THERE was little Christmas cheer for Northallerton Town last Saturday as Alnwick Town left the Calvert Stadium with three points.
The match however, was overshadowed by a nasty head injury to new Northallerton goalkeeper James Howarth just before half time that ended with the 21-year old being taken to hospital with concussion.
Peter Mulcaster’s side had only just gone ahead with a penalty from Danny Shoulder when Howarth took a kick to the face, diving at the feet of Tony Brown. Although he continued until just before half time, the signing from Bishop Auckland then collapsed immediately after Dale Kennedy had headed Alnwick level and the game was held up for over 20 minutes as Howarth was treated on the pitch by paramedics.
And that proved to be the turning point. With no substitute goalkeeper available, right back Steve Banks was forced to don the gloves for the second half and Brown, James Jackson and Kennedy all beat him to give the Northumbrians the points.
But Town manager Mulcaster was not looking to use that an excuse for what he described as the worst performance of the season from his side. He said: “We had players who weren’t up for it. We had players who did not seem bothered.”
Mulcaster made three changes to the side that had beaten Norton & Stockton Ancients in the previous outing a fortnight earlier – Howarth, Banks and Dale Elgie replacing Jordan Aspinall, Grant Hickman and Mikey Stevens.
The hosts had started reasonably well, and while being far from being at their free-flowing best, they were the dominant force for much of the opening 30 minutes.
Graham Caygill, with goals in each of his previous two appearances, fired over the top before Gav Parkin struck a post. But Town did go in front eight minutes before the break. Darren Kokes managed to squeeze through to Colin Anderson inside the penalty area and he was brought down by Alnwick goalkeeper Dan Mullen.
Referee Kevin McKitterick pointed to the spot but produced only a yellow card for the stopper when it could so easily have been red, although Shoulder extracted the ultimate punishment by coolly stroking home from 12 yards.
At this point, Town looked comfortable but the injury to Howarth changed everything.
The keeper had looked assured on his debut until he felt the full force of Brown’s boot in the 41st minute as he bravely dived at the Alnwick man’s feet and was left in a daze.
He battled on until just before half time but after Kennedy headed home a Jackson cross from the right at the far post in the final seconds of the half, Howarth collapsed in the penalty area.
McKitterick immediately blew for half time and after a lengthy delay while the ambulance arrived, Howarth was finally taken off to hospital with concussion.
Banks came out for the second half wearing the goalkeeper gloves – Hickman replacing him at right back – but his first job was the pick the ball out the net. Some static Town defending allowed Brown the opportunity to slot past the replacement ‘keeper within two minutes of the restart.
And it was game over for Mulcaster’s side three minutes later. A corner from the right was flicked on at the near post leaving Jackson with a simple close-range header.
Town never looked like staging a comeback after that and it was the Northumbrians that added a fourth goal, 20 minutes from time – Kennedy chipping the ball over the stranded Banks after more good work from the impressive Brown.