A morning in the Sunday League.

One of my biggest regrets since starting ‘NE Non League’ was my struggle to get down to a Sunday League game. Whether it was due to work commitments, or weather related postponements, I’ve not been able to get to a Sunday game. A lack of social media presence from a lot of the teams, and somewhat outdated league websites, made finding a game to get to all that more difficult.

So, when I saw Spennymoor Voltigeur (Volti) tweet they had a home fixture against high flying Barnard Castle, I knew I had to get down to it. The third of three games in three days, this was the fixture I was most looking forward to. A step into the unknown for myself, Sunday league is something I’ve never ventured into.

Maybe the only downside to this fixture, and indeed a lot of Sunday League fixtures, was the 10:30am kick off. But the excitement definitely made up for the 20 mile, or so, each way journey over the Tudhoe Playing Fields, home of Spennymoor Volti.

As we arrived (myself and my groundhopping counterpart / fiancée), we went for a little walk around the field. I often observe the pre-match warm-ups of both sides, and it was clear that everyone involved thoroughly enjoyed what they were doing. Something I feel I often don’t see in the Saturday leagues, everyone got along and knew what they had to do.

At around 10:20, I heard a shout of ‘ready when you are, Ref’. This was something I obviously had never seen before, but I loved the relaxed approach to the game. Everyone involved was keen to get started, and it was clear from the off that every player on the pitch was determined to get the best possible result.

Usually, as I prepare to do a write up for a game, I’ll have a scan on Twitter, or do a rough headcount, to get a figure of the game’s attendance. Well, there were three people watching. Myself, my fiancée and a lovely gentleman, who I managed to have a lovely chat with about the team and the local area.

Unaware of the league positions of the two teams involved, I had a look at the thoroughly updated Wear Valley Sunday League website. The away side, Barnard Castle, were sat pretty at the top of the league, having played 16 games and having a goal difference of +53. Spennymoor Volti, also sitting in the top half of the league, were forth in the league with a -5 goal difference.

Knowing we could be in for a goal fest, we took our places on a fence closest to the home side’s goal. Unfortunately for the home team, Barnard Castle started the game very confidently, and took the lead after a minute. The away side had obviously come here with a plan and put it into operation straight away. Their pressure also continued after the first goal as they peppered the home goal with shots from any possible angle.

It’s very rare that you’re able to hear the communication between the players, but it was refreshing to know what they were thinking. Obviously the home side were getting frustrated, but they continued to play quite well, having chances of their own. Barnard Castle also kept their attacking up, ending up putting the ball in the back of the net two more times before half time, ‘going in’ 3-0 up.

I quotation marked ‘going in’ simply because the players just had a drink, got some words off of their managers, and got back to it as quickly as they possibly could, which I admired. It caught me off guard though, as I’d gone back to my car to get a drink, and missed the start of the second half, just. Looking for a different angle to watch the second half, we picked the swings at the back of the field, right next to the now away team’s goal. This put us in a good position to watch the game, close to a break in the fence to return the ball if it rolled under, and it unleashed the child in me as I attempted to swing as high as I could.

As I was swinging though, I thought to myself that there can’t be too many places where you can sit on a swing and watch a great game of Football for free. Kind of another reason why I’m leaning more towards Sunday League than Saturday, more of the community turned up for the second half. Ranging from talking to the manager, to practicing fly fishing (yes, really), it seemed everyone in the surrounding area had ventured down to watch the Football.

Early in the second half, Barnard Castle struck a fourth goal, and it looked like there was no way back for the Volti. Getting caught up playing with a local’s dog, I missed a fifth Barnard Castle goal, but did manage to watch them miss a penalty soon afterwards.

As I resumed my focus on the game, I watched the Volti have some real chances on goal, but nothing fell kindly for them, and Barnard Castle capitalised on this by scoring a sixth goal with more or less the last kick of the ball.

A great advert for Sunday League, however! Obviously not the result Spennymoor Volti wanted, but an entertaining game for the neutral. I met some lovely people, watched a game with six goals, a penalty miss, didn’t pay a penny but petrol, and I watched it all whilst sitting on swings. This one experience alone is more than enough to convince me that Sunday League definitely deserves more of a chance than its getting.

I just want to say thank you to Spennymoor Volti for having me, and offering me a team sheet before the game. I thought, with it all being new to me, I’d go with a different style of writing to accommodate it. I’ll definitely do my best to get down to Tudhoe Playing Fields again, and a few other fixtures in Wear Valley Sunday Leagues. I’m definitely a bit more determined to give the Sunday League the coverage it deserves!

