An absorbing and explosive encounter between Benfield and Guisborough climaxed with the sides exchanging picture book goals in stoppage time to share the points from an absorbing contest at a febrile Sam Smith’s Park. After a prolonged downpour overnight, it was reassuring to see the pitch in perfect condition. The surface seemed suited to the home side’s usual silky short passing game, while any pitch would have seemed acceptable for Guisborough’s strong-arm approach to proceedings, reflected in the 7 cautions they received, as well as striker Danny Early becoming the first player in a Benfield game in 2019/2020 to suffer the obloquy of being sent to the sin bin for dissent. Of course, the visitors can justifiably point to their valuable away point and massively improved league position after several seasons struggling against relegation as the fruits of their tactics, that teeter on the brink of unsporting conduct.
There seemed little indication of the fireworks to come in the opening 20 minutes as the two sides exchanged possession, with few actual chances, until Jake Turnbull advanced and fizzed a low effort that was deflected wide. Straight after this, Benfield suffered a blow, with Ritchy Slaughter limping off in a like for like substitution with Ben Richardson. Once play settled down, the Lions produced a flowing move with Brad Varga and Jake Turnbull setting up Cyril Giraud, whose shot was held by visiting keeper Ryan Catterick. His opposite number Andy Grainger was called into action just before the break, blocking a Josh Rowbotham effort, then falling on the loose ball.
In the second half, Guisborough redoubled their tough tackling, as the referee struggled to keep on top of the visitors’ antics. Amidst the vitriol, Joe Ferguson seized on indecision in the Benfield rearguard to put the Priorymen ahead just after the hour with an exquisite lob. It seemed from then on, that Guisborough’s sole tactic was to break up play with constant fouls and delaying tactics, but such cynicism was keeping Benfield at arm’s length. Cyril Giraud was singled out for particularly rough treatment, but he showed great fortitude the stand up to everything thrown at him. It’s a good job Andrew Grainger did so twice in the space of 20 seconds after 75 minutes, to keep Benfield in the game.
Twice keeper Catterick had patted down free kicks from James Novak and then Dennis Knight, after fouls on Giraud. Following another illegal challenge, Novak changed his approach with a ball chipped to the back post. A misdirected defensive header fell perfectly for Matty Parker to hammer the ball home after 83 minutes. In the aftermath, Earl was sinbinned for dissent and Kurtis Russell came on for Jake Turnbull, immediately extending Catterick with a vicious swerving effort that was headed for the top corner. Benfield scented victory and in the 90th minute Paul Brayson’s intelligent through ball was finished in glorious fashion by Dennis Knight.
Amazingly though, Guisborough got off the canvas to claim a point. It is more than 20 years since Brian Close appeared in The Premier League for Middlesbrough, but his imperious header into the postage stamp at the corner of post and bar would not have disgraced his former team mate Fabrizio Ravanelli. A late sickener, but probably a fair result.
Match Report Ian Cusack