Newcastle Benfield’s unbeaten away record came to an end in an entertaining and open game at Meadow Park, where hosts Sunderland RCA came out on top in a 5-goal tussle. Manager Stuart Elliott was forced into changes, with Brad Varga missing out and Guilherme Balthazar only fit enough for the bench, necessitating Peter Glen-Ravenhill’s deployment as a right wing back.
It has to be said Benfield didn’t help their cause with the concession of an early penalty; Aiden Haley barging over Dylan Elliott, who picked himself up and comfortably dispatched the spot kick. Despite playing with both the slope and breeze in their favour, Benfield struggled to make any early inroads as the hosts looked dangerous every time they came forward. Indeed, The Lions were indebted to Matty Parker who headed a Greg Swansbury effort off the line after 17 minutes.
Thankfully, as the half drew on, Benfield came more into the game. Peter Glen-Ravenhill almost got on the end of a diagonal Paul Brayson ball at the midpoint of the half. Subsequently, Brayson was thrice denied in quick succession; firstly, he intercepted a loose back pass before going around keeper Robert Dean, but the angle was impossibly tight, and he could only find the side netting. Secondly, he accepted a pass from Dennis Knight in the area, worked a yard of space and sent a low shot skimming past the outside of the post with Dean beaten. In the third instance, Dean denied Brayson with an instinctive block from the striker’s close-range header, following a dream of a cross from Ravenhill.
While it may have been something of a surprise Benfield had not gone in level at the break, it was a situation Benfield sought to remedy in the second period. Ben Richardson sent a chipped ball over the RCA defence and Brayson took it calmly in his stride, before finishing astutely across the diving Dean. Unfortunately, all this good work came to nought as almost immediately from the restart, the home side restored their advantage when Ryan Leonard drove home from the edge of the box. Manager Elliott reacted to this by introducing Balthazar for Richardson and the Portuguese flyer began to create mischief from his first touch. However, it was the strength of Ritchie Slaughter, winning a loose ball in midfield, that helped fashion an equaliser. He set Brayson away and the striker advanced into the box, where referee Helen Conley noticed a foul that was not obvious to anyone else in the ground. Benfield accepted this slice of outrageously good fortune as Dennis Knight stroked the penalty home.
Again, this was a false dawn. Leonard charged forward with the Benfield defence floundering in his wake. Twice he was denied by Andrew Grainger, before rolling the ball to the advancing Mark Davison, whose shot evaded both defenders on the line to give RCA a decisive lead they would not relinquish. Benfield came desperately close to an equaliser when Mechack Kanda’s long-range effort struck the outside of the post. With almost the last play of the game Brayson saw his chip palmed over the bar by Dean at full stretch. Ultimately, it wasn’t to be for Benfield, but the entertainment on display almost made up for the defeat. Almost…
Match Report Ian Cusack
Photos Simon Mears
Website Steve Boyle