Tulip tops thrilling climax

Alan Shearer with Ponteland United Captain Glenn Ford and the Northern Alliance Premier Division trophy.
Alan Shearer with Ponteland United Captain Glenn Ford and the Northern Alliance Premier Division trophy.
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Ponteland United 3 Blyth Town 2 Northern Football Alliance, Premier Division

PONTELAND United went into their final fixture of the season against in-form Blyth Town knowing they had to win but were still dependent upon Heaton Stannington taking something from their match at league leaders Alnwick Town.

Ponteland’s hopes were silenced after only two minutes when Glenn Ford was dispossessed on the by-line and when the ball was played back to David Atkinson, he rifled the ball into the bottom corner to give keeper Powell no chance.

This was no end-of-season game for Blyth and, with the trickery and speed of dangerous winger Kyle Devlin on the left, they were intent on spoiling the party.

Thomas Haigh took a free-kick for Blyth in a dangerous position after Anzevui’s foul and, although he got the ball up and over the wall from 23 yards, keeper Powell gathered safely.

Blyth were keeping a high line and looked vulnerable to the ball over the top, providing Tulip and Kent could time their runs to avoid being offside.

On 15 minutes, Salter came out of defence down the right and played through Richard Kent but his well-struck left-foot shot just went wide of the post. Pont were now starting to get back into the match but they had a further set-back after 20 minutes when centre-forward Gary Day evaded a lunge from Paul Hodgson and turned neatly at the edge of the area to fire low and true past the despairing dive of Powell.

Quietness descended on the ground as both the home players and their spectators sensed any outside chance they had of the league title at the outset was slipping away.

Some hope was restored two minutes later when a fine cross from Tulip on the right was headed goal-bound by Fenwick.

The acrobatic Scott Earle somehow managed to palm the ball away but it fell to Davidson, who smashed it into the roof of the net.

Pont then had their best spell of the game. A terrific cross from Davidson found Fenwick in front of goal but he mistimed his header and the chance went begging.

Shortly afterwards, Pont did beat the off-side trap with Tulip clean through with only the keeper to beat but Earle won the contest.

With news filtering through from Alnwick that the league leaders were losing 1-0, it was still all to play for.

Pont got off to a terrific start to the second half. Richard Kent went on one of his long runs and just kept going until he got into the penalty area where he was brought down.Davidson stepped up to make no mistake from the spot.

Blyth then suffered a nasty injury when Chris Lisle crashed into the perimeter barrier under challenge from Hodgson and had to go to hospital with a suspected dislocated shoulder.

Blyth mounted some pressure but the Ponteland defence stood firm. News came through that Alnwick were two goals down and Ponteland sensed an opportunity but they still needed a goal and Blyth always looked dangerous going forward.

As the minutes ticked away, Ponteland pushed more bodies forward but this exposed the defence and left them vulnerable to the counter.

Powell saved well from Gary Day and then brilliantly tipped Donnison’s drive onto the bar before it was cleared for safety.

At the other end, Pont substitute Wood had a strong appeal for a penalty waved away and then, with three minutes remaining, Fenwick did well down the right before crossing to the near-post where Tulip clipped the ball into the net. Pandemonium broke out as his delighted colleagues jumped on top of him in one huge heap.

Had a miracle occurred? Alnwick had lost 2-1 to Heaton but Pont now had to hold on. Phillips cleared a Blyth free-kick for a corner and up came keeper Scott Earle to increase the numbers with all players in the Pont penalty area. From the corner, the ball was headed back to the long-serving Mark Waugh, who volleyed wide of the goal.

The whistle blew and for the first time since joining the Northern Alliance in 1983, United were Premier Division Champions.

Blyth Town nearly spoiled the party and did their part in pushing United to the very end and sportingly congratulated their opponents.

Ponteland’s chairman/secretary Alan Birkinshaw also received a message of congratulations from Tom McKie, Alnwick Town’s chairman.

Although Alnwick will be disappointed naturally after leading the league for many weeks they still have promotion to the Northern League to celebrate.

With Ponteland’s ground not meeting the necessary ground grading criteria they will remain in the Alliance.

Northern Alliance League chairman Peter Riley and secretary Derek Booth had been on tenterhooks all afternoon not knowing whether the presentation would be at Alnwick or Ponteland.

As it happened they were able to present the magnificent Premier Division Championship Trophy to United’s captain Glenn Ford immediately after the game to the delight of the crowd to end a memorable day.