By Paul McGeary
After a rain-soaked start to the summer, Newton Aycliffe can look back on their pre-season campaign with much optimism for the ensuing term after experiencing defeat just once, against an impressive Sunderland XI.
Five victories, 22 goals scored and barring Sunderland’s half dozen, only four goals conceded has given boss Allan Oliver great belief as he rebuilds his side for the 2012-13 campaign.
New signings Kris Hughes and strike duo Gavin Barton and Paul Robinson have all been amongst the goals while midfield pair Fred Woodhouse and Nathan Wilson have also chipped in.
Scott Pocklington has looked solid in goal while Mark Peck returns to the back-line after six months out with a leg injury. James Oliver has matured over the summer and despite losing Josh Gray and Stephen Gibson, Aycliffe’s rearguard will once more be tough to breach, ala last season.
In ex-pro Robinson and notorious marksman Barton, Oliver has filled the void left by the exits of Dale Jardine and Dan Mellanby while Hughes’ pace on the flank will strike fear into any Northern League full-back.
Martin Young joined from West Auckland but due to holiday commitments has not yet featured while Dan Robinson and Tom Hinchley join the midfield roster to add to the accomplished trio of Wilson, Josh Knox and skipper Sean Tarling.
Aycliffe’s first outing saw them defeat their own Development Squad 4-1 on the all-weather surface at Darlington’s Longfield Academy. A brace from Wilson was added to by Stephen Bogie – who has decided not to join from Sunderland West End – and Stuart Owen, who has looked solid filling in at left-back on occasion.
The Sunderland fixture drew a crowd of 575 to Moore Lane Park and after a great opening 45, Kevin Ball’s side showed their superiority by running in five second half goals as their part-time opponents tired. Woodhouse notched Aycliffe’s reply in an even first period.
It was better for Aycliffe and their fans five days later at HQ when they easily despatched Alliance league side Percy Main Amateurs. Barton opened his account with a splendid brace while Hughes also grabbed his first Newtonians goal. Evergreen Paul Broom notched the fourth.
An impressive Richmond Town side pushed Oliver’s men all the way in the next match-up in the idyllic surroundings of Earls Orchard and Richmond Castle. Barton again grabbed two and Owen another before two late strikes from the Wearside newbies made the scoreline that bit closer.
If that scoreline was close, the next was anything but as Aycliffe ran in nine goals for just one reply at Gateshead side Leam Rangers of the Wearside League. Barton grabbed two for the third game running, while Hughes and Wilson netted a brace apiece also. Woodhouse, Robinson and the returning Peck added to the rout.
Robinson had the final say in the closing minutes of the club’s final game as he notched an 84th minute winner against Conference North side Harrogate Town. 104 people were inside Moore Lane Park for the visit of Simon Weaver’s men.
And so attention turns to competitive action and before the big league kick off on August 18, Oliver’s men tackle Cumbrian side Holker Old Boys in the FA Cup. Everyone in the DL5 area will be hoping for a better outcome than last season’s forgetful debut in the World’s oldest competition.