Billingham Town FC
Less than forty eight hours after the Easington defeat, Town face another difficult encounter against Brandon United. Perennial strugglers in recent years, Brandon’s squad has improved significantly this season, highlighted by their ability to take Craig Ruddy from Town in the Autumn (limped off on Tuesday night after thirty four minutes). It’s unlikely Brandon’s pitch will be in the same shape as Easington’s so a full blooded encounter is on the cards. Town head into the game with the unwanted record of four defeats in five games.
Kris Summers, Jack Connor and Elliott Beddow all returned to the starting eleven on Thursday night. There will be competition for places in defence with the expected return of Stephen Oakley who tends to miss midweek matches on the road. He will most likely partner Summers but Brandon Kirkbride, Jamie Bellamy and Gary Redman will be in contention. Mark Dixon may make the bench meaning Lee Moore will continue to play at left-back. New signing Mark Ward got sixty minutes under his belt against Easington and Joe Kerridge will be looking for a start after impressing against his former club. It’s unlikely former Hebburn lads Jason Blackburn or Glen Hargrave will start to due injury and availability respectively.
If matches were played for eighty minutes rather than the full ninety, Town would be looking at a seven points haul from their last three games. Unfortunately, matches aren’t, leaving Town with only a point at Brandon to show for their recent efforts. Where as the Darlington R.A defeat came under treacherous conditions and the Easington loss was somewhat unlucky, a point at Brandon felt like a defeat. At the moment, Town are getting punished for not taking their chances when dominating periods of the game and when they do get their noses in front, time seems to stand still. Town were convincing for the majority of the first half and yet, found themselves in desperate need of the referees whistle to go in on level terms. The second half was more of the same - cries of ‘game management’ reverberated around the ground, but alas, the potential three points, became one and nearly none! Tiredness maybe a factor, especially after the quick turnaround in fixtures but manager James Hunter made wholesale changes to the side that lost on Thursday night. In came Lewis Shaw, Stephen Oakley, Gary Redman, Clayton Macdonald, Joe Kerridge and Jason Blackburn. And the changes brought instant reward - a long throw-in by Oakley found its way to Ashley LAVAN via Kerridge on the right side and the striker nonchalantly lofted the ball over the onrushing Kris Carr. Lavan’s finish added to his impressive goal tally and he currently has eighteen strikes to his name in the league. Town pressed for a second as Brandon struggled to compete, making far too many rash challenges. Macdonald tried his luck from twenty five yards - Carr making the save although troubled by the unpredictable nature of the bounce. Kerridge dragged an effort wide of goal inside the box and Lavan also had a strike from distance; again Carr looking none too comfortable in the early exchanges. Brandon hadn’t troubled Town up to this point but they equalised on twenty seven minutes; Kirkbride fouled outside the box and veteran, Ian SKINNER skilfully curled his free-kick round the wall leaving Shaw helpless on his own goal-line. The home side, clearly boosted by the goal, now looked the better side - Skinner fired over from another free-kick and Calivin Lee-McMahon thought he had given Brandon the lead but his deflected shot off Warren Byrne was correctly ruled out for offside. Town were holding on and needed a fine one-on-one save from Shaw to deny Nial Fingleton after neat play from Lee-McMahaon. Fingleton would later gain revenge on Shaw!
HT BRANDON UNITED 1 BILLINGHAM TOWN 1
Elliott Beddow replaced Jason Blackburn who suffered an injury setback and Beddow was given the opportunity to play upfront with Lavan. However, it was Brandon who looked dangerous as the second half unfolded - Byrne rattled the crossbar after evading the offside trap. At the other end, Beddow crossed for Lavan but the ball bobbled horribly in front of the forward when he looked likely to score. Carr then made a crucial save to keep out Beddow after good work from Hogan and Kerridge on the left side. With the game then becoming a midfield scrap, Connor Dunlavey replaced Hogan and Dunlavey’s first touch, a flicked on header gave BEDDOW the chance to surge forward into a central position before firing into the bottom corner. It was an impressive strike from Beddow who hadn’t played much of late due to work commitments. Town needed a killer third goal and although it never came, if wasn’t for the want of trying. Kerridge headed straight at Carr and had another effort deflected wide -picking up the loose ball after Beddow got crowed out on the edge of the box. With Town looking fairly comfortable, Brandon’s second equaliser was a bitter pill to swallow. A cross-field ball into the box aimed for Lee-McMahon or Byrne fell for FINGLETON who slammed the ball into the net. Again, Town were holding on at the end- Jordan Lee weaved and wriggled his way into the box and luckily for Billingham, the ball deflected wide leaving the game all square in a frantic finish.
FT BRANDON UNITED 2 BILLINGHAM TOWN 2