It would be fair to say that the new format of the Northern League Cup, with 40 teams split into 8 groups of 2 to produce 16 qualifiers from these mini leagues, has not proved to be a universally popular idea with many clubs. However, it seems spectators are pleased with the opportunity to see more games, which can be seen by increased attendances. For instance, this highly entertaining contest was seen by approximately 50 more spectators than Benfield’s first home game in the same competition last year and 100 extra compared to the visit of Darlington RA 3 seasons back.
The game began at one hell of a lick, with Thornaby’s Jordan Wilson finding himself free on the left edge of the area in the first minute, only for his effort to bounce back out from the inside of the post and away from danger. Barely 30 seconds later, Paul Brayson worked a shooting opportunity in the Thornaby area, only for the ball to run away from him when he seemed certain to score. Straight from the restart, Thornaby surrendered possession and Peter Glen-Ravenhill thundered an effort into the side netting. Again, Benfield caught a visiting player in possession, allowing Cyril Giraud to thread the ball to Brayson, whose low effort was inches past the post. All of this action in the opening 10 minutes failed to produce the home goal that seemed both deserved and inevitable, resulting in a short period of retrenchment by the visitors, followed by a spell of dominance by them.
Andy Grainger has just turned 37, but he showed the athleticism of a player half his age, by completing a fine series of saves. He leapt to his right to turn a ferocious effort by Wilson round the post. From the ensuing corner, he went high to his left to claw away Lewis Green’s first-time effort. These saves were both essential and perhaps instructive, as Benfield took the lead with a textbook predator’s tap-in by Brayson, who has himself recently celebrated his 42ndbirthday, profiting from a handling error by Thornaby keeper James Dawson, who failed to gather a seemingly straightforward effort from Aiden Haley. On the stroke of half-time, Dawson redeemed himself to an extent, by bravely blocking a Glen-Ravenhill effort following another memorable through ball by Giraud.
Thornaby came out for the second period in determined fashion. A shout for a penalty was waved away, before they drew level when Daniel Chapman hit a swerving effort that Grainger got a hand to but could not keep out. The league format of the competition meant Thornaby were seemingly happy to try and claim a point from their travels, so they withdrew and scarcely had an effort worthy of the name for the rest of the match. This suited Benfield, who restored the lead on 58 minutes. Mark Turnbull, as ever turning in an accomplished and dominant performance in the centre of defence, sprayed a ball out to Jake Turnbull on the right wing. His thunderous, low cross was met at the back post by Matty Parker, who burst the net with a super diving header. It was a goal fit to win any game and emblematic of the high-quality fare served up by the home side in the second period. Another almost followed as a splendid passing move ended with Dawson tipping Aiden Haley’s effort away from the top corner at full stretch.
The biggest cheer of the night was afforded to the returning
Lewis Scorgie, who replaced skipper Turnbull for the last 15 minutes, following a 15-month absence because of a knee injury sustained at Bishop Auckland in May 2018. It was wonderful to have him back, though we’ll draw a discreet veil over the yellow card he received for a somewhat mistimed tackle that could be blamed on rustiness. Meanwhile the top hat was put on proceedings by Dennis Knight, who scored a simply sumptuous goal from a James Novak short free-kick, accepting the ball in his stride, advancing into the area, drawing Dawson into a premature dive, slotting the ball home across the despairing keeper and assuring the 3 points for Benfield on a thoroughly enjoyable evening.