New Year in the Northern League

“Five goals, four bookings, two sendings-off and reports of a racist comment made by a player. Not your usual day,” tweeted Newcastle Benfield after their 3-2 home defeat to Guisborough Town. Already 1-0 down when keeper Andy Grainger was sent off, Benfield full-back Carl Paterson saved a Luke Bythway penalty before conceding a second, Bythway eventually finding his range from the edge of the area. Goals from Mick Chilton and Kevin Leighton pulled the home team level before Mikey Roberts hit an 85th minute winner and substitute Ross Peareth was dismissed for a foul two minutes from full time. For many in the crowd, though, the game was marred by allegations of racial abuse directed by a player at Benfield’s Jordan Lartey. Benfield have made a report of the incident; whatever the result, it will hopefully be handled much better than the case involving then-Morpeth Town player-manager Trevor Benjamin.

The three points lift Guisborough further away from the three relegation places, which are now occupied by Stokesley, Tow Law Town and Jarrow Roofing, who lost 7-1 at home to a Billingham Town side who moved up to fourth from bottom by virtue of a vastly superior goal difference. Stokesley – whose only league point to date came in a goalless draw with Norton on August 29th – went down 3-0 at home to Newton Aycliffe. Tow Law lost 2-1 at Marske United, who are looking increasingly comfortable in 13th place, one position below a Bishop Auckland side beaten by a Danny Earl penalty in the fourth minute of injury time at Billingham Synthonia.

With West Auckland not in action and Spennymoor’s game at Consett a late victim of the weather, Whitley Bay edged into second place in the table with a 1-1 draw at fourth-placed Dunston UTS. Andy Bulford’s 15th league goal gave Dunston an early lead but Brian Smith levelled before half-time to leave the Seahorses on 52 points from 27 games – a game ahead and three points behind leaders Sunderland RCA, who survived a second half fightback to win 3-2 at Shildon with Tom Berj – a new signing from Benfield – among the goals. Another player on the move is ex-Newcastle and Torquay forward Marc Walton, who left Consett to join the growing colony of former Magpies at Ashington and promptly scored on his debut as the Colliers won 3-1 at home to Norton. Ashington move into seventh above Bedlington Terriers, who were held 0-0 at South Shields and placed their 20-goal forward Steven Richardson on the transfer list at his own request after the final whistle.

The New Year also brought news that Whitley Bay, Sunderland RCA, Dunston and Bishop Auckland have applied for promotion at the end of the current season. To be eligible clubs need to finish in the top two places and meet the Evostik’s ground grading criteria. The table as it stands suggests all bar Bishops are in with a chance – on the pitch at least.

In Division Two, a double from Lee Scott and Peter Watling’s 24th of the season gave Team Northumbria a 3-2 win at Crook Town and a seven-point cushion over North Shields, who were held 1-1 at home by Alnwick. Darlington RA are two points behind North Shields in third after a 4-0 win at Ryton, while Whitehaven continued their ascent from the bottom of the table by beating Whickham 3-0 away. Liam McBryde hit his fifth hat-trick and 23rd league goal in Hebburn’s 5-2 win over Horden as the South Tynesiders move towards the fringes of the promotion race. That’s exactly where Birtley Town are after recovering from two goals down to grab a point at Thornaby. With tonight’s game between Easington and Esh Winning called off due to floodlight failure, the table currently looks like this.

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