Brandon United 1 Alnwick Town 1
Northern League, Division Two
For a side that have been struggling to win – with one victory since mid-November – a trip to the division’s bottom side on Saturday may have seemed a welcome tonic.
Prior to their clash with Alnwick Town, Brandon United had won just once all season, but it took a last-gasp equaliser from Ross Straughan to deny them the three points.
And for those pundits who were predicting a high-scoring game due to both sides’ tendency for leaking goals, well, it did not happen.
Brandon had appointed a new manager early in the week and he changed the team around, bringing in some new signings.
The weather – with a high wind and sleet and rain – was against any real football on a pitch that was like a rice pudding.
Alnwick were without Jon Colley through long-term injury and kicked off against the wind, but still managed to impose some early pressure with Jake Lowes, Adam Shanks and Darren Riddell all causing early problems for the home defence.
Brandon used the wind to create their first chance after 10 minutes when a long ball was controlled by Tom Callaghan, but a poor shot resulted before Town keeper Sean Straker had to be quick to tip over a dipping shot from James Ellis.
Alnwick hit back when Shanks sent a cross to the far post for Lowes to force the hosts’ Thomas Orton to make a point-blank save before the ball bounced across the box for their full-back Jack Marley to clear the danger.
Although United were having more possession, Alnwick had the clearer chances as Shanks beat two defenders and passed the ball across to Riddell, but a quick defender intercepted.
Following a refused penalty appeal, just past the half-hour, Brandon had a clear chance to open the scoring when James Ellis was given space and time for his header, but nodded wide.
A few minutes before half-time, the home side claimed a goal when a free-kick out on the right was floated in and, in the ensuing melée, the net bulged. However, it was caused by a player flying into the back of the net and Alnwick cleared their lines.
On the first half’s play, Brandon edged it with Alnwick’s play a bit disjointed at times and reliant on too many long balls.
The County Durham side went ahead two minutes into the second half when their keeper Orton made a fine save and released the ball up their right and a quick move ended in a by-line cross over to Tom Callaghan to fire home.
Alnwick were quick to up their game when Gloire Mbiavanga made an attacking run down the right, beating two crude attempts to stop him and forcing the keeper to make a fine save.
The black ’n’ whites were now in the driving seat forcing Brandon back and Shanks beat the off-side trap and defender to collect a fine ball. He swivelled and clipped the ball and the advancing home keeper Orton just managed to stop it with his fingertips.
For the remainder of the game Brandon pulled their players back into a blanket defence.
Alnwick kept hammering away without finding a way through and at times were guilty of making things too complicated.
But, to give Town their due, they never gave up and in the 93rd minute – the referee having allowed four minutes extra time for an injury on the home keeper as well as time-wasting by Brandon – Alnwick were awarded a free-kick halfway into the opposition half.
The ball was floated into the centre of the penalty area where a frantic ping-pong took place before the ball broke to the edge of the ruck of players where Straughan ran in and hammered his shot home.
Alnwick Town: S Straker, G Mbiavanga, J Lowes (J Loughborough), D Palmer, T McPherson, R Straughan, D Riddell, T Brown, A Shanks, S Hogg, K Douglas. Subs: R Douglas, B Brooks, R Hume, D Lowes.
Alnwick face high-flying Washington at St James’ Park on Saturday, kick-off 3pm.