4:51pm Friday 28th February 2014
NORTHALLERTON Town’s fading promotion hopes suffered a potentially fatal blow last Saturday as they slipped to defeat in a controversial match at Moor Park.
It was a lively encounter which saw two penalties, two red cards and numerous other controversial incidents.
Things appeared to be going the way of Peter Mulcaster’s men when Colin Anderson gave them a first-half lead from the penalty spot in an incident which saw Chester defender Kevin Dixon dismissed.
But the hosts were level by the break with the first of a fine hat-trick from Damian Stevens and Town were reduced to ten men themselves within minutes of the restart when James Howlett was sent off for an alleged professional foul on Stevens.
Stand-in Town goalkeeper Mike Colman saved Craig Marron’s resulting spot kick but Stevens scored twice more in quick succession to put the Cestrians in control, before substitute Tony Healer headed a fourth. Town rallied with a late Darren Kokes goal but it was not enough to prevent a second defeat in three days.
“We were poor again,” said a disappointed Mulcaster at the whistle. “We haven’t turned up as a team.”
Mulcaster made several changes to the team that had been beaten by North Shields.
With no recognised goalkeeper once again, and with Grant Hickman unavailable, Colman was thrown in at the deep end between the sticks.
Elsewhere Mark Hemingway, Dale Elgie, Graham Caygill and new signing Martin Butterworth were all in the starting XI while Stephen Banks was making his final appearance for the club.
Playing with the strong breeze at their backs in the first half, Town started slowly.
However, a fairly uneventful match sprung to life in the 35th minute. A corner from the right by Gav Parkin found the head of Anderson but the ball was cleared off the line by defender Dixon with a mixture of head and hand.
After consulting with his assistant, referee Chris Keighley pointed to the spot and produced a red card for the unfortunate Chester defender.
Anderson brushed aside the controversy to coolly send goalkeeper Chris Rookes the wrong way from the spot.
But rather than going on to take control, Mulcaster’s side became sloppy and allowed the ten men to equalise right on the stroke of half time.
Some static defending saw Stevens given far too much time and space inside the area to easily beat Colman from ten yards.
The second half was less than a minute old when the match took another turn.
Stevens got on the wrong side of Howlett and bared down on goal but the Town defender recovered superbly to deny him with a fine tackle. However, referee Keighley consulted with his assistant again and not only awarded Chester a penalty but produced a red card for the stunned Town defender.
A case of evening things up, perhaps.
The drama was not quite over either as Colman marked his first appearance in goal for the club with a wonderful save down to his left to keep out Marron’s penalty, although it was all downhill for Town after that.
Just three minutes later Stevens again got clear, and with the Northallerton defence appealing in vain for offside, the Chester front man lobbed the ball over the stranded Colman from the edge of the area.
Town were rocked back on their haunches now and Stevens completed a classy hat-trick moments later with another fine finish from 20 yards.
Mulcaster rang the changes – replacing Butterworth, Kyle Swankie and Graham Caygill with Kokes, Danny McLachlan and Chris Burton – but any hope of a comeback was over 16 minutes from time. Colman failed to hold a corner from the left and Chester substitute Healer nodded home from close range.
The big striker rather spoilt the moment by needlessly goading the Town ‘keeper who reacted by pushing him to the floor. Once again Keighley consulted with his assistant but this time his cards stayed firmly in his pocket and it remained ten versus ten.
Town did rally with a goal nine minutes from time as substitute Kokes fired home from close range via a slight deflection off defender Daniel Hepplewhite but the game was long over by then.
Grant Hickman and Anderson both struck the woodwork as Town dominated for long periods.
Adam Froggatt grabbed a late Birltey consolation.
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