Heavy traffic on the M6 Southbound following an incident involving an overturned caravan resulted in a late arrival at Penrith’s Frenchfield Park for the visitors. Thankfully the 3.15 kick off did not seem to have put Benfield out of their stride, as within 90 seconds Paul Brayson had almost opened the scoring, swivelling on the ball, sidestepping a defender and hammering an instinctive shot inches over the ball. Last season Penrith’s talisman and so often the Lions’ nemesis, Martyn Coleman opened the scoring after 8 seconds, but subsequently failed to get another kick as Mark Turnbull’s titanic performance at the heart of defence was crucial in setting a platform for a superb 4-1 comeback win. Today Benfield were without Sparky and so Ritchie Slaughter came in as both centre back and team captain; not only that, but he turned in a performance almost as good as Turnbull’s masterclass last time around.
The home side’s sole tactic in the first period, with a blustery wind at their backs, was to launch the ball upfield as quickly as possible in the general direction of Coleman. Unfortunately for them, assured defensive work by Slaughter alongside Brad Varga and James Novak denied the Penrith target man any significant opportunities in the opening 30 minutes, other than a half chance that was bravely shuffled round the post by Andy Grainger. Come the half hour, Penrith’s more direct approach was beginning to put Benfield off their passing game as Coleman bustled his way into the box and shaved the outside of the post. Soon after, the game changed decisively when, almost out of nowhere and possibly against the run of play, Benfield hit the home side with a rapid brace of goals.
Firstly, on 37 minutes, Peter Glen-Ravenhill’s deep cross from the right eluded everyone apart from the on-rushing Matty Parker, who touched the ball into the roof of the net from beyond the back post.
On 42 minutes, Aiden Haley notched his goal for Benfield; unmarked and unchallenged 25 yards from goal, he took aim and fired a rocket into the roof of the net that left home keeper Lewis Casson grasping air.
Early in the second period, it was almost 3 when Cyril Giraud’s weaving run caused panic in the home defence, but when the ball ran loose to Parker, his low effort was clutched by Casson. For large parts of the second period, Benfield kept hold of the ball, exchanging short passes and looking for opportunities a dogged home defence denied them. At the other end, Coleman continued his one-man assault, twice being denied by Andy Grainger in quick succession. The Benfield task was made more difficult when James Novak limped out of action, to be replaced by the free running Kurtis Russell who sent one thunderbolt a shade too high but was not able to contribute defensively. Thankfully, the rest of the Lions stepped up to the mark, especially Guilherme Balthazar, who denied Bobby Atkinson with an acrobatic clearance off the line. The away performance was more functional than fluent, but it was enough to claim the win, despite a last-minute aberration by Andy Grainger. Substitute Max Brown took the ball off the experienced stopper’s toe as he dawdled on the edge of the box, then slammed it into an empty net. Thankfully, all it cost was a clean sheet as the final whistle sounded soon after.
Man of the Match:
Match Report Ian Cusack
Footage/website Steve Boyle