balthazar, Peter Glen-Ravenhill, back at his former club for his debut, Ben Richardson and Mechack Kanda, beginning his second spell with the Lions.
The game itself was a slow burner; the initial exchanges were predictably cagey, with two vastly altered sides attempting to get the measure of the opposition. Benfield’s first attempt on goal was a misdirected Kanda header from a Dennis Knight corner that the home side scrambled away.
Knight almost gave Benfield the lead when Bay keeper Lister’s attempted clearance hit Knight and ballooned towards goal. The keeper rescued the situation and set the Seahorses away, leading to the opening goal when Stephenson’s audacious lob sailed over Andy Grainger and into the net. It was to be Whitley’s only serious effort all game. Shaking off their early season torpor, Benfield pushed Whitley back, without making any clear openings in the rest of the first half. The nearest moment came on 42 minutes when Kanda and G played a one two and the former Whitby man clipped a dangerous ball across the box that just eluded Knight and was cleared by Bay’s imposing stopper, Thomas Bott.
The second half was a different matter. Benfield pushed Whitley back the whole time and Glen-Ravenhill almost marked his return to Hillheads with a goal just after the break, but Whitley closed him down. Jordan Laidler fed an on-rushing Knight on the hour and his vicious shot was charged down but appeals for handball were dismissed. Another Benfield debutant came off the bench to change the game decisively. Former Ashington winger Jake Turnbull absolutely tore former Benfield left back James Martin to pieces, turning him inside and out, while drawing several free kicks for crude trips. From one of these, clipped low across the corridor of uncertainty, an unmarked Brad Varga stooped beyond the back post and guided the ball home. It was no less than Benfield deserved, but a winner was not forthcoming as both defences stood resolute as the attackers wilted on a hot afternoon.
Man of the Match:
Match Report Ian Cusack
Photos/Footage Steve Boyle