Thursday, 31 October 2013

Town pay the penalty for missed chances

By Ricky Butler at Whitley Park

NORTHALLERTON TOWN were on the wrong end of more refereeing controversy at promotion rivals West Allotment Celtic on Wednesday evening as they lost back-to-back league games for the first time this season.

Having been the better side for much of the first half, Peter Mulcaster's troops were rocked by a very harsh penalty awarded against them by local referee Ray Cushing within three minutes of the restart and things quickly went from downhill from there.

In a very tight game between sides who both began the night in the top four, the opening goal was always going to be crucial and to lose it in such a manner left a bitter taste for Town. Celtic forward Liam Hudson appeared to slip as he tried to turn defender James Howlett in the penalty area but Cushing, from down the road in Newcastle, pointed to the spot and Sean Reid made no mistake.

It was harsh on a Northallerton side who had looked every bit promotion contenders for much of the evening. But as they chased the game in the closing stages, the hosts were able to pick them off with further goals from Hudson and substitute Lawrence McKenna to give the final score a rather flattering look.

"I thought the referee was poor tonight," said Mulcaster at the whistle. "We were the better side in the first half, we played as well as we have done since we beat Seaham Red Star a few weeks ago. But they got what we would call a dubious penalty to give them the edge and then we should have had a stonewall penalty which wasn't given. But I was very, very pleased with our performance tonight."

Defender Grant Hickman, who was booked for his protests at the penalty award, went even further. He said: "I thought it was a dreadful decision. It always seems to be the case when you come to places like this. You get a local referee and every little decision goes against you. It's disappointing but it happens."

Mulcaster was forced into several changes to his starting XI following Saturday's disappointing defeat at Stokesley. With Dale Elgie and Danny Shoulder both missing, Andrew Porritt was switched to left back, James Howlett to centre back while Freddie Huscroft came in for his first start for the club alonside Danny McLachlan up front.

Elsewhere Colin Anderson returned from injury on the right side of midfield with Darren Kokes dropping back to partner skipper Gav Parkin in the engine room.

But despite all the changes it was Town that started strongly. They almost grabbed the lead after just 11 minutes when the front two combined well only for Huscroft's shot from the inside left position to roll agonisingly wide of the far post.

Anderson then came even closer ten minutes later. Having rounded Celtic goalkeeper Rob Rogerson, the winger was only able to fire against the foot of the post from a tight angle.

Town were playing some great football at this point and they continued to create the better chances. Kokes and Christian Holliday, impressive once again down the left, both saw efforts deflected narrowly wide with Rogerson beaten, while Huscroft headed over the top following a right-wing corner from Parkin.

It was only as half time approached that the hosts, who began the night with just 2 league defeats all season, finally began to threaten and Town goalkeeper Alex Kell had to be alert to deny Liam Hudson and David Dormand.

But just as they had done in the Ernest Armstrong Cup final in May, Celtic were awarded a very soft penalty early in the second period to edge ahead. Hudson was already on his way down after appearing to lose his footing before Howlett could challenge him but referee Cushing decided it was a penalty and Reid, as he had done in the cup final, fired home from the spot.

Town were thrown out of their stride by that injustice and it was nearly all over three minutes later as Kallum McGlen fired against the post, but slowly Mulcaster's battlers regained their composure and should have been level within ten minutes.

Only a fine save from Rogerson denied McLachlan after Holliday had pulled the back from the left, while moments later Anderson somehow failed to head home another superb delivery from Holliday at the far post - the slightest of touches from Rogerson perhaps putting off the Town man at the crucial moment.

And Town paid the ultimate price for that profligacy as Celtic broke out to double their advantage just three minutes later. There appeared to be a communication breakdown at the back between Kell and Howlett which allowed Hudson the opportunity to lob the ball into the net via the left-hand upright.

But rather than feel sorry for themselves, Town set about trying to right the wrongs. They felt they should have had a penalty of their own in the 71st minute when a shot from Kokes appeared to strike the arm of defender Ian Dunn but Cushing continued his Halloween horror show by waving away their appeals.

However, Town should have been given a lifeline fifteen minutes from time. Another ball in from the left by Holliday fell kindly to McLachlan 12 yards out but with only Rogerson to beat he somehow headed over the top and that was that.

With a little under three minutes left on the clock the hosts grabbed a third to really give the score-line a flattering look. David Henderson did well down the left and substitute McKenna was left with the simple task of beating Kell from 6 yards.

"We have been beaten by a very good side," said Mulcaster. "But they will never have another 3-0 like that again. When you look at what happened in the game I have got to be pleased with my players tonight."

Although still second in the table, Town have now completed almost half their fixtures and you have to feel that they cannot afford too many more results like this in the coming weeks if they are to remain in the promotion race.

WEST ALLOTMENT CELTIC -  Rogerson, Pendlebury, Douglas, Dunn, Stoneman, Little, McGlen, Henderson, Dormand, Reid, Hudson. SUBS - McKenna, Dummitt, Gordon, Lee, Graham.

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

REFEREE - R. Cushing.


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