Wednesday, 26 November 2014

25.11.14 Benfield (H)

There was a sense of optimism when The Boy Mark picked me and the chair up for the midweek encounter. Whitley had surprised everybody by coming from behind to beat Alnwick Town in the Northumberland Senior Cup 6-4. They then followed this up with an away win in the cherished FA Vase at Congleton Town - 1-0.
Unfortunately the win had come at a cost in terms of injuries and the count of first team players injured now stood at nine so the youngsters would have to be thrown in. 
Once we had shuffled over to our usual spot there was a surprise as we were joined by our standing chums: Bob, Moira and Paul.
Don't mess!
Bob and Moira were friends of Paul's dad: David, who unfortunately died last year but was a regular at the Bay games. We would always chat and joke our way through the games. More often than not we would miss crucial moments because of wide ranging conversations from tree cutting, passing bird formations to football. Bob and Moira both have a passion for non league football, and have had for years, and despite living in Whitley often go to watch North Shields, not something I approved of, which kept the non-league football debates lively. Moira's loyalty often slips when Whitley are struggling and will take such opportunities to announce, (on a too regular basis) that she would be transferring her allegiances if there wasn't an improvement: a great stirrer, not just during her career as a dinner lady. Now retired she regularly tells us about her adventures with a free bus pass and how much she enjoys retired life and freedom: particularly galling during midweek matches when work beckons the next day. 
Big crowd tonight!
Paul is the Bay Stato!
Paul on the other hand is our Stato. Regularly quoting matchday programme facts and internet research about both Whitley and non-league football. It took me a while to work out where he got the obscure match facts from until I read each and every one of them at home in the programme. His ability to memorise so many facts in a short space of time is certainly impressive and often enlivens dull matches.
 Unfortunately, the rest of Whitley had not shared our enthusiasm for tonight's action as a smaller than usual number of souls braved the dark and cold to come to Hillheads. The draw of Manchester City against Bayern Munich on the TV proving too much. As it was 195 was better than a lot of the attendances around the Northern League.

The referee tonight was one Rebecca Welch from Washinigton (according to the programme's teamsheet). It was always good to see a female referee  but from the outset it was obvious that the visitors didn't share my enthusiasm as they swore at most of her decisions and took every opportunity to challenge her authority. Trying to let the game flow and avoid sending anyone off she preferred to talk to them in an authoritative voice. As the game wore on the barracking went on and Moira questioned whether a male referee would have put up with it: especially when one decision was met by a Benfield player screaming:
Tightest shorts of the season?
 "@%$£ off linesman.." across the pitch
An older head, whether male or female, might well have taken action at that point, I replied. Having said that the match didn't get out of control and did flow so she got that right.
The other major talking point was the state of the Whitley Bay kit which seems to have been worn ever since the first Wembley Vase appearance in 2009. Young Ryan Kielte must have been last into the dressing room as he had to wear the tightest shorts of the season. Despite this inconvenience he managed to turn in a commanding performance on what we thought was his debut and was roundly cheered by Moira whenever he drove forward - which wasn't often. Despite Ryan's best efforts, it was Benfield who took the lead and although Whitley huffed and puffed at the Newcastle door, they couldn't blow it in. Favourite Chow was clearly struggling ("He's injured..." Bob told us every few minutes) yet as always happened when we started questioning the Chow's inclusion he popped up with a cracking goal to silence his critics, ie us.
The second half saw a flying (literally) tackle  from Whitley end in a converted penalty and just when Whitley looked like they were going to equalise, disaster struck as the third visiting goal dropped in.
Paul added his own statistic, gleaned from the programme earlier, as he shouted:
The Boy Mark cautiously celebrates
the second Whitley goal.
"Come on Whitley, Benfield haven't won away all season, you can't let them beat you." Obviously I hadn't studied the programme enough as this fact had eluded me: no dedication!
This, and the arrival of youngster Tom Potter for Chow and not so young Steve Foster  had galvanised the team... they woke up and battered Benfield. It all seemed too little too late though as the clock ticked away. Watling's hard work was rewarded with a goal but there still didn't seem much hope. There was a delay in play caused by one of the Benfield defender's kicking the ball off the pitch because " was £$%&!".  Again there was no booking as the same ball was returned to be played with. However, that ball didn't last long as at the next opportunity the same defender booted it over the stand to avoid playing with it. 
Wild, celebrating fans!
This seemed to do the trick for Whitley as the next ball found its way into the Benfield net via Godsmark. I would have been delighted with a draw but there was more to come as the angry Benfield players lost all control: this time Watling scoring. 
When your team has come back from the dead to lead, you always want one of two things: either for the final whistle to blow or to score another to make it safe. We got our preferred wish. With the goalkeeper stranded in the Bay penalty area the ball was launched forward. The chase was on between Whitley forward (rumoured to be Robbie Bird although my eyes weren't that good because of the tears of joy that had filled them) and the Benfield keeper. Unfortunately for the racing keeper, a Benfield defender came to help out and cleared it straight onto the knee of his team mate. The ball fell kindly for Whitley as Robbie ended up running through on goal before scoring past both defender and keeper. I even stood up to clap...and quickly wished I hadn't. Happy days! 

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