Thursday, 8 May 2014

2013-14 - Season review

SO A SEASON that started up at South Shields (well Peterlee to be precise) in August with a goal conceded inside the opening two minutes, was concluded at Norton in April with a goal scored with less than two minutes remaining. Here, we look back at what happened in-between.

PRE-SEASON - Before a ball had even been kicked, manager Peter Mulcaster hosted a question-and-answer night where he stated that his aim for the season was to equal or better last season's sixth place finish. With a smaller budget to work with and with a new squad to build could he achieve that ambition?

Mulcaster also announced that his assistant for the season would be Academy and Juniors secretary, Steve Cooke. Eyebrows were raised.

Pre-season saw many comings and goings, with much of the previous year's squad departing for pastures new. The pick of the early arrivals was former Darlington RA skipper Dale Elgie and much-travelled striker Jamie Clarke. Meanwhile, Darren Kokes, Danny McLachlan, Jason Brazauskas, Lee Newby and Paul Johnson also arrived.

The pre-season campaign saw a serious of tough games against sides from a higher level (and Nunthorpe). Striker Graham Caygill was promoted from the Academy side and scored five times in six pre-season games, including two at FA Vase winners Spennymoor. Unfortunately Town lost 8-2.

The highlight of the pre-season campaign however was the 2-1 win at Bishop Auckland which included a great free kick from Brazauskas.

AUGUST - Elgie and Clarke were both missing for the opening day trip to relegated South Shields (or Peterlee to be precise), as was Mulcaster himself, so Cooke took control. After going 2-0 down early in the second half, Town fought back with first Northern League goals from that boyband strike force of Caygill and McLachlan to grab a 2-2 draw.

The opening home match was a midweek visit of Tow Law Town and saw the debut of Clarke, who wasted little time in opening his account in the 4-2 victory. Grant Hickman, Colin Anderson and an own goal from Gary Anderson completed the scoring.

The FA Cup campaign began with Whitehaven the visitors to the Calvert. A dreadful start saw Town go 2-0 down inside the opening15 minutes but Hickman was on target again before the break while Kokes then equalised with his first goal for the club early in the second half. However two late goals, both blamed on young goalkeeper Dean Hudson, saw Whitehaven triumph 4-2 and it was another early cup exit for Town.

Mulcaster was back in the dug-out for the midweek trip to Alnwick in what turned out to be an eventful game. Goalkeeper Alex Kell was re-signed from Darlington RA and was back between the sticks for a match Town dominated for long spells but were unable to score. Then, after Anderson had been harshly sent off, the hosts won it with a late wonder-goal from Tony Brown.

But that was Town's last defeat for four matches. Esh Winning were brushed aside 6-0 at the Calvert in Elgie's full debut, where two goals each from Clarke and McLachlan were added to by Hickman and Kokes. Meanwhile, Kell saved a second half penalty.

August Bank Holiday Monday saw a 2-1 win at local rivals Darlington RA. Former Town player Steve Butterworth gave the RA an early lead but a penalty from Clarke and a strike from McLachlan gave Town the points in what was an exciting match.

Esh were then beaten 5-1 away in Anderson's last appearance before his three match suspension. He marked the occasion with two fine goals. Brazauskas, who had been impressing on the left wing, opened his account, as did former Crook Town defender Sean Davies. Kokes also scored against his old club.

SEPTEMBER - The midweek match with Stokesley attracted a crowd of 155 but Town were rather fortunate to escape with a 2-2 draw. Clarke put Mulcaster's side ahead deep into the second half but Stokesley deservedly turned it around with two late goals from Reece Kelly. However, Caygill stepped off the bench to equalise in the last minute.

Next up was the FA Vase and a tie at newly-promoted Willington. In case you need reminding this was the infamous match were Town led 3-0 inside half an hour with goals from Hickman, Brazauskas and Clarke, were then reduced to nine men and lost 4-3 after extra time. The less said about that one, the better.

A depleted squad then travelled to high-flying North Shields and somehow came away with a 2-2 draw against the side that would win the title, thanks to two second half goals from Clarke - the second of which was a thing of real beauty. It was just a shame the camera was not there to capture it.

