Saturday, 3 August 2013

Late goals see Town slump at Billingham

By Ricky Butler at Bedford Terrace

THREE goals in the final five minutes saw Northallerton slip to a disappointing pre-season defeat at Billingham Town just a week before the league campaign gets under way.

Already leading via a first half strike from Ricky Phillips, Billingham sealed victory with a further effort from Phillips and a brace from ex-Northallerton forward Craig Skelton in the closing stages to give a largely even game a rather mis-leading score-line.

"We gave away a couple of soft goals," said Town coach Martin Mulcaster at the whistle. "We played some nice football at times and had we lost 1-0 everyone would have been reasonably satisfied. But we committed suicide at the back in the closing moments and it looks like a bad defeat when that is not the case at all."

Town arrived at Bedford Terrace with several key players missing. Monday night hero Jason Brazausakas was away, while Col Anderson, Dale Elgie and goalkeeper Dean Hudson were also unavailable.

It was not just players who were missing either, as manager Peter Mulcaster began a pre-arranged holiday so assistant Steve Cooke and Martin Mulcaster took charge of team affairs.

The drama began in the warm up as goalkeeper Justin Hutchinson, who was brought in to replace Hudson, broke his wrist and had to be taken to hospital, so Paul Hubbard donned the gloves to make an unexpected Town debut.

Elsewhere the visitors welcomed back new club captain Gav Parkin in midfield, while Jamie Clarke returned to partner Graham Caygill up front. Lee Newby, who had missed the previous three matches, started at left back, while Academy graduate Craig Toman was in an unfamiliar wide midfield role.

There was also a pantomime villain in the Billingham side as Karl Charlton, who had signed for Town in July only to change his mind and move to Billingham a couple of weeks later, started on the left side of the hosts' attack.

In blustery conditions, Town started well and Caygill was inches away from turning home a cross from Clarke after just 8 minutes, while Danny McLachlan then saw an effort deflected narrowly wide.

At the other end, Town goalkeeper Hubbard, who only took up goalkeeping a few months ago, showed his potential to deny both Phillips and Jed Livingstone from distance.

But the best of the early openings fell to Clarke just past the half-hour mark. Parkin whipped in an inviting ball from the left which appeared to have put the much-travelled striker clean through on goal. However, his first touch was unusually heavy and the opportunity was gone.

So instead it was the hosts who grabbed the lead five minutes before the break. Ex-Town midfielder Jon Burton played Phillips through in the inside right channel and he held off the challenge of Andrew Porritt before coolly slotting past Hubbard from 18 yards.

Town responded instantly and were a whisker away from an equaliser when Parkin curled an effort from the right just wide of the far post as it remained 1-0 at the interval.

Town made a change at the start of the second period with Christian Holliday replacing Toman down the left and it almost brought them parity within six minutes of the restart. The substitute, known as Bisto, cut inside full back Alan Cosavella before unleashing a fierce right-footed drive which home goalkeeper Graham Willie somehow managed to tip onto the underside of the crossbar.

The rebound fell to Clarke six yards out and he looked odds-on to prod home the equaliser but a combination of Willie and his defence were able to scramble the ball away for a corner.

Town continued to work hard and pass the ball well but lacked a real cutting edge. Clarke always looked the most likely as he twice fired just wide of the right-hand upright but it was not to be his or Town's day.

With a little over five minutes remaining, the visitors fell to a sucker punch again administered by Phillips in what was virtually carbon copy of his opening goal. Then, straight from the restart, Charlton was adjudged to have been brought down in the area by Hubbard and Skelton scored from the spot.

If 3-0 flattered the hosts then 4-0 was a travesty but that was how it finished when Skelton curled home the goal of the game two minutes from time.

"Yes the score was harsh," said Cooke. "It was never a 4-0 but there were plenty of positives for us. We passed the ball well at times and have once again matched a side from the division above us."

Town's pre-season preparations conclude on Tuesday evening with a visit to FA Vase winners Spennymoor where it is rumoured the referee will be a certain Mr Mark Clattenburg.

BILLINGHAM TOWN - Willie, Cosavella, Moores, Burton, Wray, Taylor, Green, Phillips, Livingstone, Ormoroyd, Charlton. Subs - Bradley, Gamble, Skelton, MacLeod.

NORTHALLERTON TOWN - Hubbard, Porritt, Newby, Johnson, Hickman, Parkin, McLachlan, Kokes, Clarke, Toman, Caygill. Subs - Holliday, Colman.

REFEREE: Rebecca Walsh.

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