Monday, 31 December 2012

Town suffer first away defeat of the season as Crook break a club record


TOWN ended 2012 with a disappointing defeat at new Division Two leaders Crook Town on Saturday.

With several players missing, Town failed to produce their best form and saw their 13 match unbeaten away run in the league - a record stretching back to March - brought to an end.

The Town starting XI saw three changes from the Boxing Day draw with Darlington RA. Leading scorer Adam Emson, Stephen Butterworth and Marcus Laing were all unavailable so Stu Dunn, Ian Smurthwaite and Wayne Gredziak all came in.

Crook, who came into the game on the back of an 11 match winning, got off to the perfect start in their quest for a club record 12th when Chris Wallace headed home at the second attempt after just 16 minutes.

Town were forced to chase the game after that and manager Mark Fanning brought on York City Academy graduate Chris Dickinson for Carl Chillingsworth on the hour.

But the nearest they came to what would have proved to be a vital equaliser was when Gav Parkin rattled the crossbar midway through the second half.

That proved to be the turning point as Crook sealed the points, and the club record, when Kyle Davis headed home a left wing cross from Dave Gordon in the closing stages.

"If Gav's effort had gone in, then it would have been a different story," said manager Mark Fanning at the whistle.

"Our game plan was not to concede an early goal, but they were quicker and sharper than us today."

Town will look to get back to winning ways when they travel to Brandon United on Saturday, before facing a trip to York City in the North Riding Senior Cup the following Tuesday.

TOWN - Craggs, Alderson, Dunn, Hickman, Shoulder, Parkin, Smurthwaite, Burton, Bulmer, Chillingsworth, Gredziak. Subs - Banks, Bowman, Dickinson, Caisley.

REFEREE: S. Henry.


2012-13 - The season so far

WE have now reached the half way point of the season so it is time to take a look back at 2012-13 so far...

The season began with the club full of optimism after a great finale to 2011-12, culminating in Town lifting the Ernest Armstrong Trophy with victory over Team Northumbria at Norton in May - the clubs' first honour for 18 years.

After the celebrations had died down, however, manager Mark Fanning had to plan for his next aim - promotion back to Division One.

Fanning looked to strengthen his squad during the close season and brought in goalkeeper James Briggs, defenders Stephen Banks and Anthony Roberts, midfielder play-maker Marcus Laing and striker Adam Emson, all of whom had experience of first division football.

There were changes off the field too during the summer as press officer and programme editor Ian Bolland stepped down after over 20 years in the role. He left at the top too as his match day programme was voted the best in Division Two. Ricky Butler, who had been working at The Darlington and Stockton Times and Dagenham and Redbridge FC, was brought in to replace him.

The new season began with a record attendance of 710 at the RGPS for the pre-season visit of Darlington 1883. Although the visitors won 3-0, Town showed enough to suggest they could compete with a side who would prove to be one of the strongest in the Ebac Northern League.

The pre-season campaign brought a series of tough games against sides from Division One and although it did not bring any victories, it did prepare the squad well for the battles that lie ahead.

The big talking point as the season kicked off however, was the new Secret Shopper initiative as the league tried to cut down on poor discipline and foul and abusive language.

Early August saw the serious business begin and Town could not have asked for a tougher start. They kicked off with a home tie against Division One side Guisborough Town in the Preliminary Round of the FA Cup but what a match it turned out to be.

Town dominated for an hour and were 3-1 ahead before finally going down to a last minute 5-4 defeat. Emson marked his debut for the club with two goals, while James Bowman and Carl Chillingsworth were also on target.

Off the field, club captain Martin Butterworth left for Newton Aycliffe the following day while Academy goalkeeping coach Dave Skelton joined the coaching staff.

The league campaign opened with the visit of pre-season title favourties Crook in what proved to be another exciting affair - the sides sharing 6 goals, all of which came in a breathless first half.

The first victory of the season arrived at Alnwick in midweek as a hat-trick from Emson sealed a 4-0 success, but the inconsistent start continued as Morpeth left the RGPS with a 2-0 win the following Saturday. Meanwhile, a late Craig Winter header gave Town a 2-1 success at Darlington RA on Bank Holiday Monday to bring the month to a close.

