Billingham Town team – 1. Tom Dawson, 2. Lee Moore, 3. Mark Dixon (C), 4. Clayton McDonald, 5. Daniel Rowbotham, 6. Matthew Crossen,7. Aaron Foley, 8. Chris Dickinson, 9. Craig Hutchinson, 10. Gary Redman, 11. Connor Dunlavey, 12. Jamie Davis, 14. Elliott Beddow, 15. Scott Close, 16. Carl O’Sullivan, 17. Carl Morris
Washington FC team – 1. Daniel Mullen, 2. Reece Noble, 3. Gary Shaw, 4. Andrew Jennings, 5. Paul Weldon, 6. Jake Fowler, 7. Jordan Jewson, 8. (C) Marc Costello, 9. Callum Hassan, 10. Matthew Waters, 11. George McCain, 12. Scott Brassell, 14. Adam Cocks, 15. Jonathan Wightmam, 16. Charlie Raby, 17. Dale Connor
So, tonight was my first Billingham Town game of the season. A little belatedly, I admit, as my house is within sight of the ground. I’d described the night as ‘mild’ previously, but that soon deteriorated, and it definitely got a lot cooler as the game progressed. That being said, it was a proper Non-League night, and I was really looking forward to the potential of an excellent game.
The hosts, Billingham Town, welcomed a Washington team sat 18th in the Northern League First Division. A team I’ve never seen play before, but I have seen a few of their players when they plied their trade for Whitby Town. Striker Matty Waters was a long term feature in Whitby Town’s first team. Jordan Jewson had previously featured for the Seasiders. As had Callum Hassan, relative to Ibby Hassan – a Whitby Town legend.
As the teams lined up, it was quite evident that both teams had completely different game plans. Washington’s players towered over Billingham’s, showing much more physical stature. As I’d seen in their warm-up, Billingham looked as though they would be playing fast paced, passing Football. And that’s how the first half played out in its entirety.
Straight away, from kick off, Billingham’s Connor Dunlavey received the ball and made a darting run towards the Washington defence, who stood strong and confidently removed any threat. For the next five minutes, the game was slowly moving in Washington’s favour. Some sloppy passing from Billingham lead to numerous long balls into their area, mainly aimed at their physical powerhouse, Callum Hassan. At this stage, apart from their long ball tactic, it didn’t look as though Washington showed much more of a threat. Any time they got close to the Billingham area, it was confidently cleared.
And, so, in the 6th minute, a long ball was played towards the Billingham area, that was, again, comfortably cleared. The Billingham players played it out fantastically well, and put a very pacey ball in towards their number 11, Connor Dunlavey. A slip from Washington’s number 6, Jake Fowler, leads to Dunlavey being in on goal. A cut inside and a smart, low shot under Washington’s goalkeeper, Daniel Mullens, gave Billingham a 1-0 lead. A goal that was seemingly gifted to them, but very confidently dispatched.
Knowing they had to step up their game, Washington attempted to pile on the pressure, to little avail. Keeping with their earlier plan, a long ball was aimed in towards Callum Hassan, who looked like he was being manhandled in the area. Little penalty shouts from the players, and the four away fans I was sat next to, but nothing given. From this moment, Billingham started playing excellent Football; Some of the best I’ve seen so far this season. Playing around the Washington players like a training session, it was clear just how frustrating this was for the away team.
With such pressure from Billingham Town, Washington’s only chance was to attempt a counter attack, as Town had so many players attacking. And this is how they approached it. In the 12th minute, a Washington attack lead to a dangerously placed free kick. The free kick was beautifully crossed into the area, presumably aimed at Callum Hassan, or the only slightly smaller frame of Matty Waters. After the ball was crossed in, it was pinballed around, eventually coming off the post and landing at Andy Jenning’s feet, who prodded the ball home to make the game 1-1. Both teams had started the game fairly well, having equal amounts of chances, despite Billingham having a little bit more ball possession. Talking to the away supporters, even they couldn’t see which way the game was going.
After kicking off, following the goal, Billingham went straight on the attack. A very smart ball was played into the area, aimed at Billingham’s number 9 Craig Hutchinson, forcing a save from Mullen, albeit with his face, but the game remained 1-1. The Billingham pressure continued, keeping the Washington defenders firmly on their toes, dealing with any threat that came their way. That was until a very smart ball was played into Billingham’s number 8, Chris Dickinson, who smartly finished with his left foot to make it 2-1 to Billingham. Thoroughly deserved after all their recent pressure, the game was only in its 14th minute, so there was definitely much more to look forward to.
Billingham’s ground, Bedford Terrace, is surrounded by train tracks. So, in the 15th minute, as a Grand Central train flashed past, it gave the few Washington supporters something a little brighter to talk about, as they hadn’t yet seen too much to get them excited. Although the game looked pretty even, Billingham were doing much more when they had the ball. Washington’s Matty Waters regularly got the ball, but seemed to continuously run directly towards Billingham’s defence and regularly lost the ball, to the anger of his manager, Neil Hixon. A lot of Washington’s play continued to come from Matty Waters, but a final ball was really missing from his play. A not very characteristic performance from Matty so far, who I’ve seen single handily carry Whitby Town in previous seasons.
