Billingham Town FC
After a hectic week, Town host their penultimate home game of the season on Saturday against ‘The Stan’. A gutsy win against Chester-Le-Street was followed by two determined draws at Durham and AFC Blyth. The Town supporters who travelled up to Ashington on Thursday night felt Billingham could have beaten the champions elect. It was only a week ago that Town put in an insipid display at Crook but the squad have clearly responded and battled for Manager James Hunter since then. Heaton Stannington, come into the game with another late rattle for promotion, but like last season, appear to have left it too late. It was this time last year, they beat Town 1-0 at Bedford Terrace to overtake Billingham in 4th position and may have to settle for a similar position this time around.
Manager James Hunter, who was reluctant to overreact after the Chester win, must have been delighted with the squad during the last seven days. I caught up with Jama on Friday afternoon to assess the week and look forward to this weekends fixture against another side who like to keep the ball on the floor!
Tuesday was a weird one, before the game with the squad we had I'd have took a point but when you go up 1-0 in the 91st minute you expect to win. Similarly with Thursday I would have took a point against top of the league before but looking at the game throughout and reflecting I believe we could have won. Regardless of what the crazy stats the Blyth twitter churned up we had more of the clear cut chances and would have won the game but for an unbelievable block on the line.
One things that has returned is the togetherness, hard work, encouragement and willingness to fight as a team and once that starts to come back we see what the boys are really capable of which has been prevalent this week. When we have the squad back together which has been tough over the last couple of months it shows and the quality of our football improves. Any fan or spectator who has watched us this week would say we were a totally different team than that of a month ago when things weren't going well. The performances of late are testament to the boys sticking together and hopefully we will cap off a more positive week with a win on Saturday at home for the fans and the club. A last comment is that we are still not content with draws, yes they are okay after the run we have had but I want 3 points from such games and know we have the players to do so.
James Hunter will assess the squad on Friday night to see who is fit and available. Defensively, Mark Dixon is unlikely to figure but Stephen Oakley should return. In midfield arrears, Glen Hargrave will be looking to get more game time and It is hoped Jack Connor can also play after figuring last Saturday. Both Jake Fenton and Daniel Maloney returned to the starting eleven on Tuesday night after lengthy absences. Elliott Beddow will need a fitness test and Jason Blackburn’s suspension has come to an end. Hunter is hoping to have a near enough full squad available despite Fridays caution.
*There will be a minutes applause before kick off to celebrate the memory of Harry Taylor Snr who sadly passed away on Tuesday night. My personal memory of Mr Taylor would be the moment my horse beat his, the favourite, and tried to use the infamous Hutchinson cheek to celebrate. I thought I was going to see the end of his stick for my impudence but instead he showed me what it said.....’Coldstream Guards’ No words were exchanged!! My horse may have won, but I had been put, well and truly in my place! RIP Mr Taylor.....I salute you sir!
‘What a difference a day makes.....24 little hours...’, as the song goes, eloquently sang by Dinah Washington. Last Saturday’s 3-1 victory over Chester-le- Street Town led to three further improved performance culminating in this win - a win that was far more convincing than the score-line suggests. Town were literally seconds away from winning at Durham on Tuesday night and a goal-line clearance away from another win at all but promoted AFC Blyth on Thursday. ‘What a difference a week makes..... 168 big..big hours! Yes, the season is more or less over in terms of league position but tell that to the fans and coaching staff!! Sometimes in football, players need a collective nadir moment for them to realise the predicament they were in, forced by a run of disappointing results and that moment came at Crook Town. Despite playing four games in a week, the squad have looked noticeably sharper, particularly when the other sides had possession. Conceding only three goals, including a much deserved clean sheet here, indicates a team that doesn’t want the season to end. The manner of the resolute and spirited win, against a side who still had aspirations of promotion, was in keeping on a day of mourning, or was it a day of celebration? Committee member, and father of Assistant Manager Harry Taylor - Taylor Senior sadly passed away on Tuesday night and the players did the old soldier and Taylor Junior proud. On the 68 minute mark, the same number as Taylor Senior’s age, supporter Steve Palmieri bellowed out ‘there’s only one Harry Taylor’ followed by applause from the fans.. a nice touch for a quiet, unassuming gentleman who garnered much respect from those who knew him; RIP Mr Taylor, it won’t be the same seeing your empty seat.
Back to the game and the opening ten minutes belonged to Joe Kerridge and ‘Stan’s’ Jonathan Wright. Matthew Smith saved two low shots from Town’s winger and Wright skewed over, followed by another effort that went way off target. Both sides were showing respect to each other until a minor altercation between Luke Hogan and Joshua Holland - the two smallest players on the pitch livened up matters. More vocals from the stand followed ‘Luke’s bigger than you’ although Holland indicated he was several inches taller; however it would be Hogan who would have the final say, when it mattered! The game lacked rhythm, mainly down to forced substitutions, fouls, and both sides cancelling each other out. The last piece of action came from Town when Hogan’s cross found Beddow at the back post but the ‘little’ winger put too much height on the ball.
HT BILLINGHAM TOWN 0 HEATON STANNINGTON 0
Considering Stannington needed a win to keep in touch with the top three, with several games in hand, they lacked creativity and energy. Town controlled the second half and the home side should have taken the lead on forty seven minutes. Beddow outwitted his marker and pulled the ball back for Ashley Lavan but the forward placed his shot straight at Smith rather than using his famous firepower. Reece Kenney, who was industrious in midfield allowing Jack Connor to roam forward began the next move; his quickly taken free kick sent Hogan away on the left and this time, the cross was met by Connor’s close range header which was well read by Smith. On the other wing, Kerridge found Beddow but the striker bundled his effort straight at Smith. Town made the breakthrough their play warranted on the hour mark; Kerridge’s far ball cross to HOGAN enabled the ‘diminutive’ winger time and space to rifle his shot into the top corner (I’ve never seen the sub bench staff jump with such elation). Hogan followed his goal with a winding run into the box and was unlucky to see his effort deflected wide for a corner. The away side did have a golden opportunity to equalise when Hogan’s attempted clearance ricocheted off his own man allowing Wright a run on goal but in keeping with previous efforts, the striker dragged his shot wide. Town had defended superbly and if they can keep Stephen Oakley and Kris Summers injury free next season, then strikers will become persistently frustrated...just ask Wright for proof, a striker that had punished Town in the past! As the game came to a close, Glen Hargrave powered his way into the box but eventually faced a crowded goalmouth and saw his effort roll wide of goal. Pre-match kick off began with applause for Harry Taylor Senior....the final whistle ended with grandiose applause for the team, coaching staff and Harry Taylor Junior. Undoubtedly, it was a day of celebration!
FT BILLINGHAM TOWN 1 HEATON STANNINGTON 0
Saturday 21st July
Holbrook St Michaels