Monday, 31 December 2012

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.

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