Newton Aycliffe FC slipped to their third defeat in seven days on Wednesday night, as they lost 2-0 to league leaders Celtic Nation.
On the back of the away losses at Dunston and Whitley Bay, it was a game that even the most ardent Aycliffe fan expected little from.
However, boss Allan Oliver can be proud of the way his players stuck to their task, with the outcome remaining in some doubt until Nation secured the points with their second goal late on.
On the back of Saturday’s reverse, Oliver switched to play a 4-5-1 formation. Stuart Owen dropped into the back 4 to replace Liam Clough, with Hedley, Green and Raitt coming into the midfield alongside Young and Broom. It meant a lone striker role for Atkinson.
And in truth the home side struggled to get out of their half in the opening quarter of an hour. Coleman and Gibson were both allowed to get shots in from the edge of the Aycliffe box, before Luscombe’s corner cannoned off the bar in the 16th minute.
Aycliffe continued to scrap hard for every ball, but the quality of their opposition was clear to see. And on 34 minutes, the league leaders went in front. Once again Luscombe swung the corner in, it was headed down by Peter Murphy, allowing Liam Atkin to hammer home from 10 yards.
Into the second half, and the pattern was much the same. Aycliffe battled hard, but were struggling to make an impact on the Nation goal.
On 56 minutes Spence did well to save from Gibson’s low free kick.
And so Oliver acted, to try to give Aycliffe more of a threat going forward. He brought off Green and Hedley, and replaced them with the returning Jamie Owens, and Saturday’s goal scorer Dan Mellanby.
This certainly made Aycliffe more of a threat. Suddenly the ball started to stick up front, allowing Aycliffe to build more of an attacking base.
Nation however remained a threat, as more space opened up for them going forward. On 64, Spence again did well to deny Gibson.
After 73 minutes, Aycliffe’s injury curse struck once again. This time the unfortunate player was Stuart Owen, forced off with a nasty looking ankle injury.
Into the last 10 minutes and finally Nation got the second they had threatened. Neat play on the edge of the box between Gibson and Murphy allowed Gibson to get a cross in, which Micky Rae slid home from close range.
Finally, in added time Aycliffe did manage to get an effort on goal. Mellanby did brilliantly to roll the defender and square for Wood, but his effort was over the bar.
And so all eyes for Aycliffe will turn to Saturday. The visit of Team Northumbria is a crucial one for the Royal Blues. With 7 games to go for both sides, Aycliffe currently enjoy a comfortable 11 point lead over the students. However, defeat on Saturday, with some very difficult fixtures to play, will leave Aycliffe nervously looking over their shoulders.
Team Northumbria comfortably defeated Aycliffe in the reverse fixture at Coach Lane earlier in the season and Oliver will have his men fired up to ensure there is no repeat. The game at Moore Lane Park kicks off at 3pm, and Aycliffe will be looking for a strong home support to hopefully see them to the victory that will surely secure first division football for next season.
Admission is £6 adults, £4 concessions, with u12s going Free.