FIRST-HALF goals from Dale Elgie and new signing Chris Burton last Saturday saw Northallerton Town start 2014 with a comfortable away victory over ten-man Whickham at the Glebe Sports Centre.
Having dropped down the table following three weeks without a game, this had become a must-win match for Peter Mulcaster’s side if they were to keep themselves in the promotion race.
And after taking 15 minutes to blow away the cobwebs, Town went on to dominate for long periods. After Elgie diverted a shot from substitute Mikey Stevens into the roof of the net after 26 minutes to score Town’s first goal of the New Year, Burton capped a fine debut with a powerful header just before the break.
Whickham’s chances of a comeback were over early in the second period when substitute Mark Pattison was sent off and Town were able to ease to a first league away win since mid-September.
Mulcaster was rightly delighted with the performance of his side. He said: “Yes, I was very pleased, especially with the first half. It was good for Chris Burton who scored a great goal, and the team performance was excellent.
“The second half it was more a case of us having won the game and then they had a man sent off which helped us.
But a win is a win especially at Whickham as they are always difficult to beat here.”
Mulcaster gave debuts to Burton, signed from Thornaby just before the Saturday morning deadline, and Richie Dacombe, while goalkeeper James Howarth was fit to start after suffering a nasty head injury on his debut last month.
After such a long lay off, Town was a little slow out of the blocks and it was the hosts that created the first opportunity after 12 minutes when captain Michael Hedley nodded narrow wide from a Jack Moulding free kick.
But Mulcaster’s men dominated the remainder of the opening period. They should have been in front midway through the half when Col Anderson and Darren Kokes both saw efforts cleared off the line following an amazing goalmouth scramble. But the deadlock was broken four minutes later.
Dacombe’s debut had lasted just 25 minutes before succumbing to a calf injury but his replacement, Stevens, made an immediate impact. A corner from the right by Gav Parkin fell to the substitute on the edge of the penalty area and his first time effort was diverted into the roof of the net by Elgie.
“An inspired substitution,” as Mulcaster called it, and who could disagree.
Town looked comfortable now, although in a rare Whickham raid, Mark Hemingway was forced to head off his own goal-line after a clearance from Howarth had been deflected goalwards by Chad Collins.
But Mulcaster’s men always looked the more likely and they doubled their advantage six minutes before the break.
Burton had just missed a great chance when he fired wide with only goalkeeper John Mordey to beat, but he made no mistake with a powerful header from Anderson’s inviting right-wing cross.
“They say you normally miss the easier ones,” said Burton.
“I was shouting at myself and I think that was what sparked me to get the good goal afterwards.”
Whickham came out strongly at the start of the second period but any hope they had of getting back into the match was over within ten minutes of the restart. Substitute Pattison, who had only just been booked for a foul on Anderson, jumped in on the Town winger again right in front of the assistant on the near side and referee Martin Bunting had no hesitation in producing a second yellow card.
Whickham worked really hard after that but Town were now in almost complete control and it was just a matter of whether they would add any further goals. Darren Kokes headed over the top after another great cross from Anderson, while Anderson himself would have been celebrating his 14th goal of the season had his shot on the turn not been deflected wide off the unsuspecting Kokes.
Then in stoppage time, substitute Mike Colman, who has spent most of the season on the bench, was denied what would have been a very popular goal by a fine save from Mordey down low to his right.
“We were all wishing Mikey (Colman) would get a goal as he is a great lad,” said Mulcaster.
On the promotion race, the Town boss said: “We need a good run now to keep ourselves up there. Two or three wins on the trot and we are back in the reckoning.
“We won’t win the league, I know that, but we will keep putting pressure on other people.
We are disappointed with some of the points we have dropped but we have a good set of lads. There was a good atmosphere in the changing room today which I was pleased about.”
Town continue their promotion push tomorrow when South Shields are the visitors to the Calvert Stadium. Kick off is 3pm and usual admission prices apply.
- Town’s Ernest Armstrong Cup quarter-final tie at Jarrow Roofing has now been rearranged for Saturday, January 18.