By Dan Lewis
After three successive away defeats, Newton Aycliffe FC returned to winning ways with a comfortable 4-2 victory over Newcastle Benfield last night.
Recent weeks have been a struggle for Allan Oliver and his men, with road trips to Shildon, Billingham Synthonia and Morpeth all ending in defeat. This has also coincided with the unfortunate burglary at Moore Lane Park to spell a pretty bleak November for the Royal Blues.
The defeat at Shildon was perhaps the most predictable of the three recent reversals, with Shildon flying high towards the top of the table, and with one of the bigger playing budgets in the League. However Aycliffe’s struggles were compounded on the night with a broken ankle for Stephen Gibson, depriving Oliver of another of his key, experienced players. He joined Fred Woodhouse, Paul Broom and John Close on the treatment table which clearly deprived Aycliffe of a significant amount of experience.
At Billingham, Oliver unveiled a number of new signings. Given the constraints he is under, the wheeler dealer nature of the boss has come to the fore, and he has chosen to place his trust in youth. Youngsters Tom Atkinson, David Mitchell and Sam England all made the squad as the Manager looks to build a side that will be competitive now, but will become a force in the coming years.
And Atkinson proved an instant hit. His two goals (he was denied a hat trick by the linesman’s flag) proving that a goal scorer at whatever level is a valuable commodity. He linked up well with leading scorer Jamie Owens, with promising signs for the remainder of the campaign. Mitchell also impressed on his bow, coming up against the lively Kris Hughes, making his first appearance against Aycliffe after his season with the Royal Blues. However in the end Aycliffe were on the wrong end of a 3-2 scoreline, with more bad news on the injury front as Martin Young hobbled off just before half time.
And so to Morpeth. A much improved first half showing had Oliver scratching his head that they only had one goal to show for their efforts, a deflected own goal following more good play from Atkinson. Atkinson himself, Owens, Broom and new signing Kerry Hedley all had chances to extend the lead. However once again the second half was a different story, as two goals from the hosts condemned Aycliffe to defeat.
However last night, back on familiar territory, and with captain John Close and Martin Young back from injury, Aycliffe dominated. Atkinson set the Royal Blues on their way with another well taken goal, and this was quickly followed up by a penalty calmly slotted home by leading scorer Owens. When Hedley added a 3rd with a stunning strike from outside the box, and just 20 minutes played, supporters could have been forgiven for thinking ‘how many’. But this is Aycliffe, and the only predictable thing this season has been unpredictability, and last night they almost immediately let the visitors back into the game. Baptiste with the finish.
A 2 goal half time lead and the feeling around Moore Lane Park was ‘next goal wins’. Benfield put an awful lot of pressure on the Aycliffe back line (which due to yet another injury saw Martin Young replacing Dan Mitton at centre back). Spence made a couple of outstanding saves as it looked like Benfield would be the next scorers.
In the 70th minute, boss Allan Oliver changed his strikers; with Atkinson having worked his socks off and the experienced Dan Mellanby coming on to help see the game through.
Just 7 minutes later, the class of Mellanby was there for all to see, as he took the ball down on the half way line before playing in Harrison Davies. Cutting in from the right flank, Davies beat the full back before slotting left footed into the far corner to seal the points.
With 87 minutes on the clock, Benfield did pull a goal back with substitute Tait firing an unstoppable drive into the top corner from distance, but by then it was too late and Aycliffe comfortably saw the game out.
The result breaks the 30 point barrier for Aycliffe, and lifts them back into the top half of the table.
Next up, rock bottom Billingham Town visit Moore Lane Park this Saturday. Aycliffe will be looking to build on last night with another 3 points to push on towards the upper part of the table. Kick-off is 3pm, with admission costing £6 for adults and £4 concessions. As ever, under 12s are completely FREE.