After an immaculately observed minute’s silence, where the focus was on all the sides in Newcastle Benfield’s Junior Section, and a rousing minute’s applause in remembrance and celebration of our dear departed chairman and founder Jimmy Rowe, The Lions sadly could not get the win we all desperately craved. However, while the FA Cup is the greatest club competition in world football, today was all about paying tribute to Jimmy at the end of a traumatic week. In all honesty, Runcorn Town deserved to win the game as the emotional weight of the occasion seemed to inhibit many of our players, who struggled to do themselves justice in front of a bumper crowd, swelled by the presence of former players, as well as friends and family of our Jimmy.
After a cagey opening, Runcorn drew first blood when a ball across the edge of the box found the towering Shaun Weaver, more often to be found putting himself about in midfield with a series of borderline lunges, on the left-hand side. He took a steadying touch, before calmly stroking the ball under Andy Grainger. Runcorn were well on top, with the flowing locks of Joe Holt at the centre of everything creative, though it was Craig Cairns who kissed the outside of the post with a curling effort at the midpoint of the half. Benfield finally came into the contest on the half hour when Matty Parker ghosted in at the back post, but fired his shot into the ground and just over the bar, though it did deceive a number of younger supporters who were still celebrating after the goal kick had restarted play.
Soon the home fans were celebrating for real. Paul Brayson scuffed his effort to turn home a glorious Guilherme Balthazar cross on the six-yard line, only for the ball to fall for Peter Glen-Ravenhill, who scored with a precise chip over keeper Adam Reid. Scarcely believably, Benfield were ahead a minute later when James Novak’s delightful through ball allowed Glen-Ravenhill to run onto the ball and finish emphatically as Reid came out to block. Runcorn were stirred not shocked and Dave Forbes burst through soon after, having to be denied by two instinctive Grainger blocks. Finally, the last action of the half saw Cyril Giraud’s sublime pass set Glen-Ravenhill away, whose low effort skimmed the outside of the post with Reid beaten.
If The Lions thought they’d done the hard part, there was a rude awakening 3 minutes into the second period when a low ball across field unaccountably arrived at the feet of substitute Richard McQuade who poked the ball home. Benfield were stung into a response, and almost regained the lead within a minute. Paul Brayson raced onto a loose back pass and effected a glorious back heel into the feet of Glen-Ravenhill, whose first time shot hit the outside of the post when a goal looked certain. Brayson was denied by the linesman’s flag after finishing from close range, before the crucial moment of the game.
Last year Richie Slaughter decided our FA Vase game with Runcorn at Sam Smith’s Park with a glorious curling effort; this time around it was Cairns who hit an instinctive dipping effort into the corner to give his side the lead. Despite skipper Mark Turnbull bulleting a header off the same spot on the outside of the post that Glen-Ravenhill had grazed, there was to be no equaliser as Runcorn, by artful game management, ran the clock down with few moments of panic.
Regardless of the result, today was all about Jimmy Rowe. Indeed, the future will all be about Jimmy, as ever game we play will be a tribute to him.