September started with another new signing - striker Wayne Gredziak arriving from Durham City - and he marked his debut with a goal with his first touch after coming off the bench in a 3-0 win against Horden.

September proved to be a very good month with seven wins from eight matches, the only disappointment being an unfortunate 2-1 home defeat against Esh Winning - a match which saw 2 Town goals controversially disallowed. The highlight of the month however, was undoubtedly the 3-2 success at Silsden in the FA Vase - with Emson scoring another late winner.

By now Town had established themselves in the top 2 in the league behind early pace-setters Ryhope CW, and the team was fulfilling their pre-season promise of a promotion push. The month also saw the departures of striker Col Anderson and midfielder Gary Cook who were both frustrated by the lack of first team opportunities.

October saw just one defeat - 3-2 at Division One side Consett in an FA Vase replay - although 2 important promotion points were dropped when Whitehaven grabbed a late equaliser in a 2-2 draw in Cumbria. That would be a familiar theme for Town as autumn turned into winter.

November saw more new arrivals. Defender David Alderson was recruited from Norton, while winger Pete Bulmer re-signed after leaving in the summer, but it proved to be a difficult month for Town. It began in the worst possible way with a shock 4-3 home defeat at the hands of Washington in a match that marked the first team debut of Academy goalkeeper Dean Hudson.

Town looked to be heading for another defeat at Thornaby the following week as they trailed 2-0 inside 25 minutes, but a Gredziak hat-trick and Emson's 18th goal of the season helped seal a thrilling 5-3 victory. North Ormesby were then beaten 4-2 in North Riding Senior Cup - Gredziak on target again - before leaders Ryhope visited the RGPS.

In another thrilling encounter, the top two sides in the league shared four goals in a match that was a great advert for Division Two. The month ended with a 4-1 victory at West Allotment Celtic thanks to two goals apiece from the deadly duo of Chillingsworth and Emson.

Another new face arrived in December in the shape of left-sided defender Jonathan Burton, the son of former Town boss Paul, but the month also saw another departure - goalkeeping coach Dave Skelton. However, bad weather meant Town only played three times. They kicked off with double-header against Tow Law Town but it only brought a return of two points as both encounters ended in 2-2 draws.

Gredziak was sent off in the first meeting at the RGPS where a late Chillingsworth equaliser rescued a point, while it was Tow Law who scored late in the return match three days later.

Boxing Day saw more points dropped as Martin Butterworth returned to haunt his former club, scoring for Darlington RA in a 1-1 draw, while the year ended with a disappointing 2-0 defeat at new league leaders Crook Town, where York trainee Chris Dickinson made his debut.

Overall it has been a satisfactory first half to the season. When you think where the club were a year ago, the progress made in 2012 has been significant. On the pitch the new signings have all settled in quickly and have made positive contributions, keeping the club in the heart of the promotion race going into 2013.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes innovations like the live Twitter feed in the clubhouse on match days and the match programme available to download online have increased the profile of the club even further.

So that is the season so's to a successful 2013.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Away Days - Tow Law Town 18/12/2012

A MIDWEEK trip in the middle of December to Tow Law is not the sort of thing to get excited about, but as I hadn't been able to watch the lads for the best part of a month I made the drive up the frozen, misty wastelands of the A68.

As I was off work for Christmas the plan was to get up there early and be prepared, but me being me I got side-tracked and did not end up leaving Darlington until just before 7pm.

Then I could not find the ground. For some reason my sat-nav sent me right past it and out of Tow Law altogether, but luckily I had spotted a small sign on the road side and I finally pulled up outside the ground at 7.34pm, just four minutes after kick off.

Luckily there was not much of a crowd waiting to get in. In fact there was barely a soul in the ground at all. As the cold wind blew in from the east I have to say I was not surprised. Conspicuous by their absence was the usual loud away following too, which led to a rather flat, gloomy atmosphere. Just like the weather.

The next thing I noticed was the slope on the pitch. The touchline on the far side was at least two foot higher than the one or the other side. Apparently it used to be worse too. Can't imagine how they ever managed to play football on it back then...

Anyway, we were attacking the far end in the first half, or the end furthest away from the clubhouse. The game was scrappy and neither side created very much. Town began to get on top as we approached half time and perhaps should have gone in at the break with a lead to defend. But it was goalless and cold, very cold, as the referee blew his whistle.

