Time for the second part of Scott Robson’s Non League review 2022-2023, and we start with the North East laden NORTHERN PREMIER LEAGUE EAST DIVISION.
It was ultimately heartache for HEBBURN and STOCKTON and it was Long Eaton United who ended both sides’ seasons. Hebburn rescued their play-off semi final with a last second goal from their player manager, but after both sides missed a host of penalties, Long Eaton won the shoot out 3-2. Down the A19, Stockton drew 2-2 with Stocksbridge in their demi final but unlike Hebburn, they won on pens to set up a final with Long Eaton at home.
However, in a huge shock, Long Eaton held their nerve in another penalty shoot out after another 2-2 draw to grab the second promotion place, with Worksop out in the distance.
Neither Hebburn or Stockton had consistent seasons and, despite the late season drama, it’s to be argued they both underperformed, but Hebburn at least won the Durham Challenge Cup in a massive shock at the Stadium of Light as they beat Spennymoor on penalties.
NORTH SHIELDS had a great end of the season. They occasionally flirted with relegation but an unbeaten March saw them rise to 7th at the end. All this was done under the shadow of the threat of forced relegation due to not making the necessary ground improvements by April.
Fundraising saw Shields find the £60k plus, but the work wasn’t done in time and, after what seemed like an age, the FA decided they would carry out the relegation and it’s back to the Northern League, which is a massive shame.
DUNSTON had another solid season and just missed out on a play off place. The Tynesiders drew far too many games but a nine-game unbeaten run going into the final day gave them an outside chance if they could win and other results went their way.
Neither happened though and, although it’s another season of progress, Dunston came away disappointed but it won’t take much to be pushing next year.
CONSETT looked in big danger with a spell of no wins in eight in late winter sent them close to the relegation play-off place. The Steelmen gathered themselves though, and after winning three out of the last four home games, they finished well clear in 13th place. For the first season up at this level since the 1970s they have to be satisfied, if not overjoyed with that.
SHILDON’S second season at this level ended in relegation. They lost the play-off semi final last season, but this was a desperate struggle from the off, going through three managers, including two in a week at one stage. They rallied in the second half of the season, but finished second bottom, two points from safety and they joined North Shields in the Northern League.
THE NORTHERN LEAGUE was a joy from start to finish, with both leagues going down to the last day.
Champions of Division One were Newton Aycliffe. Aycliffe were deserved winners after a spectacular run of only one defeat after Christmas. Brian Atkinson’s side only dropped two points at home all season and Liam Jarvie was electric, scoring 30 goals.
15 years ago Aycliffe were playing Sunday League, now it’s step four, and they will be hard to beat there as well.
Aycliffe gatecrashed what looked like a three way fight between BISHOP AUCKLAND, ASHINGTON and WHITLEY BAY. Those three set the pace rapidly up until Christmas, but one by one they all had periods of inconsistency that let Aycliffe creep in.
In the end it was Ashington who grabbed promotion in the most protracted way possible.
The Colliers finished second, five behind Aycliffe, but going into the last day they had to go to third-placed Bishop to get a draw to clinch the play-off place. A Bishop win would have taken it. A tense 1-1 draw saw Ashington into the play off where they beat Glossop 3-0 in Derbyshire to reach the NPL for the first time since the sixties. Ashington also reached the last qualifying round of the FA Cup.
Bishops finished third after leading the league for months, while Bay couldn’t quite push despite a great season which exceeded even the most optimistic fans expectations.
West Allotment had a great season, finishing fifth after being tipped to go down and Heaton Stannington also exceeded expectations with a great FA Vase run and a top eight finish. A late season run gave Whickham seventh, with Newcastle Benfield in tenth.
Relegated were Thornaby despite a great late season shot at it.
The Second division championship went down to the last day.
BORO RANGERS in their first season at this level, faced HORDEN CW in a winner takes all game. Boro won 3-0 and clinched the title and went straight up into the First Division.
If you thought that was hard on Horden, they then lost to Birtley in the playoffs. Horden had a great season, including an unprecedented Vase run but lost out.
The other play-off semi saw Billingham beat Bedlington Terriers and that set up a Billy Town versus Birtley play-off final. Birtley did the business from the spot again, winning 5-4 to take the second promotion spot which was very popular around the league, though finishing fifth and going up is at best an argument starter. Birtley also had Aiden Rutledge, who scored an incredible 56 goals in the league and well over 60 in all competitions.
Bedlington had a great season, scoring 120 goals, with Matt Hayton getting 36 of them and their success, along with Blyth Town in sixth was unexpected.
Willington were relegated after winning only twice all season, and with six points deducted, they ended up on only three points. A disaster from start to finish and a shame for a grand old club who played at Wembley in the fifties.
The NORTHERN ALLIANCE PREMIER DIVISION champions were a club massively on the up: NEWCASTLE BLUE STAR. Star were massive favourites from the off, with a squad full of Northern League players and, in some cases, Vase winners.
They held off a tough challenge from Burradon and New Fordley and clinched the title against them and eventually won the league by seven points, playing in front of four figure crowds sometimes. Watch them rise up the leagues.
Burradon can be proud of 73 points and second place.
Stobswood Welfare won Division One, Ponteland United Division Two and Hazlerigg Victory took the Third Division.
In the COUNTY CUPS…
Morpeth Town shocked Blyth Spartans 2-0 at St James’ Park as goals by Foalle and Henderson in front of 2,300 took the NORTHUMBERLAND SENIOR CUP.
Hebburn shocked Spennymoor on penalties to win the DURHAM SENIOR CUP at Sunderland, while the NORTH RIDING SENIOR CUP saw Scarborough sweep aside giant killers South Park 4-1. I won’t use that Kenny joke again. Not even if you ask me. No.
That’s about it. I’ve probably missed out something glaring, but it’s been that good a season, I can surely be forgiven. Roll on the pre-season preview which will land in July. All being well.