Cullercoats 2 Ponteland United 2 Northern Alliance, Division One
UNITED were down to the bare bones for their trip to Cullercoats with influential skipper Steve Rae absent, teenager Tom Skidmore away with the county and Ryan Potts failing a late fitness test.
In the absence of Rae and in view of the conditions, Rankin moved into midfield to partner Paul Hodgson with Chris Hibbitt unlucky to lose out.
United were kicking against the wind in the first half and honours were just about even in the first 20 minutes.
However, Anderson was bundled over in the box and the referee pointed to the spot.
Davidson stepped up to smash his shot against the bar and it bounced to safety.
At the other end, a ball over the top was cleared by Scott for a corner, but despite the height in the Cullercoats side, the flag-kick came to nothing.
With Dan Wright returning to action Ponteland always had an outlet up-front and on 25 minutes, he sped past the defence and from a tight angle saw his shot parried for a corner by keeper Josh Moore.
From the corner, the ball was cleared back to Hodgson whose strong drive was deflected for another corner, but this time it was cleared.
Dan Wright was looking dangerous and on the half-hour mark, he once again escaped his marker, but this time Josh Moor got enough on the ball to slow it down as it rolled goalwards, but not over the line.
Starkie, who had been relatively quiet in the Ponteland goal, dived low down to collect James Ridley’s excellently-timed volley.
With half-time approaching, Wright again got beyond the Cullercoats defence and was brought to ground and although there was a strong appeal for a penalty, the referee wasn’t interested.
Although the scores were even at half-time, United probably felt the better, having played against the wind and, apart from some set-pieces, particularly from long throws, Ponteland’s Starkie was rarely tested.
The crucial opening goal came with half-an-hour remaining.
Wright turned in the penalty area and was brought down for a stone-wall spot-kick.
Davidson, despite having missed from the spot in the first half, took the ball and this time struck it confidently to the keeper’s right.
United put more pressure on the Cullercoats goal and missed several opportunities to increase their lead with a series of shots in the space of a few seconds which were blocked in the goal area.
However, with 25 minutes remaining, the dangerous Wright again got beyond the defence to slide the ball past the advancing keeper.
At this stage United were firmly in control and there only looked to be one winner.
With 15 minutes remaining, substitute Martin Wardle gave his side a lifeline when he curled a shot from distance into the top corner.
Ferguson was then pushed into attack for Cullercoats to try to rescue something from the game, but Pont looked solid and always looked dangerous going forward.
Rankin was played down the left wing by Cook, took the ball to the by-line and, with four players waiting for the cross, he fired it too powerfully across the goal and nobody was able to get on the end of it – the chance was lost.
With two minutes to go, United got a free-kick inside their own half and they hoisted the kick in the direction of centre-back Scott.
The ball didn’t reach him and the ball was cleared up-field to Wardle with the remaining numbers retreating.
With no pressure on the ball, he was again allowed a cross-come-shot from distance and aided by a misjudgement by Starkie the ball floated in the wind into the far corner to the shock of the United players.
Having been in a comfortable position, for the sixth time this season, an equalising goal had been conceded in the last five minutes.
The end result was disappointing with United deserving all three points.
Nevertheless, on a pitch unsuitable for playing touch football, the team throughout battled hard, gave 100 per cent and if they can maintain that endeavour will eventually move up the league table.