Alnwick Town...0 Team Northumbria...7
STL Northern League, Division Two
THE less said about this one the better, writes Paul Larkin.
That was the view of the fans who streamed out of St James’ Park on Saturday with heads bowed.
Alnwick Town chairman tried to put a brave face on the drubbing at the hands of league leaders Team Northumbria.
“We were beaten by seven lucky goals,” he joked.
But even the normally chirpy chairman could barely hide his disappointment, describing the result as ‘diabolical’.
The truth of the matter was Town were simply out-played and out-classed by a side brimming with ex-professionals.
And the worrying statistic for Alnwick is they have shipped an incredible 20 goals in their last five home matches, with four spectacular defeats.
Contrast that with their away form, which has seen them unbeaten on their travels.
Thanks to their points-harvesting away from St James’, Town went into this mouth-watering fixture in second place and just a point adrift of the university side.
After a cagey opening 10 minutes, two dubious refeering decisions dictated the course of the match.
The first awarded Northumbria a penalty when even the visiting camp admitted the challenge was outside the box.
Peter Watling opened his personal account despite Alnwick keeper Brian Brooks saving his first attempt low to his left. The ball rebounded for the striker to tap into an empty net (0-1).
Watling and Team Northumbria never looked back.
Another strange refereeing decision gave the visitors a free-kick 30 yards out five minutes later, Tom McPherson adjudged to have bundled into the back of Watling to head clear when it looked more like a case of backing in by the striker. The ball was launched into the box where Tom Davies ghosted in to extend the lead to 0-2.
Although Alnwick huffed and puffed, they never really made any impression on a tidy Team Northumbria side, who kept the ball on the deck, running rings around the home midfield.
Right full-back Kris Willis often found himself isolated as the maurading Northumbrian full-back, captain and former Premiership player with Sunderland, Gavin Donoghue, strode forward.
The vistors enjoyed the best of the chances for the rest of the half, midfielders Dean Critchlow (ex-Newcastle United) and Graeme Cairns orchestrating the battle in midfield.
Tom Vickers looked the most likely to score for the home side, but his best effort was well saved by Andy Jennison between the sticks.
A depleted Alnwick were missing at least five first-teamers through injury or unavailability and manager Stephen Gibbard had to play himself.
But they somehow restricted the score to 0-2 until half-time, Neil Catlow making some important, last-ditch tackles and Brooks remaining alert to save Alnwick’s blushes.
They defended a barrage of corners just before the break, but soon after the restart, the floodgates opened.
The warning signs were there when Brooks made a point-blank save from a Tom Davies header on 54 minutes.
A minute later, Watling scored the goal of the game – a sweet strike from the left corner of the box that whistled past Brooks and nestled in the far corner of the goal (0-3).
He made it 0-4 on the hour when his shot cannoned kindly off the post and into his path for another tap-in to complete his hat-trick.
Another shot from the edge of the box two minutes later made it 0-5 and took Watling’s personal tally to four, with Alnwick’s defence at sixes and sevens.
At five down with only just over an hour on the clock, Alnwick were staring down the barrel of a gun.
Three substitutes, Ben Keenan, Ross MacKenley and James Davidson steadied the ship for a while and Town began to enjoy more possession.
A well-timed tackle by Town’s Gary Bailes denied former Darlington striker Dan Riley in the 69th minute and Watling almost added to his collection but blasted over the bar with a quarter-of-an-hour remaining on the clock.
Alnwick’s best chance of the half fell to Brown after neat work down the left by MacKenley fed fellow sub Davidson, who laid the ball off to Brown. His rising shot was smartly saved.
But the bright spell didn’t last long and Team Northumbria rounded off an excellent display with two late goals from Riley and John Sherlock.
The supporters stayed until the bitter end but may have wished they’d left a lot earlier.
Alnwick: Brooks, Willis, Catlow, Brown, MacPherson, Bailes, Cockburn, Vickers, Gibbard, Shanks, Hodge. Subs: McKenley, Keenan, Davison, Patterson.