Sunday, 15 December 2013

Alnwick defeat overshadowed by horror injury to new goalkeeper

By Ricky Butler at the Calvert Stadium

Watch highlights of this match here

THERE was very little Christmas cheer for Northallerton on Saturday as Alnwick Town and their noisy band of supports left the Calvert Stadium with an unexpected three points.

The match however, was overshadowed by a nasty head injury to new Northallerton goalkeeper James Howarth just before half time that ended with the 21-year old being taken to hospital with concussion.

Town had only just gone ahead with a penalty from Danny Shoulder when Howarth took a kick to the face when diving at the feet of Tony Brown. Although he continued until just before half time, the new signing from Bishop Auckland then collapsed to the ground immediately after Dale Kennedy had headed Alnwick level and the game was held up for over 20 minutes as Howarth was treated by paramedics on the pitch.

And that proved to be the turning point of the match. With no substitute goalkeeper available, Steve Banks was forced to don the gloves for the second half and Brown, James Jackson and Kennedy all beat him to give the Northumbrians the points.

But Town manager Peter Mulcaster was not looking to use that an excuse for what was a below-par performance from his side. He said: "We had players who weren't up for it. We had players who did not seem bothered.

"The second half performance and the result is the worst since I have been here. It was diabolical. James [Howarth] made his debut and took a nasty kick before half time but I am not making excuses. When you put an outfield player in goal it doesn't help but in the second half they were better than us."

Mulcaster made three changes to the side that had beaten Norton & Stockton Ancients a fortnight earlier - Howarth, Banks and Dale Elgie replacing Jordan Aspinall, Grant Hickman and Mikey Stevens.

The hosts actually started quite well and while being far from being at their free-flowing best, they were the dominant force for much of the opening half-an-hour.

Graham Caygill, with goals in each of his last two appearances, fired over the top before Gav Parkin struck a post. But Town did go in front eight minutes before the break. Darren Kokes managed to squeeze through to Col Anderson inside the penalty area and he was brought down by Alnwick goalkeeper Dan Mullen.

Referee Kevin McKitterick pointed to the spot but produced only a yellow card for the stopper when it could so easily have been red, although Shoulder extracted the ultimate punishment by coolly stroking home from 12 yards.

At this point, Town looked comfortable but the injury to Howarth changed everything. The former Bishop goalkeeper had looked assured on his debut but he felt the full force of Brown's boot in the 41st minute as he bravely dived at the Alnwick man's feet and was left in a daze.

He battled on until just before half time but after Kennedy headed home at the far post in the final seconds of the half after a Jackson cross from the right, the Town goalkeeper collapsed to the ground. McKitterick immediately blew for half time and after a lengthy delay while the ambulance arrived, Howarth was finally taken to hospital with concussion.

Banks came out for the second half wearing the goalkeeper gloves - Hickman replacing him at right back - but his first job was the pick the ball out his own net. Some static Town defending allowed Brown the opportunity to slot past the replacement 'keeper within two minutes of the restart.

And it was game over for Mulcaster's side three minutes later. A corner from the right was flicked on at the near post leaving Jackson with a simple close-range header.

Town never looked like staging a comeback after that and it was the Northumbrians that added a fourth goal, 20 minutes from time - Kennedy chipping the ball over the stranded Banks after more good work from the impressive Brown.

"We had too many big players off form today," said Mulcaster at the whistle. "Dale, Gavin and Colin are three of the best midfield players in the second division but they had an off day.

"That is now six points we have lost to Alnwick. I am not being disrespectful and it's not sour grapes either, but they are not a very good side. However, they were the better side today."

Town now face a two week break before their next game against league leaders North Shields on 28 December. Looking ahead to that game, Mulcaster said: "We have had a habit this season of playing our worst games against lower teams and our better games have been against the better teams so you never know.

"North Shields are a very good footballing side and they will win the league I think so we'll just draw a line under today and see what Santa brings."

Hopefully a better performance than this will be in his sack.

1. Howarth - Looked assured on his debut until his unfortunate injury. 8/10

2. Banks - Not his best game at right back and was always going to find it tough in goal in the second half. 6/10

3. Hemingway - Probably the only outfield player to come out with any credit. Won every tackle and deserved better from those around him. Man of the match. 8/10

4. Shoulder - Converted the penalty with customary coolness but looked surprisingly shaky at the back. 6/10

5. Howlett - His unsure performance was typical of the team as a whole. 6/10

6. Parkin - Mr Consistency slipped way below his usual high standards. A late free kick that landed in the car park summed up his day. 6/10

7. Anderson - Although far from his best, Col still looked the only one likely to get Town back into it. 7/10

8. Elgie - Like midfield partner Parkin, Dale was off the pace. Did not shirk a tackle and worked hard but was far from his best. 6/10

9. Kokes - Probably his worst game in a Town shirt. Just nothing came off for him. One to forget. 6/10

10. Caygill - Came into the match in a rich vein of form but was struck by the same lethargy as most of his team-mates. 6/10

11. McLachlan - One of the better performers on the day, although that is not saying a lot. 7/10

12. Hickman - Was unable to have any influence after coming on at half time having missed the start due to working late. Perhaps wishes he had gone straight home now. 6/10

14. Stevens - Not an easy game to come on in and did not really have the opportunity to shine. 6/10

UNUSED: Porritt, Dacombe, Toman

ALNWICK TOWN - Mullen, Murray, Hogg(K), Lowes, MacPherson, Elliott, Jackson, Brown, Vickers, Makin. SUBS - Schiwaith, Hogg(S), Kidd, Atwell, Lowe.

REFEREE - K. McKitterick


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