By Paul McGeary
Newton Aycliffe hosted just their second game of 2014 last night, and a mixture of rustiness and depletion in personnel saw the Newtonians slip up against lowly Penrith, who played more than 45 minutes with 10 men.
Allan Oliver’s side had twice come from behind to lead going into the final 15 minutes, only to succumb to the Cumbrians, who remain unbeaten in their three visits to Moore Lane Park.
Missing a host of first team regulars – Dan Mitton, James Oliver, Stephen Butterworth, Martin Young, Paul Broom and long term absentee Jamie Owens – Oliver could name only 14 players in his squad, including a third debut for the returning Mark Wood, and rookie Lewis Green on the bench.
Penrith started the brighter on a bobbly surface wearing scars from the recent weather, and Andrew Spence was asked to save smartly at his near post twice as Matt Heaney’s side threatened.
A hopeful punt forward brought the games opening goal, catching Spence out as it skipped up off a divot allowing Ric Faustino the simplest of tasks of tapping into an unguarded net to embarrass the Aycliffe stopper.
Aycliffe were level just before the break when Stuart Owen coolly slotted home a penalty following Curtis Wood’s rash challenge on Tom Atkinson as the forward tore in on goal. Wood saw red, deemed to have prevented a clear goalscoring opportunity.
Oliver scrapped his diamond midfield formation in the second period for a more rigid midfield, but it was the 10-men who stole ahead again, with star player Steven Rigg slotting home on 48 minutes.
Spence saved smartly again, and just before the hour the Royal Blues were once more level as Dan Mellanby’s ball skipped past the defender allowing Kerry Hedley the chance to ease in on goal and slot past ‘keeper Jonathan Richardson.
Aycliffe gained confidence and searched for the goal which would give them the lead, and after a gilt-edge chance was spurned by Penrith forward Shaun Gardner, the Newtonians took the lead for the first time following a strong run and cross from Liam Clough down the left, affording Atkinson the chance to tuck home from two yards at the back post.
Aycliffe though were victims of their own downfall and instead of kicking on, allowed their opponents possession which forced a corner, from which Grant Davidson outjumped Spence to nod the evenings third equaliser.
It will remain to be seen whether it is a point gained or two dropped from Aycliffe, who seemingly are safe from relegation trouble at present, but with a host of top clubs yet to visit Moore Lane, can little afford to drop vital points from winning positions, much like they did against Crook and Marske in their two previous outings this year.
Next up is a trip to Crook on Saturday, for a third-time rearranged game against Gary Pearson’s side. Kick off at the Millfield Ground is 3pm.
Spence; Wood, Clough, S.Gibson, Close; Raitt (Green), Owen, Hedley, M.Gibson; Mellanby, Atkinson.
Unused; Farley, J.Young