A trip to bottom side Ryton & Crawcrook Albion brought a 3-0 victory thanks to a hat-trick from the returning Anderson, although it was the performance of York City loanee Chris Dickinson that really caught the eye.

A run of five home games followed, and with Town handily placed in the league, this was seen as a great opportunity to really make an impression in the promotion race. However, the first three games of that run, against Heaton Stannington, Whickham and Chester-Le-Street, brought just one point.

The early sending off of Brazauskas against Heaton for an alleged handball on the line (later proved to be incorrect by TV replays) helped the visitors to a 2-1 success - another goal from defender Hickman not quite enough this time -  while only an injury time strike from Clarke brought a 1-1 draw with Whickham. That proved to be Clarke's last involvement with the club however, as the much-travelled striker was on the move again; to Seaham Red Star. No one knew why.

Chester then left the Calvert with a 4-2 victory in what was another poor Town performance. Mulcaster was keen to play down the significance of Clarke's departure, especially as Dickinson was on target in the Chester game - along with Davies - but there was no doubt the predatory instincts of the 40-year old would be missed.

OCTOBER - Another departure was that of the maverick Brazuaskas. A great talent and a lovely lad, but the travelling was proving too much for him, being a non-driver, and he left after his one-match suspension.

But after all the doom and gloom came the light as Town put together their best run of form of the season. Brandon United were swept aside 4-0 in a classy display. Young Mikey Stevens, fresh from the Academy side, scored within 26 seconds and grabbed another before the break. Caygill, and a first Town goal for Stephen Banks sealed the win - all four goals created by the impressive Dickinson.

The 3-0 midweek victory over Seaham, Clarke and all, was arguably the best display of the season. Hickman, skipper Gav Parkin and Banks again - just like London buses, you wait two years for a Banks goal and then two come along at once - put the seal on a superb performance. This was the last match of Dickinson's loan before retuning to York. Everyone at the club wished him well.

The trip to Jarrow Roofing had started well, with Anderson putting Town ahead early on, but four Roofing goals in 20 minutes meant Kokes' late header was a mere consolation. But that 4-2 defeat was the only one in a run of six games that briefly took Town to the top of the table.

The midweek meeting with Birtley Town brought five second half goals, three of them for Town via Anderson, Kokes and McLachlan. McLachlan then scored from 40 yards in the 2-0 win over Washington - 'Everyone needed to stop panicking,' was the scorers reaction - where Kokes was also on target.

It meant a midweek win over Whitehaven would take Town to the top, although they had played several more matches than many of the teams around them. It may not have been a great display against the ten-man Cumbrians but Elgie's first goal for the club, a brace from Kokes - now top scorer with eight - and another from McLachlan, sealed a 4-2 victory and a place at the top.

But that would be about as good as it would get. As winter closed in, Town were caught cold as a 2-1 defeat at Stokesley - Christian Holliday with his first goal of the season - was quickly followed by a 3-0 reverse at a West Allotment Celtic side who would finish runners-up. Town actually played well at WAC; the match turning on a harsh penalty award early in the second half with the score at 0-0.

More new signings saw defender James Howlett and striker Freddie Huscroft both arrive from Darlington RA, but they would have contrasting fortunes at the club. Indeed, Huscroft was off again before even managing to find the back of the net.

NOVEMBER - Following the WAC defeat, Town beat Thornaby 3-2 at the Calvert in a rain storm of Biblical proportions, thanks to goals from Anderson, Holliday and Kokes, before the visit of Redcar Athletic in the North Riding Senior Cup.

With a trip to Middlesbrough awaiting the winners, this was a tie Mulcaster really wanted to win but his team put in a poor showing and lost 3-2, despite a rare effort from Danny Shoulder and an own goal.

The re-match was Willington was next, and in front of big and vocal crowd at the Calvert of 159, six goals were shared. Goalkeeper Kell was at fault for two of the Willington efforts and did not play for the club again. Strikes from Anderson and Parkin saw Town lead 2-1 at the break, but after Kell's howlers it needed a last gasp Kokes goal to rescue a point.