Hartlepool United vs Mansfield Town – Central League (07/02/17, 2pm kick off)

Hartlepool United: 1 – Joe Fryer, 2 – Kenton Richardson, 3 – James Martin, 4 – Kieran Green, 5 – Craig Reid, 6 – Tolu Kayode, 7 – Connor Smith, 8 – Eddie Rogerson, 9 – Tyler Harvey, 10 – Jake Orrell, 11 – Nathan Thomas, 12 – Isaac Assenso, 13 – Ryan Catterick, 14 – Josh Hawkes, 15 – Devante Rooney, 16 – Harly Wise.

Mansfield Town: 1 – Xavier Sundby, 2 – Tom Slone, 3 – Louis Danquah, 4 – Cameron Healey, 5 – Mohamed Kamara, 6 – Keiran Harrison, 7 – Charlie Shaw, 8 – Lewis Collins (C), 9 – Nyle Blake, 10 – Jason Law, 11 – Adriel George, 12 – Sam Wilson, 14- Henri Wilder, 15 – Morgan Ratcliffe, 16 – Cain Smith, 17 – Sufarel Behaili.

 

The first of two games for me today took me to Billingham Town’s Bedford Terrace to watch Hartlepool United take on Mansfield Town in the Central League. A lot of eyes were focussed on Hartlepool’s Nathan Thomas as he looked to get some match fitness in the hope of returning to Hartlepool’s first team following three months out with a groin injury.

In the North East section of the Central League, Hartlepool sat second before kickoff, equal on points to Grimsby Town, who edge them on goal difference. Mansfield sat fifth out of six, three points ahead of Rotherham with a game in hand.

Mansfield kicked off the game in front of a fairly impressive crowd considering its 2pm on a Tuesday. Both team’s immediately showed their quality, knocking the ball around very confidently as they strived to create an opportunity. But we had to wait until the 7th minute before the first chance came. Mansfield’s Jason Law winning and taking a corner, but this was cleared well by the Hartlepool defence.

Onto the 27th minute, and a very smart through ball was played to Mansfield’s captain Lewis Collins, who had his feet clipped by Hartlepool’s Tolu Kayode. Although it looked like the foul was committed just inside the area, the referee awarded a freekick just outside. A close but equally difficult position for a freekick, it was Jason Law to take it, but he only managed to smash the ball into the Hartlepool wall.

As Hartlepool cleared following the Mansfield freekick, the ball fell to Nathan Thomas, who worked the ball into the area really well, before being fouled by two of the Mansfield defence. This time a penalty was awarded, and was taken by a trialist, Tyler Harvey, who slotted the ball into the bottom left corner very well. Totally out of the reach of Mansfield’s Xavier Sundby, the penalty made it 1-0 to the home side in the 29th minute.( Hartlepool’s first goal – a penalty in the 29th minute from Tyler Harvey. )

Not much happened in the next 15 minutes as both teams continued to knock the ball round really well. Whilst it was great to watch, not very much was created from it as both defences stood tall. That was until the 44th minute, as some great play from Mansfield’s Adriel George earned a brilliantly positioned freekick. Lewis Collins stepped up to take the freekick, and placed it brilliantly into the top right corner of Joe Fryer’s net. That goal made it 1-1 just as the halftime whistle sounded, and it was probably a justified scoreline given the quality both teams had on show.

Similarly to the whole of the first half, the second half was also extremely well contested, with both teams cancelling each other out in terms of quality. Mansfield’s draw back was their inability to create any clear cut chances, but that could also be down to physicality of the Hartlepool defence.

The main talking point was the last chance of the game. In the last five minutes, Hartlepool started to pick up the tempo a bit, forcing Mansfield back and creating a few more chances. As they continued to attack, they drew a foul from Mansfield’s Mohamed Kamara, who earned himself a yellow card for his troubles. Nathan Thomas’ replacement, number 14 Josh Hawkes, got in position to take the freekick. From a very similar position to the freekick scored by Mansfield to equalise, Hawkes definitely didn’t want to be outdone as he, too, found the top right corner, this time beating Mansfield’s substitute goalkeeper, Sam Wilson. So, in the 90th minute, Hartlepool retook the lead.

