Sunday, 27 April 2014

Final day disappoinment as Town slip up at Norton

By Ricky Butler at Station Road

Highlights of this match are available here

NORTHALLERTON TOWN ended an up and down season with defeat at ten-man Norton & Stockton on Saturday to finish a disappointing seventh in the table.

Peter Mulcaster's side needed only a point to guarantee a second successive sixth place finish but despite the second half dismissal of Norton defender Michael Joseph, goals from Nicky Martin and Town old boy Marcus Laing saw the hosts finish sixth instead.

Colin Anderson did give the travelling Town fans something to cheer on the final day with his 20th goal of the season two minutes from time, but it came too late to prevent a 14th league defeat of the season.

In the absence of Mulcaster, his son Martin took charge of team affairs and he was pleased with the commitment of the players if not the result. He said: "I thought we battled very well, I thought we competed very well but if we're honest, we didn't we play particularly well.

"It's disappointing. I asked the lads this afternoon to put 110% effort, commitment and work in and I can't criticise them because I think they did that. Everyone in there is disappointed because we'd like to have finished sixth but it's unfortunate that we haven't done that."

Mulcaster's side showed two changes to the team that had drawn with Darlington RA last time out. James Howlett was missing so Craig Perry returned to the back three, while Dale Elgie replaced Michael Gunnell in midfield.

The two sides began the day level on points after 41 games and it was easy to see why. There was nothing to choose between them for most of the first half, although Town probably just shaded what few chances there were.

Elgie headed just wide of goalkeeper David Knight's left-hand post before Andrew Porritt perhaps ought to have done better when Elgie found him in space inside the penalty area.

Norton had their moments too as Town goalkeeper Ryan Hodgson produced a fine save to deny ex-Town striker Gary Mitchell, while Laing headed over the top.

Town had to reorganise midway through the first half when Martin Butterworth hobbled off with a dead leg - Darren Kokes replacing him in midfield - but in what has became a familiar tale in recent matches, Mulcaster's side were unable to find the breakthrough in a goalless first half.

But, just like at Heaton Stannington earlier this month, Town found themselves behind with a minute of the restart. Referee Kevin McKitterick may well have awarded Norton a penalty after a cross from Mitchell appeared to strike Perry on the arm, but the loose ball fell kindly to Martin who fired past Hodgson from 15 yards - his 25th goal of the season.

Mulcaster's men battled hard to find the all-important equaliser and things appeared to be going their way midway through the second half when Joseph pulled back Aaron Ramsbottom right on the edge of the penalty area. McKitterick had little option other than to produce a straight red card for the Norton defender for a professional foul and the hosts had more than 25 minutes to hold out with ten men.

But rather than take advantage of the extra man, Town found themselves 2-0 behind just four minutes later. A perfectly flighted free kick from the right by Michael Jameson found the head of Laing and the former Town midfielder sent the ball past Hodgson from 10 yards.

Town now had a mountain to climb and Mulcaster immediately threw defender Grant Hickman up front in a switch to a more attacking 3-4-3 formation. It almost paid dividends as Knight produced a world class save to deny Anderson before Town did finally get the goal they deserved two minutes from time.

A corner from Gav Parkin was only half cleared and when substitute Mark Hemingway recycled the ball back into the danger zone, Anderson smashed a volley past Knight from 8 yards - his 20th goal of an impressive season.

Suddenly a dramatic comeback looked on the cards as Town threw everything forward looking for the goal that would have sealed sixth place. Even goalkeeper Hodgson came up for a corner in one last desperate attempt to salvage a point but Norton, who had defended solidly throughout the game, held on for the points.

Mulcaster said: "We had the chances at the end but it was one of those where the ball just wouldn't go in. Everyone is disappointed but I can't fault the commitment, the effort that the lads put in today.

"It's games like the Alnwick's and Stokesley's where we have dropped points where we shouldn't have dropped points which is why we're in the position that we're in. But seventh. You've got to be positive and look forward. Hopefully next season we will push on."

So a season that promised much has ended in disappointment. 11 points less than last year have been won, 16 goals less scored. In many ways this game summed up much of the campaign. Plenty of hard work and endeavour but perhaps not enough quality in the final third when it really mattered.

But seventh place is not a disaster by any means and it is certainly something to build on for next season. If this squad can stay together, and with the addition of 2-3 new signings, then perhaps this time next year Town could have something to celebrate.

NORTON & STOCKTON - Knight, Andrews, Bell, Joseph, Mulligan, Laing, Seaton, Jameson, Mitchell, Martin, Charlton. SUBS - Farrington, Campbell, Hawkes.

TOWN - Hodgson - One of the signings of the season. An outstanding young goalkeeper who was once again assured throughout. 8/10

Ramsbottom (An) - Another great late-season signing. Has hardly made a mistake since re-signing in March was again strong and solid at the back. 8/10

Perry - Ended the match with another lump on his head, such is his commitment to the cause. 7/10

Hickman - Is there a better defender in the league? Showed he is not a bad striker either with a late cameo which almost helped bring the equaliser. 8/10

Porritt - Has finished the season in fine form. This was perhaps not his greatest game but he worked hard and was steady throughout. Had one or two chances to break his goal duck for the season. 7/10

Elgie - A great first season with the club. Returned to the side after missing the RA match but was unable to provide the goal-scoring threat that he has done in recent weeks. 7/10

Anderson - Was quiet by his high standards but was still a threat throughout and notched his 20th goal of the season - another superb finish. 7/10

Parkin - Popped up in a few more advanced positions than usual but could not end his five-month wait for a goal. 7/10

Butterworth - Limped off with a dead leg early on. Not the finale to the season he would have been hoping for. 7/10

Ramsbottom (Aa) - Always looked lively up front but was unable to find the goal that would have brought a much-needed point. 7/10

McLachlan - Drifted in and out of the game but produced some quality deliveries from wide areas at times. 7/10

SUBS - Kokes - Replaced Butterworth in the first half but struggled to find his best form. 7/10

Hemingway - Unfortunate to be only playing a bit part in recent weeks as his early performances were outstanding. Replaced Aaron Ramsbottom in the late tactical switch and helped created the goal. 7/10

UNUSED - Colman.

REFEREE - K. McKitterick


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