Thursday, 24 October 2013

Town high on Kokes

By Ricky Butler at the Calvert Stadium

A DARREN Kokes-inspired Northallerton Town went to the top of the league with this victory over ten-man Whitehaven at the Calvert Stadium last night but this was hardly a performance worthy of potential champions.

Kokes was in superb form throughout and struck twice in the first half, bringing his tally to 5 in the last 4 matches, while Dale Elgie and Danny MacLachlan were also on target before the break, although it was a far from convincing performance from Peter Mulcaster's side.

But just as they had done on Saturday, Town managed to do enough to get the result they required to take over at the top despite rarely getting out of second gear.

Whitehaven, who had won 4-2 here in the FA Cup back in August, arrived with a depleted squad and were reduced to ten men before the break following the dismissal of James Parker, but Mulcaster's men were not really able to press home that advantage and in the end they were relived to hear the final whistle.

"It wasn't a very good performance, I've got to be honest," said the Town boss. "You have to give Whitehaven credit. They came with just 11 men and when we went 2-0 up after 15 minutes I thought we'd go on and get a boat load, but we took our foot off the peddle.

"They got better after they had the man sent off and we got sadly worse. In the second half I thought we were poor and they wanted it more than us. We have come out winning the game but it feels like we've been beaten because it was such a bad performance."

Mulcaster made two changes to his starting XI in a bid to freshen up the side in search of the win they needed to take over at the top. James Howlett came in for his debut at the back in place of Danny Shoulder while Christian Holliday replaced Mikey Stevens down the left.

The big news, however, saw the inclusion in the squad for the first time of new signing Freddie Huscroft following his move from Darlington RA this week, and he was joined on the bench by Shoulder, Stevens, Graham Caygill and Mike Colman.

Town started well and Kokes had the ball in the net inside 3 minutes, heading home a cross from Holliday at the far post, but the assistants flag had already been raised for offside.

However, that only delayed the inevitable. Just ten minutes later Kokes created the opener with a lovely ball in from the left and Elgie, who had made a great third man run into the penalty area, arrived at pace to stab the ball past goalkeeper Stuart Pettit from 10 yards -  his first Town goal.

When Kokes then turned home a right wing corner from Gav Parkin just 2 minutes later it looked like Whitehaven could be on the end of a similar result to the 10-0 hammering they had suffered at North Shields earlier in the season.

But Town failed to capitalise and it was visitors who got back into the match midway through the first half. Craig Robson sent Lee Woolf clear down the left and his low cross somehow ended up in the net at the near post.

At first it appeared to have come off either Howlett or goalkeeper Alex Kell but Whitehaven skipper Malcolm Holliday. the only Whitehaven player in the vicinity, was happy to accept the congratulations of his team-mates and it was 2-1.

The Cumbrians then enjoyed a good spell of pressure which saw them win a series of corners but Town weathered the storm and broke out to add a third, ten minutes before the break. The goal was almost a carbon copy of the second as once again a corner from the right by Parkin found Kokes at the far post and he had the simple task of firing past Pettit from close range.

Town looked home and hosed moments later when Parker was shown a straight red card after an altercation with McLachlan in the centre circle and Mulcaster's side added a fourth just before the break.

Stevens, who had only just replaced the injured Colin Anderson down the right, received the ball from Kokes and his first time cross found McLachlan in the area who did not panic before coolly slotting past Pettit - the third match in a row in which he had found the target.

But rather than go on and kill the game off, Town were very flat in the second period and rarely threatened to add to their tally. Kokes did came close to completing his hat-trick on two occasions but in truth it was visitors that created the better chances.

Indeed they pulled a goal back midway through the half when Robson sent Nathan Dryden clear down the right and he beat Kell with a neat, first-time finish from 15 yards.

The whole complexion of the match might have changed moments later had a thunderous effort from Jonathan Roseby been a fraction lower, but as it was it came back off the crossbar and with it went the Cumbrians hopes of a shock late comeback.

Town could have scored one or two more in the closing stages - Caygill only being denied by a great last-ditch tackle from the impressive Fraser Kennedy and Kokes firing wide - but the chants at the end of 'we are top of the league' from the Town faithful behind the goal were slightly muted.

"Sometimes it works out like that against ten men," said Mulcaster. "But we won and that is the most important thing."

"People have been singing and shouting that we are top of the league but we have played six or seven games more than the others. Let's not get carried away. We'll enjoy being top tonight and then get back to reality on Saturday."

That reality for Town means a trip to North Yorkshire rivals Stokesley SC before a potential promotion six-pointer at West Alltoment Celtic next Wednesday. You have to feel, however, that they will require a better performance than this if they are to remain top.

TOWN - Kell, Banks, Porritt, Hickman, Howlett, Parkin, Anderson, Elgie, McLachlan, Kokes, Holliday. Subs - Caygill, Huscroft, Stevens, Shoulder, Colman.

WHITEHAVEN - Pettit, Hunter, Johnson, Kennedy, Tubman, Parker, Dryden, Holliday, Woolf, Roseby, Robson.

REFEREE - C. Keightly


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