Squandered chances almost prove costly

Birtley St Joseph’s 1 Ponteland United 2 Northern Alliance, Nike Division One

United returned to league action following three weeks of cup ties and visited Birtley’s temporary ground at Wrekenton.

Acting manager Steve Rae returned to the starting 11 in place of Darwent and promising teenager Spencer kept his place for the injured Chris Hibbitt.

United started quickly and took the game to the hosts with front men Bewley and Cook threatening every time they received the ball.

In the first five minutes, Bewley created a shooting position but his shot lacked power to trouble keeper Phillip Mills.

The keeper shortly afterwards made a weak clearance which Wayne Dunn collected before running past Phil Quigley and firing a low shot which just went past the far upright.

The early pressure was all with Pont who enjoyed a succession of corners as shots were deflected wide of the goal.

Spencer got in a good diving header from Bewley’s corner but that too was wide of the upright.

Little was seen of the Birtley attack, until on 15 minutes, Kevin Wright tried from distance but Pont’s keeper Walker collected comfortably.

Pont had been dominating the half and, on 35 minutes, deservedly went in front. A cross from the left by Dunn found in-form striker Gary Cook in the box and he planted his header firmly into the top corner, giving Mills no chance.

Five minutes later, United doubled their lead with a brilliant individual goal by Bewley. The forward dribbled past several defenders before getting into the penalty area and planting a shot into the bottom left-hand corner of the net.

Half-time came with Pont comfortably in front with no one in the ground expecting what was to follow.

Birtley came out fighting at the start of the second half and their spirits were uplifted after only two minutes when they were awarded a disputed penalty for an alleged hand-ball by Mulroy.

Cuthbertson stepped up to take the spot- kick, but keeper Walker was equal to the task and not only saved the first shot but also managed to get a hand to the rebound before gathering the ball. He threw it quickly down the right for Cook to run at speed down the wing, only to be scythed down in front of the dugouts.

Mahem occurred and when tempers cooled, Birtley’s Boulton was sent off and Quigley cautioned along with Pont’s Clark.

The annoyance, disappointment and frustration fired up the home side who were intent on not lying down, despite being reduced to 10 men.

They were always going to be vulnerable to the break-though, and Cook had a great chance to make it three with half-an-hour remaining. He burst past the last man but his shot was deflected by keeper Mills for a corner.

Birtley threw caution to the wind to get back into the game, but nearly paid the price with 20 minutes to go.

L’Argent broke out of defence before playing the ball out wide to Rae, who cut inside before shooting but Mills’ handling was sound.

In another break, Pont had an even better chance, with both Cook and Bewley racing clear of the Birtley defence. Cook’s pass took his strike partner too wide and the chance went begging.

In another break, Cook found substitute Darwent down the right and he, in turn, played the ball into the path of Bewley, who, with just the keeper to beat, lifted the ball over the keeper, but also agonisingly wide of the upright.

Despite the brave effort by Birtley, Pont should have been out of sight and, with 10 minutes to go, the inevitable happened.

Paul Jones uncharacteristically misjudged a long ball which drifted over his head, allowed Nathan Baddams to speed down the right before crossing into the goal area.

Scott and Spencer tried valiantly to retrieve the situation but the cross evaded their outstretched legs and reached Cuthbertson who applied a cool finish.

Birtley threw even more caution to the wind and it looked game over when Cook burst onto a through-ball from Rae, but, like his strike partner, he too jinked the ball over the out-coming keeper but it went agonisingly wide of the post inflicting a tense last five minutes plus stoppage time on the visitors.

Goalkeeper Walker flicked a goal-bound shot away past the post from Birtley’s substitute Daniel Hill.

From the resultant corner Pont cleared and their substitute keeper Taylor, playing in defence, broke from the back to run full length of the pitch to receive the ball from Darwent and, understandably, went for glory himself, only to see his shot blocked by the keeper for a corner.

After an entertaining and exciting display in which Pont dominated the first half, they somehow lost their way in the second half as they gave the ball away too easily to facilitate a spirited fight back from Birtley. But United squandered several chances in the second half to kill the game off which almost proved costly.