Late goal seals vital victory

Alnwick Town...2 Easington Colliery...1

STL Northern League, Division Two

A LAST-GASP strike from new signing Paul Blakey snatched all three points for Alnwick Town, as they came from behind to beat struggling Easington Colliery 2-1 on Saturday, writes James Willoughby.

It capped a fine recovery from the Northumbrians, who stole the points thanks to two goals in the final 12 minutes.

Substitute Ben Keenan levelled proceedings before Blakey capped an impressive debut by firing home in the 89th minute.

This important victory against the division’s bottom side saw Town maintain their unbeaten start to 2012, extending their run to three games without defeat.

And the win – the black ’n’ white’s first since the beginning of December – came in front of watching Northern League chairman Mike Amos, who was carrying out an informal inspection of St James’ Park ahead of Alnwick’s March 31 deadline for meeting the required ground criteria.

It was also the perfect way to pay respects to former Town player John (Jackie) Coxford, who passed away recently, aged 83.

Both sides held a minute’s silence before kick-off in memory of Jackie – a midfielder who represented the St James’ Park side in the 1950s/60s era.

Fittingly, it was a fellow midfield player in Blakey who stole the show at the weekend, chipping in with that crucial late winner.

Indeed, Alnwick had to fight until the last to grab the points, coming up against a resilient Easington side who belied their lowly league status.

Having said that, Alnwick may have expected a stern test against this Durham-based outfit, who have performed better on their travels this term – picking up three of their five league wins on the road and suffering the majority of their defeats on home soil.

The Colliery also shuffled their pack for the trip up north, introducing some new signings of their own.

And the visitors looked set to increase their seasonal points tally after going a goal-up in a first half in which they dominated.

Yes, Alnwick did have the first chance of this encounter, which was played on a top-class playing surface, as visiting keeper Dean Caris saved from Blakey.

But that was the only real highlight for the hosts in what was a fairly lacklustre showing in the opening period.

And sure enough, they were punished, when, in the 19th minute, Easington’s Simon Todd cut inside and hit a rising shot from the edge of the box which flew into the top of the net.

Alnwick keeper Brian Brooks stopped the visitors from increasing their lead six minutes later, denying Thomas Wilkie with his legs.

The hosts were again let off the hook soon after, when Todd found himself clear on goal, but he chose to shoot early and sent his effort wide.

Town began to play themselves back into contention and with five minutes remaining of the first half, Blakey shot from the edge of the area, only to be foiled by Caris.

Despite their under-par showing in the opening period, Alnwick gave a much better account of themselves after the interval.

Although, they were given a scare in the early moments of the second half when Carl Winspear broke away from his marker but Brooks, seeing the danger, came off his line to clear.

Building momentum, Town began to exert pressure on the visitors, carving out a string of chances.

A Dan Iredale shot which was deflected over was sandwiched in between efforts from Keenan – the first a deft chip to test the keeper, and the second a rising shot which needed Caris to pull-off a one-handed save.

Alnwick changed their formation by bringing on Neil McFarlane for Paul Hodge and Mark Cockburn for Neil Catlow.

Keenan again tested the keeper, latching on to a pinpoint pass from Bryan Murray.

Town’s endeavour finally paid off in the 78th minute, with Keenan finding the net this time round.

The forward, who had replaced Luke Newton in the first half, controlled the ball a few yards out before swivelling and firing home.

Cue the last-gasp heroics.

With the clock ticking down and Easington stopper Caris playing a blinder, Blakey stepped up to make his mark on both the match and his new side.

With Easington penned in their penalty box, coming under fire from a barrage of shots and crosses, Blakey moved into the box to collect a loose ball and fired home for the winner.

It was rich-reward for both player and club, and helped seal Town’s ninth league victory of the season.

Alnwick are on their travels on Saturday, when they face Hebburn Town in Division Two, kick-off 3pm.

Alnwick Town (v Easington Colliery): Brooks, Iredale, Catlow (Cockburn), Murray, Patterson, Hubbard, Blakey, Brown, Newton (Keenan), Colley, Hodge (McFarlane). Sub: Woodcock. Match and ball sponsor: Stuart Convery.

l FREEZING conditions forced the cancellation of Alnwick Town’s home match with Ryton and Crawcrook Albion on Tuesday night.

Club officials deemed the St James’ Park pitch unplayable on the morning of the STL Northern League, Division Two game which has been re-arranged for Tuesday at 7.30pm.