A game where set pieces made the 2-1 scoreline, it was Hartlepool who managed to see the game out and get the three points; probably deserved following their increase of attacking play towards the end of the game. Somewhat unfortunate for Mansfield Town, who showed some real periods of quality play.

Good luck to both teams for the rest of the season, and indeed the rest of their careers. There were definitely some future stars on show here today!

Coxhoe Athletic vs Cleator Moor Celtic (Wearside League) – 21/01/2017

Coxhoe Athletic: 1 – David Atkinson, 2 – Aiden Hart, 3 – Dominic Joynes, 4 – Sam Nugent, 5 – Philip Best, 6 – David Gibson, 7 – Ross Morrow, 8 – Chris Baxter, 9 – Kyle Morris, 10 – Chris Foster, 11 – Mitchell McKenna-Little, 12 – Summerson, 13 – Harry Wray, 14 – Steven Fothergill, 15 – Rhys Greenwood, 16 – Michael Connelly.

Cleator Moor Celtic: 1 – Darren Johnston, 2 – Joe Atkinson, 14 – Rhys Little, 4 – Tom Mahone, 5 – Callum Jackman, 6 – Brad Tatton, 7 – Josh Charlton, 8 – Bradley Rooney, 9 – Jay Weatherill, 10 – Callum Birdsall, 11 – Jonny Donat, 12 – Adam Meagan.

Today, there was a huge range of possibilities in terms of games I could get to, but I thought I’d take a break from the Northern League to go in search of something a little lower. The Wearside League was my choice, and Coxhoe’s Beechfield Park was my destination for today.

In a rush for the 14:00 kick off, I was relieved that the kick off was set back 10 minutes for whatever reason, but it gave me enough time to buy the nicest hot chocolate I’ve had this season! And so, at 14:10, Cleator Moor kicked off the game, playing in their green and white strip, with Coxhoe Athletic in red and black.

It was Cleator Moor who started the game the stronger of the teams. Their number 10, Callum Birdsall, making the first chance of the game, but his shot was straight at the home team’s goalkeeper, David Atkinson, who managed to hold on. The away team continued to maintain their pressure as the game progressed, forcing a dangerous freekick in the 2nd minute. Cleator Moor’s Bradley Rooney took the freekick, and it fell kindly for Brad Tatton, who fired high into the net, totally out of reach for the home keeper, to make it 1-0 to the away team.

As the day started, Coxhoe were 7th in the league, and Cleator Moor were 15th, but it looked like Coxhoe would struggle to get anything out of the game already as Cleator Moor continued to pile on the pressure. In the 4th minute, Jay Weatherill made a darting run towards the edge of the area, and was felled by the Coxhoe defender. The ball was played into the area well, and pinballed around, before falling to Rhys Little who sliced well wide. Cleator’s Rhys Little and Bradley Rooney were giving Coxhoe a nightmare, as the game started flowing a bit more, with their pace and physical presence.

After 15 minutes, the game did start to even out a bit, with Coxhoe starting to pass the ball around smartly, and they did manage to make their first chance of the game. A great run by Coxhoe’s Mitchell Mckenna-Little was ended by a rash tackle, but did win a nicely positioned freekick. The resulting freekick was taken by Chris Foster, but was cleared confidently by the Cleator Moor defence. Apart from a few wayward chances by both teams, it was Coxhoe with the next real chance. Another perfectly positioned freekick was taken by Ross Morrow, who fired straight at the wall, who then managed to rush out and clear the ball.

Nothing else of note happened in the first half, so it was the away team who went in with a one goal advantage; an advantage that was thoroughly deserved having edged the first half in pretty much every area of the pitch.

The second half started very similarly to the first, with Cleator Moor forcing the first chance. A well taken corner was directed towards goal, but cleared off the line by the Coxhoe defence. Coxhoe had definitely set out with a more attacking game plan in the second half, ultimately leaving 1 person back and allowing the other 9 to attack. A risky tactic leaving them open to the counter attack, it was clear they weren’t happy with the first 45 minutes.

With all the attacking intent from Coxhoe, they only managed to make one genuine chance in the whole half. Another corner, a set piece that has been a continued threat from both teams fell to their man mountain, Philip Best. ‘Besty’ fired just over the bar, where it seemed easier to score. A goal that could’ve changed the course of the game, it didn’t seem like anything would fall kindly for the home team.

