NEWCASTLE BENFIELD 1 BILLINGHAM TOWN 1
The game began in brilliant sunshine and ended in rancorous discord, as the visitors quite lost the run of themselves after the award of a late penalty to The Lions. While it is a number of years since Billingham Town have been at Sam Smith’s Park, they have something of a reputation of reacting negatively to spot kicks; the eruption of anger when Andrew Grainger saved one in the last minute in 2007 that effectively denied them the title and the same fella scoring from the penalty mark in a 5-0 home win the previous time the teams met in 2014. This is a real shame as Billingham Town, including the often-controversial figure of Jamie Poole, are a solid looking mid-table outfit whose spirit, if they can keep a lid on their tantrums, will see them comfortably mid-table. However, they could, and should, have lost this game they came so close to winning
The first chance of the game went to Billingham, when Craig Hutchinson burst unmarked into the area. Andrew Grainger was quick off his line to shepherd Hutchinson to such a tight angle he failed to even hit the side netting. Soon play switched to the other end; Guilherme Balthazar put in an intelligent low ball that Cyril Giraud turned on and fired just over. Paul Brayson sent Peter Glen-Ravenhill free in the box, but Bradley Young made an instinctive block to deny him. When Giraud curled a long-range effort a shade wide, it looked like a home goal was inevitable, but Benfield’s rhythm was disrupted by injuries to Brad Varga and Balthazar, both of whom being withdrawn for Kurtis Russell and Dennis Knight respectively. Billingham right back Luke Hogan worked himself an opportunity but was denied by a great stop by Grainger as the sides headed in goalless at the interval.
The second period was more even from the start than the opening act. Billingham tried to come forward but were almost undone when Brayson’s low cross was steered into the side netting by Knight. On 53 minutes, Kalum Hannah opened the scoring. After Grainger’s clearance was recycled by Billingham, Hannah took the ball with his back to goal, turned and fired into the roof of the net in one movement. It was a good finish, but a soft goal to concede. It stunned the home side, who were unable to fashion a clear scoring opportunity for the next 20 minutes or so. Billingham were content to soak up pressure when Benfield did stir themselves, prompted by the unexpected withdrawal of Giraud for player / manager Stu Elliott, who made his presence known from the moment he stepped on the pitch.
Benfield had a Knight goal disallowed for the softest of contacts on an opposition defender, while Brayson crashed a brilliant header against the crossbar with the keeper well beaten, before the late penalty that so incensed Billingham was awarded for a foul on Knight. After an unnecessary bout of pushing and much invective in Teesside accents, Knight levelled matters, just too late for the home side to get the winner their efforts merited.
Match report Ian Cusack
Website Steve Boyle
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