Newton Aycliffe’s Northern League team retained their top-flight status at the weekend, despite losing their eighth consecutive game.
The Newtonians were stuffed 5-2 at already relegated Hebburn on Saturday – but Team Northumbria’s defeat at Ashington confirmed first division football for Allan Oliver’s men next season.
But boss Oliver must be concerned that his team, so good up until Christmas, have only been able to record a victory against Bishop Auckland since then.
On paper this was a game Aycliffe would have looked at as a chance to end that poor run of form. Hebburn have been second bottom of the table for most of the season, and were relegated some weeks ago.
And Aycliffe started brightly. Martin Young had an early chance for Aycliffe, but his shot went over the bar.
However after 13 minutes, Hebburn took the lead from their first attack. Spence did well to save to his left. But from the corner slack defending allowed Scott to head home.
It took Aycliffe just 6 minutes to equalise. Atkinson, deployed on the right of a three man strike force drove down the wing and crossed into the middle. Before the ball got to Mickle, the Hebburn defender passed it into his own net.
Midway through the half, both keepers made good saves to keep the score 1-1, before Aycliffe saw a second goal ruled out for offside.
Hebburn regained the lead though, as former Aycliffe player Reay turned home the loose ball as Spence failed to deal with a corner.
And they were almost 3-1 in front, but this time the linesman’s flag was to Aycliffes rescue!
Clearly the manager gave his players a few home truths at half time, as they flew out of the blocks in the second half. Just 47 minutes on the clock when Gary Wood played a delightful ball through for Mickle to run on and finish left footed.
Parity didn’t remain for long though. On 55 minutes, McMahon’s cross/ shot rebounded off the post to North, who had the easiest of chances to make it 3-2.
On 59 and again on 64 Spence made great saves to deny Reay as the hosts looked to kill the game off.
In an open and entertaining game, Aycliffe were gifted the chance to equalise when the referee awarded them a penalty after seeing a foul on Mickle. Jamie Owens stepped up for the spot kick ahead of usual taker Stuart Owen, and promptly saw his kick saved by Rogers in the Hebburn goal.
Oliver looked to change things, with a triple substitution seeing Raitt, Atkinson and Owens replaced by Mellanby, Broom and Hedley, and a chance to a 4-4-2 formation. And on 75 only a great save from Rogers prevented Mickle adding to his tally as he went through on goal.
However just a minute later, powerful striker North rose above Mitton in the Aycliffe defence to head past Spence, and effectively finish the contest.
With just 5 minutes remaining, Aycliffe’s misery was compounded. Oliver conceded a foul on the edge of the box and was shown a yellow card. McMahon stepped up to the free kick, which Spence could only parry. The loose ball fell straight to North who nodded in for his hat-trick.
In truth, a very poor day for Aycliffe. The players will feel they owe the manager and supporters a performance this weekend, as they host Bedlington Terriers on Saturday, before the home game with Shildon on Monday evening.
The game forms part of the Northern Leagues showpiece ground hop, and Aycliffe will be hoping to show their strength as a Club both on and off the field in front of the expected 500 crowd.