The Ernest Armstrong Cup has brought Town a lot of success in recent years, lifting the trophy in 2012 and finishing runners-up a year later, and this season's campaign began at a freezing South Shields (or Peterlee to be precise). Academy goalkeeper Jordan Aspinall and defender Mark Hemingway both made their debuts, while striker Ritchie Playforth, who had starred against Town for Redcar, scored in the 6-2 win. It would be his only appearance for the club. Hickman, Elgie, Anderson and two in six minutes from substitute Dan Baxter, another making his debut, sealed a quarter final meeting with Jarrow Roofing.

With confidence restored, Town produced a good display at Seaham Red Star - Anderson's 12th goal of the season bringing a 1-1 draw from a real end-to-end encounter.

It was back to cup action next with another midweek trip to WAC in the League Challenge Cup. A depleted squad lost 5-3 but a comeback from 5-1 down suggested better things lay ahead. Banks, Caygill and McLachlan were all on target on another freezing cold night by the North Sea.

Norton and Stockton Ancients were the next visitors to the Calvert and first half goals from Anderson and Caygill brought a 2-1 success, in the first match filmed with the new video equipment bought with the help of money raised from the club's fans. Anderson was the lucky one to be selected to do the first on-camera interview. The girls swooned.

DECEMBER - After a heavy schedule of 29 matches in just 17 weeks, Town had a week off when the match at Tow Law Town was postponed. Despite temperatures in double figures all over the North-East, Tow Law and its micro-climate, was frozen.

The following week's meeting with Alnwick would be the last for another three weeks as winter really set in. New goalkeeper James Howarth made his debut but ended up in hospital with concussion as Town lost 4-1 - a penalty from Shoulder the only highlight.

JANUARY - The New Year brought more new arrivals. Striker Chris Burton and winger Ritchie Dacombe made their debuts at Whickham - Burton marking it with a goal, along with Elgie, in a 2-0 win. But Town would play just once in the next six-and-a-half weeks as the wet weather took its toll.

The only match in that spell was the Ernest Armstrong Cup quarter final at Jarrow Roofing on a bog of a pitch. Another goal from Elgie was not enough as Town's bid for a third consecutive final ended with an unfortunate 2-1 defeat to the eventual winners of the competition.

FEBRUARY - Mulcaster's side was not in action again until mid-February and it could not have been a tougher return - leaders North Shields were the visitors. Town had no regular goalkeeper, a problem that would not be solved for a couple of weeks, so Hickman wore the gloves and was man of the match in the 3-1 defeat. Howlett opened his account with a goal of the season contender, while defender Craig Perry made his debut.

Chester-Le-Street completed the double over Town three days later in another eventful game. Both sides had a man sent off - Holwett rather harshly - stand-in Town goalkeeper Mike Colman saved a penalty, and after Anderson had given Town the lead from the penalty spot, a hat-trick from Damian Stevens and a goal from Tony Healer gave Chester a second 4-2 victory. Kokes grabbed a late Town consolation. This match marked the final appearance for the club of Banks, who was moving away to live in Shrewsbury. (Someone has to).

With promotion now looking less and less likely, attention turned to Mulcaster pre-season prediction of a top six finish. A trip to Birtley, who began the night just below Town, was therefore crucial. Caygill showed his recent improvement with two goals, the first of which was a great solo effort, while Anderson sealed a 3-1 victory. Steven Hubery, on loan from Hordon, made his debut in goal, while the returning Martin Butterworth also featured after re-signing from Darlington RA.

MARCH - Caygill was at it again as a wonderful chip brought a 1-0 win at Brandon, although that would to prove his last goal for the club as he left for a professional career in the Philippines a few weeks later.

No one was relishing a midweek trip to Whitehaven but it brought a hard-fought 0-0 draw, thanks, in no small part, to a man of the match performance from another new goalkeeper; Steve Walker on loan from Richmond Town.

Title-chasing Jarrow Roofing were the visitors the following weekend and it saw another new goalkeeper; Ryan Hodgson, who had signed from Stokesley earlier in the week. Michael Gunnell, another promoted from the Academy side, made his debut on the left wing and a late goal from Elgie looked to have earned Town all three points. But a spectacular equaliser from Liam McBryde saw Roofing seal a 1-1 draw.