Half time was spent in the clubhouse trying to get warm. Not an easy task in just 15 minutes I can tell you. Then, just the feeling had begun to return to my fingers and toes, the players were back out and I was having to brave the elements again.

Thankfully the second half was far more exciting. The introduction of man-flu victim Emmo on the hour made a massive difference and we scored soon after with a lovely finish from Pete Bulmer -  his first goal since returning the club last month.

But almost immediately we gifted them an equaliser thanks to an error from Craggsy. Having drawn with the same opponents on Saturday, we really needed to win this time and that was not the way to go about it.

But redemption looked to have arrived when Emmo showed his class with a marvellous goal eight minutes later. He twisted and turned their full back about four times, leaving him on his backside on the sodden turf, before planting the ball beyond the goalkeeper to make it 2-1. I would have cheered if only I wasn't literally frozen to the spot.

That looked to be enough to win it but with just eight minutes left we switched off from a free kick and they equalised for a second time. Funny how you always that little bit colder when the opposition score.

But we should still have won it. Straight from the restart Chilli burst through and you would have put your house on him scoring, but their keeper - only small in stature big on ability - somehow managed to block it with his legs and we had to settle for a point.

By now I was so cold I just wanted to get the hell out of there. I grabbed a quick word with Mark Fanning and to say he was not happy would be an understatement. He was spot on though. We should have won and had thrown away two precious points. Not good enough.

He said the other top sides would have seen the game out, and the fact that Crook came here over Christmas and won 3-2 backs him up.

The drive home gave me time to reflect on the evening's events. It was cold, that is a given. Their pitch is awful. Likewise. The game, on the whole, was scrappy, although the second half had it's moments. The people of Tow Law were very welcoming. And did I mention it was cold. Oh and we should have won.

As away games go this will not live long in the memory, even if Emmo's goal may do. But despite everything it still beats a night in by the television watching Eastenders or some Christmas special. Now lets just hope my sat-nav can find Birtley on Saturday.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Home woes continue as Butterworth returns to haunt Town


FORMER TOWN captain Martin Butterworth returned to the RGPS with a Boxing Day goal to deny Town another two promotion points.

With three draws from their previous four matches, and without a home win in the league since late October, Town were in desperate need of a win against an RA side who have dropped out of the promotion race in recent weeks. But it was a ghost of Christmas past who came back to haunt Mark Fanning's side.

Butterworth was on hand to head the RA into an early lead, after a shot from another ex-Town player Steve Allison had come back off the crossbar, and he looked like a man with a point to prove throughout.

Ex-Town captain Martin Butterworth (blue shirt, left) in the thick of the action
But his new club were denied a first ever win at the RGPS thanks to a second half equaliser from leading scorer Adam Emson as Town finally awoke from their post-Christmas slumber.

Fanning's starting XI showed two changes from the draw at Tow Law ten days earlier. Emson was back up front in place of Ian Smurthwaite, while recent signing Jon Burton was given his first start for the club at left back in place of Stephen Banks.

Jonathan Burton impressed on his full Town debut

On a pitch that did not lend itself to good football, it was the visitors who were given the perfect start. Less then five minutes were on the clock when Allison saw his effort deflected onto the crossbar by Steve Craggs and Butterworth stooped to nod home from close range.

Town looked way off the pace in the opening period and the RA should have doubled their lead midway through the half. Allison again created the opportunity with a great run down the right but Louis Whensley fired over the top from 18 yards.

Steve Butterworth (centre) takes on the RA midfield before injury forced his early departure

Town's problems increased when Steve Butterworth was forced off with an ankle ligament damage ten minutes before the break, after landing awkwardly in the centre circle, so Smurthwaite was brought into the fray.

But it took almost 44 minutes for Town to finally create a chance of note. Emson whipped in a dangerous cross from the left but Gav Parkin failed to trouble RA goalkeeper Matt Calvert with a header from 6 yards.

Town scorer Adam Emson (right) takes on Andy Ramsbottom

Indeed it was only a fine double save from Craggs that prevented Fanning's side going in at the interval with a two goal deficit to pull back. He was out quickly to deny ex-Town forward Aaron Ramsbottom before keeping out Allison's follow up.

