BIRTLEY TOWN 2-0 NEWCASTLE UNIVERSITY
A SUPERB DISPLAY FROM THE HOOPS WINS THE LEAGUE CUP
In our final game of a season that seems to have gone on forever and a day, we finally saw the last match played as we faced League Champions Newcastle University for the George Dobbins League Cup at Grounsell Park, the home of Northern League side Heaton Stannington.
A crowd of just over 130 watched on as Birtley were joined by a handful of youngsters from our junior teams who led the players out before the game and, like last years' cup final, made lots of noise throughout the game.
Before the game, I don't think there were too many people who either predicted anything other than a University win or, as neutrals, that wanted a Birtley victory other than those involved at the club itself. After all, Newcastle University have been by far the best footballing team in the Alliance Premier this season, have scored 176 goals in all competitions and have blitzed many teams along the way (including ourselves last month). Having already been crowned Northern Alliance champions and Les Todd Senior Benevolent Bowl winners, this was their chance at winning a treble of trophies. For Birtley, it was the only trophy available to them so it was a case of all or nothing and that is exactly what we gave!
Within the opening quarter of the game, Birtley had raced into a 2-goal lead as we started the much brighter side. A foul on Aaron McEwen on the left after he had worked hard to win the ball back from a loose University clearance saw Captain James Allsopp swing the ball into the box where it found Dan Hill in space and he directed his diving header past the Uni keeper to open the scoring.
A chance for an immediate reply came two minutes later from Lefteris Alambritis but Birtley goalkeeper Danny Lister was equal to the strike and blocked it with a good diving save.
Five minutes later, the score was doubled when Tony Smith poked home a ball across the box from James Allsopp. A corner was forced by Aaron McEwen which Chinny took short back to Azza after he had dragged two Uni players to the edge of the box with him which allowed Chinny to feint a cross, beat the two defenders and get himself into the space created as a result before cutting it across the box where Smithy poked it home past the keeper.
It took around twenty minutes for the away side to get up to speed with some very patient build-up play and when they did happen to get past the Birtley back four, Danny Lister was right there to deny them.
One of those opportunities came the way of striker Lefteris Alambritis who attempted an audacious scissor kick which flew over both the goal and the stop net.
A pretty hairy moment for Birtley in the 23rd minute and probably the University's best chance at scoring came when a fingertip save by Danny Lister from a low cross was met by full back Joshua Ferguson and then midfielder Robert Hesketh who were both excellently denied by goal-line clearances from Birtley's Simon Hay.
On the half hour mark, Lefteris Alambritis attempted to round Lister which he was equal to with a great stretch and diving save.
A sad moment two minutes later saw left-back Martin Guy land awkwardly from a small jump to contest the ball and he had to be subbed after suffering what we now know is both ligament/tendon damage and also damage to the bone itself. Up until this point, Guysey was having a great end to the season with some very good performances and naturally, he looked pretty distraught. This also meant switching Simon Hay to left back, Dan Hill to right back and Ricky Tanoh coming on to replace him.
| HALF TIME | BIRTLEY TOWN 2-0 NEWCASTLE UNIVERSITY |
Into the second half and Birtley defended brilliantly, shutting out pretty much all attempts from the University. Birtley made their second change on the hour mark which saw Dan Irving introduced, replacing Captain James Allsopp with Nick Hay taking over the armband duties. Not a bad game at all for the Captain with both assists. Before this, Newcastle made their first change with Tom Woodier replacing Robert Hesketh as they looked for a route back into the game.
With fifteen minutes of normal time remaining, Damien Stevens replaced goalscorer Tony Smith for Birtley and soon after Joe Blanch replaced Joshua Ferguson for the University.
A minute after the chance, good skills and perseverance from Ricky Tanoh in the far corner saw him skip past the defender on the byline before he was blocked by another defender despite lifting the ball over him. The loose ball was picked up by Damien Stevens and crossed back into the box where the University keeper Harrison Avery went down injured in 50/50 with Jack Honour. With his jersey having blood on it and neither team having a spare top having not named a sub goalkeeper, he was eventually strapped up looking like a cross between Rambo & Terry Butcher and wore the only thing available to him instead which just so happened to be a navy blue jumper. It didn't feel like it at the time but this is where we eventually got eleven minutes of second half stoppage time from.
Into the second minute of stoppage time, a cross from Liam Atkin on the left produced a fantastic save from Danny Lister to prevent Matthew Konadu-Yiadom from pulling a goal back with a backwards header. It would certainly have been an interesting end to the game had that chance gone in.
The only yellow card came in the 95th minute and it was shown to Birtley's Damien Stevens for kicking the ball away after being flagged offside. A minute later, in a similar situation, Stevens, in an offside position when the ball was played to him let the ball run past him. Play continued but for some reason, University defender Adam Redford had a) assumed the flag had been raised and b) that the whistle had been blown to signal an offside but it hadn't and he picked the ball up to give away a needless free kick. As the ball was made live, the referee signalled the end of the game...BIRTLEY HAVE WON IT!!!
| FULL TIME | BIRTLEY TOWN 2-0 NEWCASTLE UNIVERSITY |
An absolutely fantastic performance from the first whistle to the very last from all the lads involved tonight and throughout the whole season. We got our tactics absolutely spot on tonight and deservedly lifted the trophy, which is testament to the work that everyone at the club, both on and off the pitch, have worked tirelessly for all season.
We were reminded after the game by #1 fan Brian Ainsley that this cup win has come in the 25th year since the club was reformed which seems very fitting.
As far as stats go, this victory means we became only the third team all season to keep a clean sheet against The University and the first team to beat them by a goal margin of more than 1 which is a fantastic achievement in itself.
We've got our ground up to Northern League 'G' grading having spent a considerable amount of time, effort and money to make sure it was capable of passing the League inspection so as far as promotion to the Northern League goes, we'll just have to wait and see what conclusion the FA come to regarding the University's ground choices. If its not to be, we'll have a well earned rest before doing it all again next season.
A massive thank you to all those who came down to support the lads, including the junior mascots. We appreciate it was a school night for them so we're more than happy that we could win the trophy as a thank you to them. The faces on them all at full time was a picture. That's exactly what this club is all about!
Time to put our feet up...we'll see you in a couple of months no doubt!