Despite some genuinely dangerous attacking from the home side, it was Cleator Moor who were cruelly gifted a second goal. In roughly the 68th minute, the home side’s keeper David Atkinson played the ball out to his defensive counterpart Philip Best. Under pressure, Best passed the ball back to his keeper. Atkinson then cleared the ball, but managed to strike Best in the back. The ball then kindly fell to Callum Birdsall, who rounded the keeper and slotted the ball home to make it 2-0 to the away team.

And it was 3-0 merely a minute later. A weak freekick earnt by Coxhoe was blocked by Rhys Little, who collected the ball and passed it forward. Following some smart play, the ball, again, fell to the feet of Callum Birdsall, who fired into an empty net, after the keeper was lured towards the ball before it was passed across.

Similarly to the first half, the last 15 minutes didn’t prove to be that interested, with little to no chances being made by either team. Following 90 minutes of controlling the game, it was Cleator Moor who bagged the points by finding the net three times. Cleator Moor seemed to be stronger than Coxhoe in every aspect, despite being 8 places behind the home team at the beginning of play.

A great quality of Football on display again, it won’t take me that long to return to a Wearside League game; a refreshing change from my usual Northern League outing. Good luck to both teams for the remainder of the season!

Northallerton Town vs Blyth Town (Northern League Second Division) – 14/01/2017

Northallerton Town: 1 – Thomas Briggs, 2 – Richard Walker, 3 – Stephen Jackson, 4 – Stephen Cheeseman, 5 – Dan Jones, 6 – Jack Proctor, 7 – Marcellus Kerr, 8 – Stuart Owen (C), 9 – Nicky Martin, 10 – Josh Keogh, 11 – Shawn Hudson, 12 – Mark Sims, 14 – Liam Jarvie, 15 – Thomas Atkinson, 16 – Marcus Laing, 17 – Karl Hewitt.

Blyth Town: 1 – Matthew Crook, 2 – Matthew Tumility, 3 – John Gray, 4 – Lee Middleton, 5 – Anthony Moran, 6 – Ian Herron (C), 7 – Liam Gillesphey, 8 – Shawn McRoberts, 9 – Zak Atkinson, 10 – David Robinson, 11 – Daniel Sayer, 12 – Josh Miller, 15 – Andrew Connor, 16 – Jack Errington, 17 – John Iveson.

Today, I opted for a 30 or so mile drive down to Northallerton to watch their home league game against Blyth Town. 9th in the league at home to 7th, it was always likely to be a close game.

It was Northallerton who kicked the game off, although it was Blyth who managed the stronger start. Blyth’s number 3, John Gray, won the first corner of the game in the 4th minute. From the resulting corner, the ball was shuffled over the line, although the linesmen deemed it offside and brought the play back for a free kick. This prompted chants of ‘you’re just a small town from Scotland’ by the home supporters.

Yet it was the small town from Scotland that continued the pressure. Their number 11 and 8, Daniel Sayer and Shawn McRoberts, combined well to force an amazing point blank save from the home goalkeeper, Thomas Briggs. The corner was smartly sent into the area and confidently met by Blyth’s number 7, Liam Gillesphey, who got up well to make it 1-0 to the away team, and justifiably after the previous pressure.

And Blyth managed to continue the pressure after the restart with some long range, audacious efforts, though they didn’t manage to test Briggs all that often. Onto the 22nd minute, and Blyth had another corner. From the corner, the ball was shot over the line, and cleared by the Northallerton defence. A shot that definitely looked over, the referee waived play on, and the score remained 1-0 to the away team.

Northallerton only really looked dangerous on the counter attack so far. With Shaun Hudson and Marcellus Kerr continuously running at the Blyth Town defence, there were very little else in terms of attacking threat thus far.

It was the 37th minute when the next real chance was created, seamlessly out of the nothing. The ball was knocked around the centre of the pitch very smartly by the Blyth team before it fell to their number 6 and captain, Ian Herron. Rather audaciously, Herron struck a long range shot, straight into the top right corner of Briggs’ goal, to make it 2-0 to Blyth. Again, justified after the previous pressure, Northallerton didn’t look like they’d turned up so far.

So the teams went in at 2-0. An exceptionally dominant performance by Blyth totally keeping the home side out of the game.

Following their confident first half performance, Blyth barely had 5 minutes in the changing room but, instead, decided to stay on pitch and start some warm-up drills to maintain their body heat, whilst Northallerton took as long as they could in the changing room.

In contrast to the first half, it was Northallerton who started the half stronger. The first chance of the half fell to their number 11, and main threat so far, Shawn Hudson, although this went just past the post, but a glimpse of goal that they lacked in the first half.

