Shanks provides the perfect tonic

Esh Winning...0 Alnwick Town...1

STL NORTHERN LEAGUE, DIVISION TWO

ADAM Shanks was the hero for Alnwick Town on Saturday, as his second-half strike bagged maximum points for his side and helped them return to winning ways, writes James Willoughby.

But the victory was marred by an injury to Town’s Danny Lowes, who had to be stretchered off after suffering a fractured cheek bone.

It was a cruel blow for the club on a day which saw the St James’ Park side pick up their first victory in seven Northern League, Division Two matches and recover from heavy home defeats in their previous two fixtures.

As Town’s joint manager Stephen Gibbard himself admitted, it was a ‘massive’ win for Alnwick.

But he was also left to reflect on the injury to Lowes, in what proved to be a bitter-sweet afternoon for the club, having welcomed back Mark Cockburn into the squad, following a spell on the sidelines through injury, only to suffer the loss of Lowes.

“Mark Cockburn was back in the squad, which was a massive boost,” said Gibbard.

“He was playing his first game for about four or five months but Danny will be out for about two months. It is a massive blow.

“He collided with Adam Shanks and had to be stretchered off in the first half.

“To get one player back and then lose another one straight away is a blow,” said Gibbard.

But Gibbard, who is sharing the managerial role with Dougie McEwan, also hailed his side’s commitment as they overcame Esh Winning.

It was an Esh Winning side who were unbeaten in their previous three matches in all competitions.

It was an Esh Winning side who had only lost once on home soil all season before Alnwick rolled into town.

And it was an Esh Winning side who may have seen Alnwick as a wounded animal after the north Northumberland outfit came into the weekend clash on the back of two straight home drubbings, firstly a 3-0 loss against Darlington RA and then a 5-1 mauling against Crook Town.

But it was an Alnwick Town side who proved not to be easy prey.

And it was an Alnwick Town side who dug deep to bounce back from those painful home defeats to register their fourth victory of the season.

Gibbard, who also represented Alnwick in the Esh Winning clash, said: “It was a massive win after the last week, which saw us receive two massive thumpings at the hands of Crook Town and Darlington RA.

“It was a traumatic week for both players and management.

“But the commitment was there on Saturday, which is what you need to get back to winning ways and it shows we are still competing at this level.”

Not only did the victory stop the rot, it also helped Alnwick remain unbeaten on their travels this season, stretching their undefeated run on the road to five games – a record which boasts three draws and two wins away from St James’ Park.

And the victory saw the newly-promoted side continue their positive start to the season, which has seen them collect 16 points from 11 matches and mix it with teams at the top end of the table.

“The plan at the start of the season was to stay in this league.

“That is what we are aiming for and so far everything is going according to that plan,” said Gibbard, following Alnwick’s return to the Northern League after promotion from the Northern Alliance last term.

He added: “We want to finish as high up in the league as possible and beating a team like Esh Winning, with the budget they have got, and especially with us losing those two games at home, was fantastic.”

Saturday’s match saw both Alnwick and Esh Winning create opportunities.

Chances came at both ends, including Alnwick’s Bryan Murray who had an effort cleared off the line.

But it was to be Shanks’ second-half goal which proved decisive.

The youngster latched onto a ball from midfield and, having got in front of the centre-half, he fired past the Winning keeper to put Alnwick one-up on the hour.

It was enough to seal the victory for the St James’ Park side.

It inflicted Esh Winning, who were relegated from Northern League, Division One last term, to their third league defeat of the season.

Gibbard said: “At times it was backs against the wall, but it was a fantastic win all the same.

“Esh Winning played some attractive football but we countered it and played one upfront and held the ball up in their half the best we could.”

Alnwick will look to build on the win when they entertain Horden CW on Saturday.

The home clash kicks off at 3pm.

They then travel to Easington Colliery on Wednesday night, with the match scheduled for a 7.30pm start.

Both are Northern League, Division Two fixtures.

Alnwick Town squad (versus Esh Winning): M Armstrong, B Murray, G Patterson, T MacPherson, N Catlow, T Brown, D Lowes, M Cockburn, T Vickers, A Shanks, S Gibbard, G Bailes, M Boyle, P Hodge, K Willis, B Brooks.