But Town's good run was brought to an end with a late collapse in midweek at Tow Law Town. A great goal from Burton midway through the second half gave Town the lead but three goals conceded in the final 15 minutes saw a 3-1 defeat. And it wasn't even that cold. For a change.

A second consecutive defeat followed at a windy Washington (or Sunderland Nissan to be precise). Town were 2-0 down inside ten minutes and never recovered. A disallowed goal from Butterworth the only highlight of the 3-0 reverse.

The last thing Town needed now was a visit from high-flying West Allotment Celtic, but Mulcaster  had once again raided the Darlington RA piggy bank to bolster his squad as the Ramsbottom brothers - Andy and Aaron - both returned to the Calvert. Aaron marked his second debut with a great late free kick but it could not prevent a 3-1 defeat.

Anderson's return from injury coincided with a return to winning ways at Thornaby. Holliday was forced to play in goal in the absence of Hodgson but Elgie took the plaudits with another two goals to seal a much-needed 2-1 victory in the early spring sunshine.

APRIL - A second successive victory was achieved as bottom side Ryton and Crawcrook Albion were the visitors. But while two goals from Anderson sealed a 2-1 success, Mulcaster described it as the worst performance of the season. No one was arguing.

The performance the following weekend away at Heaton Stannington was better but the result was not; a late header from McLachlan only enough to bring a 2-1 defeat.

With just four matches left, Town needed to win at least three of them to guarantee that sixth place finish. South Shields arrived in midweek and were swept aside 4-0 as the new strike force of Anderson and Holliday scored twice each. It was the best team performance for quite some time.

A third meeting with Willington followed, but whereas the previous two had brought 13 goals and three red cards, this was a sterile encounter. However Town left with the points as goals either side of the break from McLachlan, his 10th of an impressive first season in the Northern League, and Aaron Ramsbottom, sealed a comfortable 2-0 victory.

The final home match of the season was against local rivals Darlington RA on Good Friday and marked the day when Town fans walked the 20 miles from Darlington to Northallerton, raising over £1,000 for the club. In front of the biggest league crowd at the Calvert in over 10 years - 223 - an 8th goal of the season from Hickman - the 100th scored by the club in all competitions - was only enough to bring a 1-1 draw. But with other results going their way, Town only needed a point from the final match at Norton and Stockton Ancients to fulfil Mulcaster's pre-season target of a sixth place finish.

But the season ended in disappointment. Despite the hosts being reduced to ten men early in the second half, a goal from Anderson, his 20th of the season, came too late to pull back a two goal deficit and Norton finished sixth instead.

So that was the 2013-14 season. To sum it up in one word - frustrating. Too many points were dropped in matches that should have been won. Too many decisions went against the team. Apart from the goals of Anderson, no one else was able to score consistently enough, particularly from midfield where only Elgie was a regular scorer.

Over the course of the season, Mulcaster used 44 different players, 10 of which made two or less appearances. Here is a summary.

APPEARANCES (subs in brackets) GOALS (bold)

Parkin 45 2
Hickman 42(1) 8
Kokes 36(6) 11
McLachlan 34(12) 10
Anderson 34(3) 20(1p)
Elgie 34(1) 7
Porritt 33(3)
Banks 29 3
Kell 22
Howlett 21 1
Caygill 17(12) 8
Hemingway 15(4)
Stevens 13(11) 2
Brazauskas 13(1) 2
Shoulder 13 2(1p)
Butterworth 12
Davies 11(1) 2
Clarke 10 9
Hodgson 10
Holliday 9(10) 4
Ramsbottom (An) 8
Perry 7(3)
Burton 6(5) 2
Dickinson 6 1
Dacombe 5(1)
Gunnell 5(1)
Ramsbottom (Aa) 5(1) 2
Smurthwaite 4(4)
Aspinall 4
Huscroft 3(2)
Hudson 3
Howarth 3
Swankie 3
Colman 2(12)
Hubery 2
Newby 2
Johnson 2
Atkinson 1(1)
Cooke 1
Playforth 1 1
Toman 1
Walker 1
Baxter (1) 2
Lee (1)
Own Goals 2

*Special mention should go to Mike Colman, who was an unused substitute on 27 occasions, many of them away from home.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Exclusive Gav Parkin interview

Final day disappoinment as Town slip up at Norton

By Ricky Butler at Station Road

Highlights of this match are available here

NORTHALLERTON TOWN ended an up and down season with defeat at ten-man Norton & Stockton on Saturday to finish a disappointing seventh in the table.