Whilst Northallerton had started to get their stride in the game, I couldn’t help but notice the alarming amount of free headers Blyth continued to win. The home side were dramatically lacking in physicality compared to their opponents, yet they still attempted long passing. When they started keeping the ball of the floor, and knocking it around freely, they looked the much better team.

Continuing the pressure, Northallerton got their first real sight of goal, and it came directly from the captain, Stuart Owen. Pushing the ball onto his left foot, Owen coolly sidefooted the ball into the top left corner from 20 yards out. With a lack of closing down from the Blyth defence, Owen placed the ball as far into the top left corner as reasonably possible, giving Blyth’s keeper, Matthew Crook, absolutely no chance. 1-2, and the momentum working favourably for Northallerton.

And just two minutes later, in the 64th minute, it was Northallerton who’d manage to grab an equaliser. Passing the ball through the middle to their substitute number 12, Mark Sims, who managed to take a smart touch to get behind the Blyth defence. Utilising his pace, Sims managed to hold off the chasing defence, and take the ball around the outrushing Crook, to finish into the bottom of the goal, making it 2-2. Having looked out of the game by half time, this was a phenomenal turnaround from the home team, and one they’d be looking to capitalise on.

Having known the game was slowly going in their favour, Northallerton started to push more players up the field, after previously not being able to. This left a huge gap in the defence for Blyth to make the most of. Feeding the ball through to their number 7, and scorer of their first, Gillesphey, Blyth managed to cut open the defence. Leaving the defenders for dead, Gillesphey chipped the ball over the keeper, but the ball bounced off the crossbar and out. A definite eye opener for Northallerton, who had looked completely in control so far in the second half.

A pretty even game in terms of pressure in each half, but the game was decided in the 87th minute, and it was Blyth who’d managed to seal the deal. Gillesphey, who always seemed to be at the centre of anything creative Blyth had to offer, played the ball behind to his attacking colleague, Zak Atkinson,  who smashed the ball first time towards Briggs’ goal. This unstoppable, close range shot found its way into the top left corner of the goal, and decided the fate of the game, making it 3-2 to the away team in the dying minutes.

I very rarely see a game with two halves so conflicting in terms of which team looked the stronger, but I can’t complain as it made for an exceptionally good watch! Good luck to both teams for the rest of your seasons!

 

Stockton Town vs Seaham Red Star (Durham Challenge Cup) – 04/01/2017

Stockton Town: 1 – Liam Jordan, 2 – Matthew Garbutt, 3 – James Ward, 4 – Joe Scaife Wheatley, 5 – Adam Nicholson, 6 – Tom Coulthard, 7 – Fred Woodhouse, 8 – Steven Roberts (C), 9 – Joe Carter, 10 – Kallum Hannah, 11 – Kevin Hayes, 12 – Alan Cassavella, 14 – Chris Dunwell, 15 – Joe Posthill, 16 – Sonny Coleman, 17 – Tony Johnson.

Seaham Red Star: 1 – Shaun Newbrook (C), 2 – Jack Walker, 3 – Thomas Price, 4 – Andrew Johnson, 5 – Kieran Gilbraith, 6 – Bradley Staunch, 7 – David Palmer, 8 – Nicholas Kane, 9 – Craig Lynch, 10 – Luke Proctor, 11 – Robbie Bird, 12 – Airon Duell, 14 – Lee Heatherington, 15 – David Scorer, 17 – Craig Price.

 

Tonight, I was at Stockton’s Bishopton Road West for their Durham Challenge Cup game against Seaham Red Star. Seaham being a league above Stockton gives the home team a great opportunity to find out what they could face next season if they keep their league form up. Stockton were in their usual yellow home kit, and Seaham were in their less familiar blue kit.

As Stockton kicked off the game, it was the home team who had the first opportunity of the game. Forcing a corner, the ball was floated in to Stockton’s number 5, and ever present figure in the home defence, Adam Nicholson, who headed over.

Seaham’s first chance came in the fifth minute, as their right back, Jack Walker, cut inside following some smart play and fired straight at Stockton’s Liam Jordan.

As Seaham continued their pressure, the ball fell to the number 8, Nicholas Kane, who fed the ball through smartly to his attacking colleague, Craig Lynch, who fired straight at Jordan. Unable to hold the initial shot, Lynch pounced on the rebound and prodded it low into the back of the net, to make it 1-0 to the away team.

