Stockton Town Manager Michael Dunwell had Chris Stockton (injured) and Fred Woodhouse(impending fatherhood) missing but restored Tom Coulthard and Dale Mulligan to the centre of defence. Liam Jordan replaced Michael Arthur in goal and Matthew Garbutt started on the right for the trip to Newton Aycliffe. The Anchors were looking to return to winning ways in this game against a near rival, having not played for 10 days .
The Anchors were on the front foot most of the first half and created a succession of opportunities. Coleman won the ball off Aycliffe’s Matthews and rolled it to Owens who flashed a shot just past the upright after 5 minutes and that set the scene. Aycliffe were strong and physical and moved the ball quickly and on 15 mins the dangerous Hutchinson was played in by Banks but his shot was straight at Jordan. 5 minutes later a good quick sweeping move involving Carter down the right and Garbutt’s ball behind the Aycliffe defence was collected by keeper McLaren at the feet of Owens. The Anchors were in the ascendancy now and Wards shot was disappointing after a good move involving Hayes and a slick 1-2 with Coleman on the edge of the box. Craggs free kick was met by Poole on 30mins but he couldn’t get enough power on it and it was beat away by McLaren. Carter again got around Matthews and flashed the ball across the box without a touch from a Red shirt. A Craggs corner on 33 minutes caused a bit of ping pong in the box and the rebound off the defender on the line bounced up invitingly for Poole but trying to head it over the onrushing McLaren it hit the top of the bar and was hacked away, Coulthard headed it back into he box and as Owens was about to pull the trigger Oliver made a superb last ditch challenge to clear it. It wasn’t all Stockton and Aycliffe skipper Brown was linking well down the right with Banks and Hutchinson but they couldn’t create any clear chances just a shot just off target and a weak effort that Jordan collected easily. HT 0-0
Second half saw Aycliffe come into the game a bit more and make it more even and end to end, they drew a free kick in a dangerous position in the 46th min but it came to nothing, 2 minutes later Garbutt cut in from the left and shot at goal the block by Trotter was crucial but wild appeals for handball were turned away by the ref. Sonni Coleman was fouled as he cut inside but Craggs curled the free kick just wide however close enough to get the fans excited. On 50mins Sonni Coleman, who was a constant problem for Aycliffes defenders, picked the ball up and ran at goal unleashing a drive from 25yds that clattered the underside of the bar, unfortunately the rebound couldn’t be converted. At the other end on 60mins Costello beat the offside trap and was rolled in by Banks, Stockton keeper Jordan flew of his line to save the first effort but the rebound came back to Costello and he struck the outside of the post from a tight angle, that was to be Aycliffes best chance of the night. N Mulligan replaced Coleman on 70 minutes and a minute later Hayes corner was headed by Owens and McLaren managed to push it away, Carter broke up the resulting Aycliffe attack and gave it Poole who’s angled ball was chested down by Craggs to Owens who volleyed it low to the keepers right from 20yards to give the Anchors the lead on 72mins. Just 3 minutes later Hayes cut in from the right beat 2 men and played it into Owens who just failed to reach the ball cleanly for his second. Aycliffe pushed forward for an equaliser and Stockton were defending well, Jordan positively claiming a free kick and a corner in quick succession, then in the last minute a dangerous cross had Jordan stretching and drop the ball but the Referee blew correctly, for a foul on him just as Stephenson went to fire it home. Aycliffe kept pushing right to the end but Coulthard, D Muligan, Ward and the impressive Carter dealt with it all efficiently to seal a victory the Anchors deserved but for a long time looked like wasn’t happening.
Stockton weren’t able to play their normal expansive game but showed a resilience and stood up to and met a well organised Aycliffe head on for a terrific 3 points on the road, no easy games in this League especially midweek. Stockton created several opportunities in the fist half and probably deserved to be in front. The longer it went on it was obvious the first goal was going to win the game, provided by the left boot of the irrepressible JLo. Good solid performances from Coulthard and Coleman, who worked hard and got involved physically, Max Craggs didn’t have his normal game but was impressive especially his work rate and the amount of breaking up he did. Man of the Match goes to Carter who is blossoming at right back, his pace and reading of the game was superb and it goes without saying he is a potent attacking threat and catches defences out with qualities. On to a massive FA Vase tie this Saturday at home to Bootle FC from Liverpool. They’re top 4 in t he North West Premier so will be a good side and the Anchors will have to play at their best to progress…. UTA