Peter Mulcaster's side needed only a point to guarantee a second successive sixth place finish but despite the second half dismissal of Norton defender Michael Joseph, goals from Nicky Martin and Town old boy Marcus Laing saw the hosts finish sixth instead.

Colin Anderson did give the travelling Town fans something to cheer on the final day with his 20th goal of the season two minutes from time, but it came too late to prevent a 14th league defeat of the season.

In the absence of Mulcaster, his son Martin took charge of team affairs and he was pleased with the commitment of the players if not the result. He said: "I thought we battled very well, I thought we competed very well but if we're honest, we didn't we play particularly well.

"It's disappointing. I asked the lads this afternoon to put 110% effort, commitment and work in and I can't criticise them because I think they did that. Everyone in there is disappointed because we'd like to have finished sixth but it's unfortunate that we haven't done that."

Mulcaster's side showed two changes to the team that had drawn with Darlington RA last time out. James Howlett was missing so Craig Perry returned to the back three, while Dale Elgie replaced Michael Gunnell in midfield.

The two sides began the day level on points after 41 games and it was easy to see why. There was nothing to choose between them for most of the first half, although Town probably just shaded what few chances there were.

Elgie headed just wide of goalkeeper David Knight's left-hand post before Andrew Porritt perhaps ought to have done better when Elgie found him in space inside the penalty area.

Norton had their moments too as Town goalkeeper Ryan Hodgson produced a fine save to deny ex-Town striker Gary Mitchell, while Laing headed over the top.

Town had to reorganise midway through the first half when Martin Butterworth hobbled off with a dead leg - Darren Kokes replacing him in midfield - but in what has became a familiar tale in recent matches, Mulcaster's side were unable to find the breakthrough in a goalless first half.

But, just like at Heaton Stannington earlier this month, Town found themselves behind with a minute of the restart. Referee Kevin McKitterick may well have awarded Norton a penalty after a cross from Mitchell appeared to strike Perry on the arm, but the loose ball fell kindly to Martin who fired past Hodgson from 15 yards - his 25th goal of the season.

Mulcaster's men battled hard to find the all-important equaliser and things appeared to be going their way midway through the second half when Joseph pulled back Aaron Ramsbottom right on the edge of the penalty area. McKitterick had little option other than to produce a straight red card for the Norton defender for a professional foul and the hosts had more than 25 minutes to hold out with ten men.

But rather than take advantage of the extra man, Town found themselves 2-0 behind just four minutes later. A perfectly flighted free kick from the right by Michael Jameson found the head of Laing and the former Town midfielder sent the ball past Hodgson from 10 yards.

Town now had a mountain to climb and Mulcaster immediately threw defender Grant Hickman up front in a switch to a more attacking 3-4-3 formation. It almost paid dividends as Knight produced a world class save to deny Anderson before Town did finally get the goal they deserved two minutes from time.

A corner from Gav Parkin was only half cleared and when substitute Mark Hemingway recycled the ball back into the danger zone, Anderson smashed a volley past Knight from 8 yards - his 20th goal of an impressive season.

Suddenly a dramatic comeback looked on the cards as Town threw everything forward looking for the goal that would have sealed sixth place. Even goalkeeper Hodgson came up for a corner in one last desperate attempt to salvage a point but Norton, who had defended solidly throughout the game, held on for the points.

Mulcaster said: "We had the chances at the end but it was one of those where the ball just wouldn't go in. Everyone is disappointed but I can't fault the commitment, the effort that the lads put in today.

