SCOTT ROBSON with this month’s yomp around the green – or perhaps increasingly brown – fields of the North East’s non league clubs…
It’s been all about change at the top this month with some high profile departures for our top sides. Firstly, Gateshead had to get used to life without Mike Williamson after four years in charge, as the ex Newcastle man got his Football League chance at the franchise club playing out of Milton Keynes. Williamson saw everything at the International Stadium, including starting from scratch with no squad to winning the National League North and leaving them as one of the best teams in the National League. His proudest moment will be that when he left Gateshead, they were the best in the league for possession, shots per game and passes per game.
Williamson will be missed but not as much as owner Geoff Thompson will be at South Shields. Thompson has transformed Shields from a club averaging crowds of 40 plus to winning four promotions and an FA Vase and turning them into a club which looks Football League ready with crowds of up to 3,000. Thompson unfortunately is battling cancer and you can only wish him good luck with that first and foremost and let him revel in the total respect he has for what he has done at Mariners Park.
Berwick Rangers have appointed Scottish Cup winner and ex Scotland U21 player Tom Scobbie as their new manager after previous incumbent Stuart Malcolm left for Arbroath. He will have a baptism of fire.
Now, to the on-field action…
NATIONAL LEAGUE first. GATESHEAD are being led by Rob Elliot after Williamson left and he got his first win last week and what a way to do it, as they slammed six past Dorking without reply. Up until then the whole managerial saga looked to have taken its toll as they had exited the FA Cup to lower league Yeovil and lost heavily to Fylde and Altrincham. The Tynesiders are currently 7th in the last play off place and hopefully they are now back on form. Things are going pear shaped for HARTLEPOOL UNITED. They have only won twice in eight games and have slipped to 13th place having been one of the favourites for promotion. They conceded a 96th minute equaliser last time out but the real problem lies with the goals against. Hartlepool haven’t kept a clean sheet in 30 plus games and in only one since John Askey has been manager – he was appointed in February.
In the LOWLAND LEAGUE, BERWICK RANGERS are in a right rut. Last time I mentioned the budget cuts and the loss of loads of a lot of important players and it’s now manifesting itself on the pitch as Berwick have slipped to fourth bottom after a run of no wins since late September. It looks like a long hard winter for the black and golds .
In the NATIONAL LEAGUE NORTH, like last month it’s a league of contrasts for our local sides. SOUTH SHIELDS are flying. They are now second, level on points with leaders Tamworth who they recently beat, to make it eight wins from nine at Mariners Park. Last time out Paul Blackett scored three as they took apart local and promotion rivals SPENNYMOOR 5-2 away. Up until Tuesday, Moors had been going along nicely, without being spectacular and despite that huge blow, they are right among the play off places in fourth. A big win at Darlington (as rare as hen’s teeth) raised smiles but a heavy defeat to Scunthorpe and defeats to the top sides suggest a ceiling on their ambitions. DARLINGTON’s season goes from bad to worse and already some fans think that Josh Gowling isn’t up to it despite only being in the job weeks. Darlo are second bottom despite a couple of wins and with four going down they are in big trouble, especially after an 8-0 hammering at Chorley, when they were two down and a man down after six minutes. Sad to see. BLYTH SPARTANS were comfortably beaten by Curzon last time out and slipped to 13th place. Spartans have gone off the boil of late with only one win in seven but they’ve only lost two in that spell and are a lot harder to play against than in years gone by. Talking of tight, the crazy nature of this league means Blyth are a point off fifth bottom and only five off sixth place. Mad.
In the NORTHERN PREMIER LEAGUE PREMIER DIVISION, MORPETH TOWN are struggling with consistency and when you are like that, you inevitably end up in mid-table. A narrow late defeat to leaders Radcliffe was unlucky, but after a 3-0 win in their longest trip at Stafford it was a real let down. Short in the memory also was a 7-0 defeat to Worksop. Andrew Johnson continues to be the main goal threat. MARSKE UNITED are hanging in there at the bottom with a couple of recent home wins taking them up to third bottom, but away they continue to suffer with seven defeats from eight. There lies the Seasiders’ Achilles heel.
In the EAST DIVISION, HEBBURN are leading the way and STOCKTON are third as the North East promotion favourites live up to the hype at last. Stockton lost last time out, but they were unbeaten since September until then. Hebburn have found the knack of scoring late goals to win games despite not flying. This included manager Daniel Moore scoring in injury time at home recently (he’s player-manager, he didn’t just jump off the bench) and they look well set at the top. One place below Stockton are CONSETT who have recovered from a mini wobble with three wins in a row to get right back into the promotion mix. The Steelmen are only four points off the top now and no one will fancy going to Belle Vue. DUNSTON are just below the playoffs in seventh having had a few games postponed and that, plus the form (one win since September) all adds up to a bit stop start at the minute. A real upturn in form from ASHINGTON in the last month. 10 points from a possible 12 and two 4-0 wins have suddenly lifted the Colliers up to mid table. While things are better on the pitch, off it they are struggling with a ‘Go fund me’ set up to help with finances. Good luck. NEWTON AYCLIFFE are fourth bottom, two points off the drop. Away from home they are pointless out of six games. Keep that up and it will be a bleak winter.
In the NORTHERN LEAGUE DIVISION ONE, the weather and FA Vase have taken their toll, leaving a bit of a stop-start feeling. WHICKHAM (against the reformed Bury), BISHOP AUCKLAND, BLYTH TOWN, CARLISLE CITY and NEWCASTLE UNIVERSITY all had great results in the Vase to keep the region fully involved going into round three. SHILDON lead the way in the league and it’s going to be some title race with BIshop Auckland. Four points separate the two South West Durham sides with the Two Blues having a game in hand. They meet on Boxing Day. HEATON STANNINGTON in fifth, with four games in hand on Shildon, look the only side capable of catching those two. A great effort so far by newly promoted BIRTLEY in third. WHITLEY BAY and NORTH SHIELDS already look out of the promotion race with both way below expectations in fourth and seventh respectively. BENFIELD, Whickham and WEST ALLOTMENT are all in the bottom half of the table. Miracles are needed for TOW LAW AND RCA at the bottom. Even in November.
In DIVISION TWO, the predicted race between NEWCASTLE BLUE STAR and BLYTH TOWN isn’t letting anyone down. These two well backed sides with a lot of higher level players are separated by three points with Blyth having a game in hand and a better goal difference in second. BEDLINGTON TERRIERS are not out of it yet though and are a point further behind. Tough times for BRANDON at the bottom, who only have seven points and have conceded an eye watering 62 goals in the last EIGHT games. Keep going lads, things can change.
In the NORTHERN ALLIANCE PREMIER DIVISION, only six points separate Stobswood in seventh to leaders WALLINGTON, who are edging out ALNWICK TOWN (who they beat away lately) Chemfica and Burradon. The other Alliance leagues are being led by North Shields Athletic, Heaton Stan ’A’ and Wallsend Boys club seniors.
And that’s it. I will continue to keep everyone up to date.
What we do need is a change of weather. This incessant rain is causing havoc with groundsmen from the Tweed to the Tees and if it keeps up, with various fixture secretaries as well.