After the game became bogged down in midfield, in the 28th minute, a hit and hope ball was played out to the left side of Washington’s attack. The ball was played into the area, aimed at around the penalty spot. The ball was then played square to Callum Hassan, who finished with his right foot, only to be called offside. From where I was sat, it didn’t look offside as the ball was played slightly backwards, and that was the same feeling as the Washington bench and players. Washington’s players quickly surrounded the linesman who’d given the decision, who then called the referee over to talk about the incident. Following a 1 minute conversation, the referee awarded a free kick to Billingham for the offside, much to the Washington benches anguish.
This prompted a whole new approach from Washington, who made use of their very pacey number 7, Jordan Jewson, on the right side. Jewson continued to tease Billingham’s defence, but Billingham still gave him plenty of space, continuously allowing him to get crosses into the area, although these rarely caused many problems. Despite Washington’s height advantage, Billingham were still winning a large portion of 50/50s. The game continued this way for the next 10 minutes; Billingham allowing Jewson all the space he needed, but getting rid of any danger as it approached.
As the half came to an end, I feel like both teams had settled to go in at 2-1. Billingham had almost parked the bus, and Washington were lacking any imagination in the final third, although they’d started knocking the ball around a lot more productively compared to the previous half hour. As Washington continued to attack, a loose ball prompted a very committed tackle from both Washington’s Reece Noble, and Billingham’s Captain Mark Dixon. Both jumping in with studs up, Noble definitely caught Dixon in the thigh, although he’d also won the ball. It looked like even commitment from both players, but the referee only punished Reece Noble, who was given a yellow card. From the resulting free kick, Billingham lost the ball, and Matty Waters smartly intercepted. Attempting to go on a run, Billingham’s Dixon then grappled with Waters, holding him back; Dixon was given a yellow card for the foul. Two yellow cards within 2 minutes of each other, the game was starting to get a bit heated.
As the referee blew for half time, he was quickly surrounded by players from both teams, although I thought he’d had a pretty solid half. A pretty underwhelming half from Washington, Billingham just about deserved to go in with a one goal advantage. 2-1.
The second half started off very similarly to the first with both teams pushing straight on to get another goal. Billingham continued their fast, pacey passing play, and Washington continued to aim at their tall players at the top of the field. Billingham started off the strongest, but it was Washington who had the first real chance. A great ball aimed at Waters by the number 3, Gary Shaw, forced a foul from the Billingham defence; A promising position for Jordan Jewson to float in an attacking ball. The ball in landed at Callum Hassan’s feet, who sliced the ball awkwardly wide, and out for a goal kick. This definitely prompted Washington to continue piling on the pressure having now adopted Billingham’s pacey passing. Each little mistake Billingham made, Washington capitalised on, and really started to take the game to them.
After 10 minutes, the game felt like it was all Washington. Any time they lost the ball, Billingham’s lack of attack gave them plenty of time to regroup and restart. In the 57th minute, a Washington throw-in was won by Callum Hassan, who managed to cleverly head the ball behind him and take a touch, before playing a perfect ball through to Matty Waters. Having looked like he’d taken a heavy touch, Waters chased the ball, getting in on the keeper. Shooting low to the keeper’s left, the ball rolled under Tom Dawson, and nestled in the bottom corner. The game was now level, but Washington looked like momentum was definitely on their side.
Looking for a slightly different approach, Washington removed Jordan Jewson from the game, replacing him with number 15, Jonathan Wightman. Washington looking to capitalise on their dominance, having come out at halftime looking like a totally different team, they continued to firmly dominate the game. That being said, following their last goal, Washington rarely tested the Billingham goalkeeper, only forcing very simple saves from Tom Dawson. The closest Washington got in the following 5 minutes was a long range free kick from Matty Waters. Around 30 yards out, and with a 4 man wall, Waters forced a good save from Dawson, who managed to keep hold of the ball well.
Straight after the Washington chance, Billingham countered towards the Washington area, forcing a foul. Chris Dickinson took the freekick, aiming for a recently brought on Billingham substitute, Jamie Davis, who rattled the crossbar from a header, but his shot bounced out for a goalkick. As the game developed, it became very end to end. Washington brought on their number 16, Charlie Raby, in the 77th minute, to play a central role in the midfield. Both teams started to take the game to each other, with the dreaded penalty shoot out looming, as the game wouldn’t go to extra time in the off chance the game ended a draw.
Although both teams were keen to attack, both defences stood strong, barely allowing a shot at either goal. Apart from a very slim shout of handball from a Washington cross into the area towards the back end of the game, there were no real opportunities to find that final goal. As it was announced that the game wouldn’t go to extra time, the referee blew the final whistle; This very entertaining game would now finish in a penalty shoot out.
Following some very confidently taken penalties, both substitute Jonathan Wightman and the following Billingham penalty were saved, as the shootout score was 3-2. The next 7 penalties were confidently dispatched, including a beautiful penalty from Washington’s Charlie Raby. As Billingham’s number 2, Lee Moore, walked up to take his penalty, I overheard the Washington bench say he was taking ‘too long to place it’; He looked a bit fatigued, and that showed with the following penalty, that was saved by Daniel Mullen. The next penalty would ultimately win the game, and it was to be taken by another substitute, Adam Cocks. Cocks’ penalty was scored, giving Washington a 7-6 win after a 2-2 draw in normal time.
A game that was, in the end, quite even, although both teams had large spells of dominance that neither could capitalize on. Washington move onto the next round of the League Cup, but Billingham can take a lot of positives from this narrow loss. I wish both teams the best of the luck for the remainder of the season.