NORTHALLERTON Town’s run of two consecutive victories came to an end at Grounsell Park last Saturday despite a late goal from Danny McLachlan.
Jon Wright, who had scored both goals in Heaton’s 2-1 success at the Calvert in October, had put the hosts 1-0 up again just after half-time with a lob over Town goalkeeper Ryan Hodgson, before Dean Deagle sealed the points after 66 minutes.
Town manager Peter Mulcaster said: “You’ve got to give credit to the players because at that point I thought we could have just gone, but we didn’t. We forced the game, we got a goal back and we finished strongly.”
McLachlan grabbed his ninth goal of the season 11 minutes from time, but the home side held on to claim all three points.
Mulcaster made three changes to the team that had beaten Ryton & Crawcrook the previous midweek. James Howlett returned to the side after injury, replacing Craig Perry in defence, while Dale Elgie was back in place of Colin Anderson. Elsewhere, Chris Burton dropped to the bench in place of the recalled Aaron Ramsbottom.
Wright has proved to be one of the sharpest strikers in the league this season and he looked a threat from the start.
The 34-goal marksman headed wide after just five minutes before almost finding strikepartner Lawrence McKenna at the far post, only for McLachlan to clear the ball.
Mikey Stevens then cleared a Joe Wear header off the line, while moments later Paul Mills picked the ball up in his own half before driving forward and unleashing a shot from 20 yards which produced a fine save from young Hodgson.
The ball was not sufficiently cleared however, and when it was recycled back into the area, midfielder Paul Blakey hit the base of the post.
It was all Heaton at this stage and Ben Telford nearly put the home side 1-0 up after Elgie’s clearance fell straight to him. However, his shot went just wide, although Hodgson appeared to have it covered.
Town’s first shot on target did not arrive until the halfhour mark when Ramsbottom and Stevens linked up down the left before the latter found Elgie on the edge of the penalty area. However, the midfielder, who has been in great goalscoring form, could only produce a tame effort which was comfortable for home goalkeeper Shaun Backhouse.
Wright started his team’s next meaningful move, switching the ball from right to left to Mills, who found McKenna in the box. He then laid the ball off to Wright, who unleashed a fizzing shot that flew just over the top.
But in the dying moments of the first half, McKenna really ought to have put Heaton 1-0 up. Wright again created the problems with some good work down the left and his low cross found his strike-partner in front of an open goal. However, McKenna somehow managed to fire over the top from two yards.
With a lack of goals in recent weeks, it looked to be a tough task for Mulcaster’s side when the impressive Wright did open the scoring just seconds after the restart. A goal kick from Backhouse was flicked on by McKenna, finding the striker clean through on goal, and he calmly lobbed the stranded Hodgson.
Captain Wear was lucky not to gift Town an equaliser soon after as his header back to the keeper nearly looped over Backhouse for what would have been a calamitous own goal.
But that was as close as Mulcaster’s side came to pulling themselves level and it was The Stan who doubled their lead after 66 minutes. A corner from the left by Mills found Blakey, who headed the ball back across goal to Deagle at the far post, the defender taking a touch before smashing it beyond Hodgson from close range.
With the game quickly slipping away, Town at least showed their character to find a way back.
Substitute Christian Holliday had an effort from distance saved with 20 minutes left to play before McLachlan found the goal nine minutes later with a fine header from a left-wing cross by Gav Parkin.
It was too late for Town to mount any real threat of a comeback though, despite Ramsbottom coming close after linking up with Burton and Holliday two minutes from time.
However, the late flourish should not disguise a continued lack of quality in the final third. The free-scoring team which briefly led the table earlier in the season has been replaced by a workmanlike side who remain difficult to beat but are becoming far too easy to defend against. What would Mulcaster give to have a player like Wright leading his attack?
Town now find themselves in seventh place as they face a trip to old foes Willington tomorrow.
A return to winning ways is essential if Mulcaster’s men are to remain on course for a top-six finish.