Town needed a big improvement in the second half if they was to rescue something from the match, and they came out for the restart looking far more determined.

Carl Chillingsworth (centre) looks for a breakthrough
Grant Hickman, who was having another solid game at the back, almost headed Town level from a Pete Bulmer free kick within four minutes of the restart, but it was the introduction of Wayne Gredziak on the hour that finally made the difference.

The former Durham City man saw a header tipped over the top by Calvert within seconds of coming on before Town finally drew level in the 66th minute.

Gav Parkin (left) denied by RA 'keeper Matt Calvert
Parkin released Emson down the left and he showed great strength to hold off the challenge from Andy Ramsbottom before producing a composed finish past Calvert from 12 yards.

The game really began to open up after that and both sides had chances to win it. Whensley shot straight at Craggs from 10 yards while RA substitute Jordan Hanratty then saw an effort deflected narrowly wide.

Meanwhile at the other end, Emson brought the best out of Calvert after Gredziak sent him clear down the left, before James Bowman, who had replaced the injured Parkin, saw an effort from 20 yards deflected narrowly wide by the RA 'keeper, while Chillingsworth fired wildly over in stoppage time.

"The first half was poor," said Town assistant manager Martin Collins. "The pitch did not help but we improved in the second half and at least we managed to get something from the match.

"Wayne (Gredziak) made a big difference when he came on and gave us some impetus, but overall we are disappointed."

Town now face a promotion six-pointer at in-form Crook on Saturday with four key players likely to be missing. Emson and Marcus Laing are both away while there are now injury doubts over Butterworth and Parkin.

Following a run of three consecutive draws, it is now a match Town cannot afford to lose.

TOWN - Craggs, Alderson, Burton, Hickman, Shoulder, Parkin, Butterworth(S), Laing, Emson, Chillingsworth, Bulmer. Subs - Dunn, Roberts, Bowman, Smurthwaite, Gredziak.

DARLINGTON RA - Calvert, Ramsbottom, Hewitt, Elgie, Howlett, Muir, Butterworth(M), Whensley, Allison, Ramsbottom, Farrington. Subs - Hamilton, Hanratty, Cheeseman, Webster.

REFEREE: G. McMullen.


*pictures copyright of Paul Gaythorpe at pik4images. No unauthorised use is allowed

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Fanning furious as Town throw away another two points


MANAGER Mark Fanning was furious as his side threw away two precious promotion points at Tow Law on Tuesday night.

Having been held by the same opponents three days earlier, this had become a must-win game for Fanning's side as they looked to keep themselves in the promotion frame. But despite leading twice in the second half with great goals from Pete Bulmer and Adam Emson, defensive fragility again proved costly.

"Once again we have thrown away points from a winning position," said a disappointed Fanning at the end.

"Teams do not have to work hard enough to score against us and that has got to change. The other top sides would have won this game 2-0 and we need to address that.

"We had enough chances to have won, and to have got ourselves in front twice and not win is very disappointing. We have a weak under-belly and I am not going to accept that.

"We need the players to roll their sleeves up and see these games through."

Due to injuries and work commitments, Fanning's starting XI showed two changes from Saturday's 2-2 draw. Pete Bulmer came in for flu-victim Adam Emson, who dropped down to the bench, while Marcus Laing replaced the unavailable Wayne Gredziak.

After a scrappy opening quarter of an hour, Town began to settle and the first half became a succession of missed opportunities. Steve Butterworth flashed a shot narrowly wide from a good position out on the right, while Laing fired into the side netting after a lovely through ball from Gav Parkin.

The best chance of all however fell to Carl Chillingsworth just past the half-hour, but his low shot rolled just the wrong side of the far post with goalkeeper Stephen Robinson beaten.

Butterworth then headed a cross from Bulmer narrowly wide before Bulmer himself was denied by Robinson as it remained goalless at the break.

Tow Law began the second period on the front foot but just prior to the hour-mark Fanning threw on Emson for Ian Smurthwaite and changed the shape of his team. It paid immediate dividends when Butterworth, now given more freedom in the centre of the park, released Bulmer down the right and he kept his cool to slot past Robinson.

