1:30pm Friday 1st November 2013
NORTHALLERTON Town’s brief reign at the top of the Division Two table was brought to an abrupt end last Saturday as rivals Stokesley SC withheld a strong late rally to claim three points.
After Gerard Richardson had capitalised on a poor back pass from Grant Hickman midway through the first half to put the hosts in front, a fine header from Christian Holliday brought Town level. But more defensive naivety allowed Richardson a second just before the break and despite plenty of late Town pressure, that was the way it finished.
So disappointed was manager Peter Mulcaster at the whistle that he refused to do any press interviews, and his mood was not helped by other promotion rivals dropping points: “A wasted opportunity,” as he put it.
Mulcaster’s side made the short trip to Broughton Road having been knocked off the top by Heaton Stannington’s morning victory over Birtley, and the Town boss was forced into two changes from the side that had reached the summit the previous Wednesday.
With Colin Anderson missing with an abductor injury, Andrew Porritt was switched to the right side of midfield with James Howlett coming in at left back and Danny Shoulder recalled at centre half.
Town started brightly in the autumn sunshine and could have grabbed a sixth minute lead. Holliday whipped in a great cross from the left and Danny McLachlan’s powerful header was only kept out by a fine save from Stokesley goalkeeper Ryan Hodgson – the first of many he was to make throughout the afternoon.
It was all Town at this stage as Gav Parkin fired wide before then being denied by the outstanding Hodgson, but it was the hosts that were gifted the lead midway through the first half. Hickman’s attempted back pass was far too short and Richardson was left with only goalkeeper Alex Kell to beat – a task he completed with the minimum of fuss.
But Town responded like league leaders with an equaliser just six minutes later. Porritt produced a superb cross from the right and Holliday rose to head past Hodgson from ten yards – a first goal of the season for the speedy winger known as Bisto.
Mulcaster’s side now looked set to go on and take control as McLachlan sent a header just the wrong side of the post while Steve Banks fired over the top following a lovely onetouch passing move on the edge of the area.
However, with half time approaching, Town momentarily switched off at the back to allow Stokesley the opportunity to go back in front. Andrew Lambert stood the ball up from the right to the far post where Richardson was left completely unmarked to turn and fire past Kell from eight yards.
Mulcaster was forced into a change at the break as groininjury victim Dale Elgie was unable to continue, so Graham Caygill was brought on up front with in-form Darren Kokes, five goals in the last four matches, dropping back into midfield.
Again Town made a bright start to the second period but the nearest they came to an equaliser was a shot from Holliday which brought another fine stop from Hodgson.
Although it was all one-way traffic at this stage, the visitors were grateful to Kell for keeping them in it moments later when he saved well with his legs to deny former Northallerton player Alex Caisley flowing a quick Stokesley counter-attack.
But it was Hodgson who was the busier of the two goalkeepers and he performed more heroics to keep out a shot from Caygill midway through the second half, before the young Town striker, who scored a last gasp equaliser when the clubs last met in September, then saw an effort deflected narrowly wide.
However, Stokesley could have sealed the points with 18 minutes remaining. Richardson was denied a hat-trick by the crossbar while Lambert’s follow up effort incredibly came back off virtually the same spot of woodwork.
Having been given such a let off Town really went for it in the final stages. Mulcaster brought on striker Freddie Huscroft for defender Banks and switched to a 3-4-3 formation which led to a series of late chances.
Kokes looked as through he had levelled it up ten minutes from time after a powerful forward burst but once again Hodgson would not be beaten, saving well down to his left, while Holliday almost headed a second from another Porritt cross.
With time running out, Mulcaster’s men threw everything forward in a thrilling finale but a mixture of good Stokesley defending and a poor final ball ensured that Town’s reign at the top would be an all-too brief one.
“Sometimes it is better to just say nothing,” said an unusually quiet Mulcaster at the whistle.
Following a promotion sixpointer at West Allotment Celtic in midweek, Town welcome Thornaby to the Calvert Stadium tomorrow where Mulcaster will be hoping his players can do the talking on the pitch. Kick off is 3pm.
© Copyright 2001-2013 Newsquest Media Group