"It's games like the Alnwick's and Stokesley's where we have dropped points where we shouldn't have dropped points which is why we're in the position that we're in. But seventh. You've got to be positive and look forward. Hopefully next season we will push on."

So a season that promised much has ended in disappointment. 11 points less than last year have been won, 16 goals less scored. In many ways this game summed up much of the campaign. Plenty of hard work and endeavour but perhaps not enough quality in the final third when it really mattered.

But seventh place is not a disaster by any means and it is certainly something to build on for next season. If this squad can stay together, and with the addition of 2-3 new signings, then perhaps this time next year Town could have something to celebrate.

NORTON & STOCKTON - Knight, Andrews, Bell, Joseph, Mulligan, Laing, Seaton, Jameson, Mitchell, Martin, Charlton. SUBS - Farrington, Campbell, Hawkes.

TOWN - Hodgson - One of the signings of the season. An outstanding young goalkeeper who was once again assured throughout. 8/10

Ramsbottom (An) - Another great late-season signing. Has hardly made a mistake since re-signing in March was again strong and solid at the back. 8/10

Perry - Ended the match with another lump on his head, such is his commitment to the cause. 7/10

Hickman - Is there a better defender in the league? Showed he is not a bad striker either with a late cameo which almost helped bring the equaliser. 8/10

Porritt - Has finished the season in fine form. This was perhaps not his greatest game but he worked hard and was steady throughout. Had one or two chances to break his goal duck for the season. 7/10

Elgie - A great first season with the club. Returned to the side after missing the RA match but was unable to provide the goal-scoring threat that he has done in recent weeks. 7/10

Anderson - Was quiet by his high standards but was still a threat throughout and notched his 20th goal of the season - another superb finish. 7/10

Parkin - Popped up in a few more advanced positions than usual but could not end his five-month wait for a goal. 7/10

Butterworth - Limped off with a dead leg early on. Not the finale to the season he would have been hoping for. 7/10

Ramsbottom (Aa) - Always looked lively up front but was unable to find the goal that would have brought a much-needed point. 7/10

McLachlan - Drifted in and out of the game but produced some quality deliveries from wide areas at times. 7/10

SUBS - Kokes - Replaced Butterworth in the first half but struggled to find his best form. 7/10

Hemingway - Unfortunate to be only playing a bit part in recent weeks as his early performances were outstanding. Replaced Aaron Ramsbottom in the late tactical switch and helped created the goal. 7/10

UNUSED - Colman.

REFEREE - K. McKitterick


Mully Junior talks...

Saturday, 26 April 2014


Saturday, 19 April 2014

Exclusive Grant Hickman interview

Ton up for Town but RA leave with a point

By Ricky Butler at the Calvert Stadium

Highlights of this match can be viewed here

A FIRST half header from Grant Hickman on Good Friday was only enough to bring Town a point from their final home match of the season.

In front of a season's best crowd of 223, visitors Darlington RA led with a wonder-strike from Adam Sakr inside 90 seconds. But Peter Mulcaster's side hit back as Hickman rose to head home a Gav Parkin corner seven minutes later, Town's 100th goal of the season in all competitions, and that was the way it finished.

Mulcaster, however, was disappointed that his team could not produce a better performance for the bumper Easter crowd. He said: "I was a bit disappointed we didn't put on a better show with the great support we had today but I think at the end a draw was a fair result. I thought they had more play than us but we had quite a few chances in the last 20 minutes.

"Grant hasn't scored for a while so it was an important goal for us. We huffed and puffed at times and got the ball down and played very few times, and I thought [RA] played well I've got to say. But you've got to put your chances away, that's what it's all about."

The Town boss made two changes from the side that had won 2-0 at Willington the previous week. Dale Elgie was absent so Andrew Porritt returned in midfield, while Colin Anderson was back in attack looking for his 20th goal of the season. Darren Kokes dropped down to the bench.

On a day when a selection of the Town fans completed a 20-mile sponsored walk from the RA's Brinkburn Road ground to the Calvert Stadium, raising over £1,000 for the club, the team got off to the worst possible start, conceding inside two minutes.