But the lead lasted less than 60 seconds. Danny Shoulder had the opportunity to clear the ball but instead elected to pass it back to Stephen Craggs. However, the Town goalkeeper completely missed his kick and Matthew Scott was able to walk the ball into the empty net.

Town were shell-shocked but they recovered their composure to regain the lead in the 67th minute. Butterworth was again the creator with a lovely ball through to Emson out on the left and he tied full back Lewis Harrison in knots before drilling a left-footed shot under Robinson from 12 yards.

Although far from their free-flowing best, Town would have taken the points now especially as Craggs had to react quickly to deny Scott a second equaliser fifteen minuets from time.

But with just eight minutes left the hosts did get back on terms and again it was thanks to some woeful defending. A free kick from Michael Hall caught the Town back line napping and Scott nipped in unmarked to turn the ball home from 8 yards.

That was not quiet the end of the drama as Chillingsworth almost snatched victory moments later. Bulmer sent the veteran striker clear in the inside right channel but Robinson somehow kept out his low shot with his legs.

Then, in stoppage time, Emson tricked his way past Harrison again but his shot was scrambled to safety and it finished 2-2.

TOW LAW TOWN - Robinson, Harrison(L), Hall, Brassell, Thompson, Ryder, McVicker, Turnbull, Scott, Lee, Parkinson. Subs - Wilson, Killeen, Harrison(J), Alderson.

TOWN - Craggs, Alderson, Banks, Shoulder, Hickman, Parkin, Butterworth, Laing, Smurthwaite, Chillingsworth, Bulmer. Subs - Dunn, Burton, Emson.

REFEREE: M. Thurston.


Ten-man Town battle to a point but drop out of the promotion places


TOWN returned to action after a three week break for bad weather with the first of two meetings with Tow Law Town in the space of three days.

Despite playing much of the contest with ten men, following the second half dismissal of Wayne Gredziak, goals from Carl Chillingsworth and a penalty from captain Danny Shoulder saw Mark Fanning's side earn a point.

The Town starting XI showed two changes to the win over West Allotment Celtic some three weeks earlier. Steve Banks and Ian Smurthwaite replacing Craig Winter and Marcus Laing, who both dropped down to the bench. New signing Jon Burton, who joined the club from Marske United last month, was also named in the squad for the first time.

Despite a good start from Town, it was the visitors who grabbed an early lead when Anthony Lee turned home a low right wing cross by Lewis Harrison after 14 minutes.

However, Town were soon back on top and missed several good opportunities to draw level. Stephen Butterworth fired straight at goalkeeper Stephen Robinson after the ball seemed to get stuck between his feet, while Gredziak saw an effort cleared off the line by Scott Thompson.

But their pressure was rewarded ten minutes before the break. Gav Parkin released Chillingsworth with a lovely through ball and he showed great composure to slot the ball past Robinson from 12 yards.

Town lost leading scorer Adam Emson during the break due to illness so Pete Bulmer was thrown into the fray for the second half. But it was the Lawyers who went in front again soon after the restart when referee Craig Keighley awarded a penalty after Grant Hickman brought down Daniel Wilson just inside the area and Scott Brassell duly beat Steve Craggs from the spot.

Town's cause was not helped by the dismissal of Gredziak soon after as his frustration got the better of him. The Town striker believed his shot had crossed the line being cleared away and his tirade directed at the linesman earned him a red card. But the ten men battled hard to get something from the match.

It was not looking like being Town's day when Chillingsworth saw an effort come back off the post with twenty minutes left, but the equaliser finally arrived soon after. Chillingsworth was brought down in the area by Shaun Ryder and Shoulder smashed home from the spot..

Fanning was unsure if it was two points lost or one gained. "Playing with ten men for so long on a heavy pitch was not easy so I suppose it is a point gained," he said.

"However, we could easily have picked up all three had we taken our chances in the first half."

With the recent batch of postponements, Town are now out of the top two for the first time since September, although they do have games in hand on the sides above them, starting with Tuesday night's return meeting at Tow Law.

TOWN - Craggs, Alderson, Banks, Shoulder, Hickman, Parkin, Butterworth, Smurthwaite, Gredziak, Chillingsworth, Emson. Subs - Dunn, Burton, Winter, Laing, Bulmer.

REFEREE: C. Keighley