With the departure of manager Lee Jewett there was perhaps, predictable turmoil around the club as the departure of players tends to follow when the man in charge leaves.
To be honest there was some of this, but on the whole it was a recognisable squad that caretaker manager Chris Blakelock managed to field against an in-form Billingham Town. The only exceptions to this were newcomers David Mould and Nathan Graham who started the game and Jack Marley on the bench. Other recent signings were unavailable.
The game was less than three minutes old when Billingham took the lead. A contested free kick was given to Town wide on our right. This was swung over towards the back post where it was met unchallenged by Osmond who headed the ball into the net. Not the start we wanted and heads down almost straight away.
But we didn’t let it bother us for too long and soon we had a chance of our own following some good work from Jackson and Storey. Unfortunately Storey’s shot was weak and straight at the keeper.
Town went forward again and a great inside ball, again down our right, cut out the last two defenders with one pass. The forward ran on to the ball but in doing so took the ball a bit wide and then had to contend with the on-rushing Kriss Carr coming out to meet him. Thankfully he shot wide and hit the side netting.
Continuing the ‘your turn, my turn’ with regard chances, it was Brandon who went close the next time. A great break from defence by Marshall saw him lay off the ball to Fingleton down the right. He powered forward and shot in a low hard cross into the box. Storey met the ball 1st time and struck his own low, powerful shot at goal, but the Town keeper – making his debut on-loan from Middlesbrough FC – spread himself brilliantly and the ball cannoned off his chest. Great attacking play, equally good save.
As the half drew on there was some good play from both sides with Brandon more than holding their own and frustrating Billingham. We had a couple of half chances, but nothing special. Town almost doubled their lead following a mistake from Carr, but he more than made up for it with his recovery. He came for a ball, missed it and let the attacker in. As he controlled the ball, Kriss managed to get back in front of him and block the shot one handed. It fell kindly to another Town player whose shot was blocked by a combination of Carr and Thompson. That rebound was again fired towards goal but was again cleared off the line!!! What an amazing passage of play.
And then seconds before the ref was to blow for half time we conceded a second. I don’t know how this occurred as I was distracted but looked up after hearing the cheers and just saw Town players wheeling away in celebration. It was a body blow as, like I said previously, had more than matched them up to this point.
Early into the second half Storey had a great chance as he beat the last defender and shot from the edge of the box. It brought another great save from the ‘keeper. From the resulting corner he was again on hand to tip the ball over the bar. Minutes later he fumbled the ball in the air as he and Fingleton went up. However, he made a great recovery when the ball bounced kindly for Niall to strike goal ward and he got back to make a fine save.
Brandon were well on top and taking the game to Billingham. Further chances came and went and again the ‘keeper was called into action to keep us at bay. The breakthrough finally came on 73 minutes. A free kick was hit towards the 18 yard area. This was chested down lovely by Fingleton right into the path of substitute Grayson as he ran inside the box. His first time half volley struck a defender and looped past the keeper to make it 2-1. Cracking goal.
Good work from Wren then sent Grayson through again shortly after who fired a shot goal bound again, but the debutant in goal for Town was really earning his money and pulled off another fantastic save.
But I suppose it had to happen. Our dominance just wasn’t getting us the equaliser and then Billingham hit us on the break. They earned a corner from which a header was saved low down and to his right by Carr, but the Town players were quickest to react and the ball was whipped back into the box across the six yard line and this was tapped in by Redman to make the score 3-1.
That was in the 82nd minute and even after this we still pressed the Billingham defence and forced their ‘keeper into another great save. It just wasn’t to be our day.
All in all a score line that highly flattered our hosts. We were dominant for large swathes of the game and had the most chances. But I guess therein lies the problem. We had six, seven maybe eight good chances to score but only took one of them. Billingham had four maybe five chances and took three.
But the way we played was good and I’ve always said, no one likes to see your team lose, but the manner of defeat matters a great deal. We gave Billingham a run for their money with a great display and it does bode well for the future – if we keep our players and if we start to put away our chances.