By Glen Robertson
Sean Tarling scored a 91st-minute equaliser as Newton Aycliffe drew 2-2 away at Sunderland RCA.
The skipper, in his first game wearing his new contact lenses, finally found the net for the first time in 66 games to rescue a point for the Royal Blues that was more than deserved.
Allan Oliver’s side dominated the entire game and would have been worthy winners had they been a bit more clinical in front of goal.
Kris Hughes gave Aycliffe the perfect start with a third minute goal, but the Newtonians failed to score the decisive second before Aristote Guerin-Lokonga netted a brilliant solo effort to equalise just after the half-hour mark.
Former Aycliffe striker Gavin Barton put the Ryhope club 2-1 up in the fourth minute of first-half stoppage time as it appeared Aycliffe would be on the end of another away defeat.
Hughes, Martin Young and Danny Mellanby all went close in the dying minutes, before Tarling levelled proceedings with a superb stoppage-time strike to secure a hard-earned point.
The Newtonians were missing Darren Craddock, through work commitments, and Mark Peck, due to suspension. James Oliver and John Close were paired at centre-back, with Stuart Owen continuing at left-back and Martin Butterworth filling in on the right.
And Aycliffe made a flying start, going ahead after just three minutes. A defensive error from the hosts was pounced on by Hughes, who raced clear and calmly slotted the ball into the bottom left corner to score his first goal for the club.
RCA were almost allowed straight back into it as a misplaced pass from Martin Young released Gary Shields, but Butterworth got back brilliantly to block.
Aycliffe were dominating possession in the middle of the field and flying wing-duo Hughes and Danny Lambert were causing problems out wide.
It was the pace of Danny Earl which forced the next big talking point. Young released the former Billingham Synthonia striker clean through and Earl went round Neal Atkinson but stayed on his feet under the goalkeeper’s challenge. Had he gone down it would have been a penalty and a red-card, but Earl’s honesty shone through. He was forced wide, though, so calmly rolled the ball across the box to a charging Young, who had raced 70 yards to get up in support, but the midfielder’s effort was kept out by a recovering Atkinson.
Aycliffe were made to pay for not taking advantage as RCA equalised just 30 seconds later. Guerin-Lokonga received the ball wide out on the left, skipped past the challenge from Butterworth before firing an effort into Scott Pocklington’s left-hand corner.
Five minutes before the break the Royal Blues came close to regaining the lead but Danny Lambert’s fizzing effort from 20 yards flew just over the crossbar.
But, somehow, the Newtonians found themselves behind at half-time. Jamie Fryatt’s corner deep into stoppage-time found an unmarked Barton at the back post and he looped a header into the top corner of the net.
Aycliffe could have gone into their shell as they did at Ashington after suffering such a setback, but they rolled their sleeves up and dominated the second-half. Tarling had a penalty shout in the first minute, as Ross Preston pulled his shirt in the area, but the referee ruled there was no infringement.
RCA defended well after this until Oliver’s double substitution just after the hour mark fray changed proceedings. Danny Mellanby and Fred Woodhouse entered the fray and the hosts changed to a back five, with two holding midfielders in front, and invited pressure for the rest of the game.
And in the last 10 minutes, Aycliffe ran riot and created chance after chance. Earl received the ball on the right and squared for the unmarked Young in the area, but the former West Auckland man’s effort was hit straight at Atkinson.
A minute later Tarling intercepted a loose ball and found Young on the right. His cross found Mellanby at the far post, but the player-coach blazed his effort over.
Then Young picked up the ball 25 yards out, set himself and let fly with a fierce effort, but Atkinson pulled off a good save down to his left and substitute David Winskill’s cross from the rebound couldn’t find a blue shirt.
Next, Close strode forward and threaded a superb ball through to Hughes, but the winger was denied a second by a good save down to his right by Atkinson.
Hughes had been a threat all game and, after demoralising Wayne Henderson to the point he was moved to centre-back, he then skipped away from make-shift right-back Fryatt with ease but was cynically hacked down by the winger-cum-defender. From the resulting free-kick RCA cleared and Aycliffe’s chances of earning a point seemed to disappear.
But in the second minute of stoppage time, Mellanby floated in a cross from the right and the skipper charged in at the back post, stretched to reach the ball and instinctively flicked the ball into the far post to spark wild celebrations among the Aycliffe players.
All the hard work was almost undone in the dying seconds as Close inadvertently sent the ball towards the top corner of his own goal, but Pocklington reacted superbly to claw the ball away from danger and ensure Aycliffe earned their second away point of the season.
The performance deserved more, but there were plenty of positives to take for the Newtonians, and added belief that the club can climb away from the bottom of the table in the near future.