Ponteland United 2 Wallington 3 Northern Alliance, Division One
WITH current league leaders Wallington having lost once in the league this season and on a run of nine victories and Ponteland undefeated in their last 10 games, a close game was expected with both teams in good form.
United had, however, beaten Wallington back in September in the first round of the Combination Cup and no doubt Wallington would be up for revenge.
United made two changes from the side which beat Wallsend Town, bringing in Paul Jones and Billy Holden for Martin Lamb and Dan Wright.
The home side couldn’t have wished for a better start when with only five minutes on the clock, Marc Findlay’s first-time pass evaded the Wallington defence, leaving Billy Holden free on goal to slip the ball past keeper Matthew Lees.
This unsettled the visitors but they were gifted an equaliser five minutes later when Paul Jones played a ball across his own penalty area but straight to John Paxton in front of goal and the striker gave Taylor no chance.
Eight minutes later, the same player got free of Armstrong down the right and sped for goal before poking the ball past Taylor.
It was now Ponteland’s turn to be shocked as they struggled with the pace of Paxton, Nellis and the trickery of Walton.
On the half-hour mark, Wallington had a free-kick from just outside the box but Walton’s effort was easily collected by Taylor.
With the surface cutting up, it became more difficult to play the ball quickly but Wallington were showing why they were at the top of the league with fast and direct play down the flanks.
Apart from Steve Rae, quite a few of the Ponteland players were having an off-day, which was surprising after their recent string of results.
Wallington were picking up most of the loose balls and quickly turning defence into attack.
However, on 35 minutes, United grabbed an equaliser.
A corner by Hodgson was floated high over and beyond the far-post, where Paul Jones made amends for his earlier mistake by heading the ball back to fellow defender Peter Scott, who fired past a crowd of players for his first goal for the club.
The first half ended with the game all-square but further goals looked inevitable.
In the second half, the game became a little tense and one or two frustrations started to creep into the play as both sides were determined to maintain their current good runs.
United were nearly made to pay a second time when a weak clearance by Jones fell on this occasion to Christopher Moffat but his strong drive went wide of the upright.
There weren’t too many clear-cut chances in the second half despite both sets of forwards having capable finishers.
With half-an-hour to go, Davidson was brought on for the injured L’Argent and, not for the first time this season, he pushed Pont forward.
However, this also stretched the game and, with both Hodgson and Findlay tiring, this opened the game up for the counter-attack.
Anderson tried his luck on 65 minutes with a long-range shot, which was heading for the top corner but keeper Lees managed to tip it over the bar.
Then on 70 minutes, Wallington got their noses in front when a low shot from 25 yards by Sam Walton just bobbled over the outstretched hand of the diving Taylor.
Cook was brought on to replace Rankin and this allowed Anderson more freedom to get more involved with the play.
On 83 minutes, he went down the wing and cut inside but his shot went wide of the far-post.
In the end, Wallington deserved their victory and avenged their defeat earlier in the season.
While Ponteland battled hard, too many players had an off-day with the engine room of midfield, Rae apart, very quiet. This meant the final balls to Anderson and Holden were in short supply.
It’s now one game each, with the sides due to play each other again in a fortnight’s time at Wallington in the semi-final of the George Dobbins League Cup, which should be an enthralling encounter.