The ball sat up nicely for former Willington striker Sakr, 25 yards out, but it still took some finishing, and finish it he did with a superb dipping volley that gave Ryan Hodgson no chance.

Sakr came close to a second soon after with a shot that flew wide, but that was the cue for Town to finally settle.

They were level after eight minutes with what was their first meaningful attack. The Ramsbottom brothers, two of several players playing against former colleagues, combined as Andy's cross from the right found Aaron who's effort was deflected wide for a corner.

In a combination that had worked so well for Town earlier in the season but had not bore fruit since November, Parkin's delivery found the head of Hickman who planted the ball into the top left-hand corner of the net - the big defender's 8th goal of the season.

Town perhaps had the better of it until the break as Parkin headed narrowly wide before Anderson somehow failed to covert a cross from Aaron Ramsbottom. Meanwhile at the other end, Hodgson had to be alert to keep out an effort from the dangerous Sakr.

Town had to reorganise early in the second half when first James Howlett and then Parkin limped off and the RA enjoyed far more possession, trying to utilise the pace of Sakr and strike-partner Mark Sims. But it was Mulcaster's men that carved out the better opportunities.

Aaron Ramsbottom would have loved to have scored against his former club and he came close on the hour - firing across the face of the goal after a mix up in the RA defence.

Ramsbottom then created the best chance of all with a cross from the left that found the head of Anderson and substitute Christian Holliday nodded against the base of the post from close range. Anderson himself was then denied by Matt Calvert in the RA goal.

Martin Butterworth, another looking to shine against his former club, thought he had won it when he chipped Calvert six minutes from time, but his celebrations were cut short by the assistant's offside flag; it looked a tight call.

So in the end this local derby finished with honours even and the point was enough to move Town into the top six on goal difference ahead of Norton and Stockton, who they meet in a final day shoot-out next Saturday.

"Realistically a draw would be enough," said Mulcaster. "But the team to watch now are Whickham. They have a couple of games in hand and could draw level with us, but if we win [next week] that will be enough."

With just one defeat from their last six matches, Town can certainly travel to Norton in good spirits as they look to finish the season in style.

TOWN - Hodgson - A fairly quiet night but once again demonstrated assured handling and produced a couple of good saves. 8/10

Ramsbottom (An) - Got forward well at times and was calm and assured at the back. The RA must be gutted to have lost him. 8/10

Howlett - Was having a very steady game until he was forced off in the second half with a nasty facial injury. Not the way he would have wanted his first match against his former club to end. 7/10

Hickman - Ended his five month goal drought in style although it was has been his work at the other end that has been capturing all the headlines. Another faultless display. Man of the match. 9/10

Butterworth - Unlucky to see his late effort ruled out for offside and another saved in the closing stages. Looked up for it against his former club. 8/10

Parkin - Limped off with an ankle injury just after the break and it will be a race against time for him to be fit for the last match. Superb delivery for the goal and almost scored himself with a rare header. 7/10

McLachlan - Unable to add to his recent goal-scoring exploits but once again worked hard down the right. 7/10

Porritt - Back in the side after missing the match at Willington and produced another all-action midfield display. 8/10

Anderson - Not his night in front of goal and was kept quiet by the RA back line, although one piece of magic almost won it at the end. 7/10

Ramsbottom (Aa) - No one wanted a goal more than him and he came close on several occasions. A constant threat. 8/10

Gunnell - Unable to really get into the game although he put in a good shift for the team before being replaced in the second half. 7/10

SUBS - Hemingway - Replaced the injured Howlett and slotted in seamlessly at the back. 7/10

Perry - Came on in a deep laying midfield role after Parkin's departure and added a calmness to proceedings. 7/10

Holliday - Came close to grabbing a late winner with a header that hit the post but was not really on long enough to make an impression. 7/10

UNUSED - Kokes, Colman, Stevens.

DARLINGTON RA - Calvert, Read, Muir, Whensley, Mitchell, Grainger, New, Webster, Sims, Sakr, Hanratty. SUBS - Johnson, Morrow, Upton, Dow, Allison.

REFEREE - M. Bunting.