Seaham looked like a well oiled machine as Stockton kicked off again, keeping the same solidity as they had at the start of the game. Standing strong at the back, Stockton were restricted to long range efforts. Stockton’s Fred Woodhouse managed to set up the number 11, Kevin Hayes, who managed to shoot high and wide, with the ball actually leaving the ground.

As the rain slowly started to come down, it was Stockton who continued to lose the ball cheaply, with Seaham continuing to capitalise on weak passes. The Stockton players were obviously frustrated, and maybe took it out on their teammates, with no positive encouragement to be heard at all, but a barrage of insults every time one lost the ball.

It was Stockton who managed to create the next real chance of the game, however. Hayes passing the ball over to Kallum Hannah, who cleverly managed to turn and shoot at goal, forcing Seaham’s Newbrook into a reflex save down to his bottom right. Nothing came from the resulting corner, but a glimpse of goal that Stockton desperately needed as the game was getting away from them.

As Seaham received the ball, after some smart play in the midfield, the ball was passed through to Luke Proctor, whose pot shot was blocked in the area. The ball kindly fell to Craig Lynch, who controlled the ball with his chest, before slotting the ball into the bottom right corner of Jordan’s goal to double the away team’s advantage, 2-0.

Stockton, again, looking for a way back into this game, and really rallied to start putting the pressure on Seaham. The one noticeable chance they had to get one on the board before half time fell to captain Steven Roberts, whose shot was saved for a corner. The resulting corner lead to Fred Woodhouse having a well struck shot, but wide of the goal.

So, Stockton went in at half time trailing Seaham 2-0, in a half only just edged by the away team. In the few games I’ve seen of Stockton before, they always come out after half time with a real desire to chase the ball down when they’ve not got it, and make chances, so anything could still happen at this point.

And it was Stockton who started the second half the stronger of the two teams. The first meaningful attack of the half was lead by Stockton’s Hayes, again, who smartly won a corner for the home team. The resulting corner was cleared confidently by Seaham, but Stockton did manage to win a free kick 25 yards out, after reclaiming the ball. Hayes took the free kick, but this was straight at Newbrook.

Stockton had definitely started the second half with much more desire than the first, but were still making avoidable mistakes. In roughly the 72nd minute, the ball came to Seaham substitute, David Scorer, who managed to feed the ball through to Luke Proctor, who held the ball up well in the area. Proctor managed to drag the ball back to Robbie Bird, who finished well past Jordan to make it 3-0.

Just three minutes later, it was Seaham who capitalised again on some weak Stockton play. Seaham’s David Palmer managed to run the ball into the area with little challenge, and held the ball up on the by-line. Putting in a perfectly weighted ball, another substitute, Airon Duell managed to strike a volley into the ground, but with enough power that it bounced up and looped over the helpless Liam Jordan to make it 4-0 to Seaham.

And, in keeping with the way the game had gone so far, it was Seaham who had the last meaningful play of the evening. Number 10, Luke Proctor, my personal man of the match, very smartly carried the ball through two of Stockton’s midfield by dummying them, before feeding Robbie Bird, who struck a well hit shot towards goal. Bird’s shot managed to again loop over Liam Jordan, who had no chance in keeping out the left footed shot. 5-0 to the away team, and no way back for Stockton.

As the final whistle sounded, it was Seaham who progressed to the next round of the Durham Challenge Cup. A real eye opener for Stockton, who may be facing teams of this quality each week if they manage a promotion this season. Good luck to both teams for the remainder of the season!

Preview of Stockton Town vs Seaham Red Star (Durham Challenge Cup) – 04/01/2017

Welcome to game day, as Stockton Town take on Seaham Red Star in the Durham Challenge Cup. One of two DCC fixtures tonight as Billingham Synthonia also take on Hartlepool.

Stockton Town, currently sitting pretty at the top of the Northern League Division 2, welcome a Seaham Red Star side sat in eighth position in the Northern League Division 1, following a 2-1 away loss to Consett in their last game, eight days ago. Stockton faired differently in their last fixture, as they travelled up to Easington Colliery and left with all three points following a comfortable 5-1 win.

To get to this point in the competition, Stockton had to overcome a Darlington 1883 side boasting a mixture of first team players, reserves and some of their under 18s. A fairly dominant display saw Stockton Town win 3-0. Seaham’s route into the current round was also backed by a confident performance, a 5-2 home victory against Sunderland West End. Watched by 52 spectators, the home side swept aside a Sunderland West End side that play in the same league as their Reserves.

Kick off at Stockton’s Bishopton Road West is at 19:30, and I’ve never been disappointed when I’ve travelled over for a game, so it should be a really good match. Hope to see you all there!

(Full match write up will be up within a few hours of the final whistle).

Hartlepool United Reserves vs Ryhope CW (Durham Challenge Cup) – 03/01/2017

Tonight, I was at Billingham Town’s Bedford Terrace ground to watch this Durham Challenge Cup game between Hartlepool Reserves and Ryhope of the Northern League Division 1. Two teams that I’ve never seen play before, so I didn’t really know what to expect when I travelled down. That being said, I have seen Hartlepool’s Jack Blackford play this season during his 1 month loan spell at Northern Premier outfit Whitby Town.

As Hartlepool set the ball down to kick off the first half, it was apparent just how windy it was out there, and that may have scuppered any plans to play long ball tactics. It was Hartlepool who started out the stronger of the two teams. The ball fell to the feet of their number 8, Brad Walker, who made a strong darting run into the Ryhope area and forced a save from their Goalkeeper, Ball, who managed to clear the ball for a corner. From the resulting corner, a short ball was played out by Hartlepool’s number 11, Jack Blackford, but nothing was made of it.

It was clear that Hartlepool were determined to play some proper Football as they started to knock the ball around with a lot of confidence, although Ryhope kept the pressure up, forcing the young Pools side into a few silly mistakes. At one point, Hartlepool were struggling to get the ball out of their 18 yard box because of the pressure forced on them by the Ryhope attack.

As the game settled, both sides were playing some good looking Football, but failed to make any real chances. Solid defending from both sides forced a few wayward long shots, but nothing of real quality.

It wasn’t until the 13th minute that a quality chance was made. Hartlepool’s number 7 made a great run from 40 yards out into the penalty area, and dragged a smart ball back in the direction of number 8, Brad Walker, who finished coolly into the bottom left corner, giving his side a 1-0 lead in what was, so far, a fairly even game.

That goal definitely settled Hartlepool, and almost ruffled Ryhope, who looked a bit frustrated as they re-kicked off the game. Similar to the first goal, it was same Hartlepool duo that combined again to make the next chance. Following their smart play, the Ryhope defence managed to clear the ball out for a throw. From the resulting throw, the ball was sent into the area, and pinged around, before hitting a Ryhope defender and somehow managing to creep over the line. An own goal, and a frustrating one at that, to make it 2-0 to Hartlepool.

Ryhope’s first chance came in the 25th minute, as their number 7 struck a powerful shot from 20 yards out that went just over the crossbar without challenging the Hartlepool keeper, Dudzinski.

Whilst the game became bogged down in midfield, as both teams managed to cancel each other out, there was time for one more chance before half time. Hartlepool’s Jack Blackford received a fairly innocent ball just outside the area, and managed to work it into some space in the area, and struck the ball with his left foot, but his shot struck the crossbar and went out for a goalkick.

So, it was Hartlepool that went in at halftime the stronger of the two sides, having made the most of the few quality chances they’d managed to create.

Ryhope knew they’d really have to take the game to Hartlepool in the second half if they were to take anything away from this game. And, although they started the half in a similar fashion to the first, they did manage to get their first shot on target. Their number 11 managing to make space following a badly sliced shot, but he shot straight at Dudzinski.

Spurred on by the previous chance, Ryhope started to press up field, leaving unnecessary gaps at the back, and this was capitalised on by Hartlepool. Sensing his chance, the number 9, Jake Orrell, made a darting run between the two central defenders, and calmly received an inch perfect through ball. Using his pace, he managed to make enough space to smartly finish just over the onrushing Ryhope keeper to make it 3-0 to Hartlepool; a lead they didn’t look like surrendering.

Whilst some great Football was played in the remainder of the game, no real chances were made by either side. Whenever Ryhope managed to gather enough momentum to attack, Hartlepool were already back in position ready to defend, determined to keep a well earned clean sheet.

The game finished 3-0. With the chances Hartlepool created, it seemed a fair result simply because of the lack of chances created by Ryhope.

The silver lining for Ryhope is that they can now focus on the league coming into the second half of the season. As for Hartlepool, they can keep looking forward to the possibility of picking up some silverware this season. Good luck to both teams!