Stockton faced another tough task today when they visited the home of 1909 and 1911 ‘World Cup winners’ West Auckland who are currently top 4. The Anchors welcomed back Captain Tom Coulthard into the side and Dale Mulligan back into the squad, Max Craggs missed out with a rib Injury. West have invested heavily in the summer and are a totally different proposition to the side Stockton knocked out of the League Cup last season and after a promising start in the home game a few weeks ago a 10 minute Nathan Fisher hat trick sealed the points for West. This match was to hinge on 2 pivotal moments late in the game.
The game started in glorious Autumn sunshine and it was Jamie Owens who made the first move when he smashed against the bar via the keepers fingertips in the 6th minute. West pushed on and Fishers movement was keeping Coulthard and Cossavella on their toes, when he did find him some space his cross shot was saved well by Arthur after 12 minutes and the resulting corner dealt with comfortably by the Anchors defence. Fisher had the ball in the net after 15mins when he turned in after Arthur had saved Wearmouths effort but the linesman had his flag up for offside. Both sides continued to look for an opening with the best chance for the Anchors falling to Ward in the 32nd min but his effort from 12 yards was straight at the keeper as he slipped when shooting, after a free kick was partly saved by McHugh
West Auckland carried a huge threat though and after 2 or 3 dangerous Free Kicks Mitchell put West in the Lead on 38mins when his free kick from 25 yards out took a huge deflection off the Stockton wall and floated agonizingly into the opposite corner with Arthur stranded. Stockton’s reaction almost produced an equalizer on 40mins as a near post corner found skipper Coulthard free but he couldn’t quite get enough of his head on the ball and it flew past the far upright to frustrate the defender. Half Time 1-0
Second half saw West on top early doors and a brilliant point blank save from Arthur on 50 mins only delayed the second goal until the 56th minute when Purewal slid in to finish after Arthur had once again denied Fisher. Stockton sent on Woodhouse for Coleman after 60 minutes and it was the substitute that got Stockton back in the game with a run in behind the West defence causing McHugh to foul him inside the penalty area. Nathan Mulligan stroked the penalty low to the keepers right to make it 2-1 and as the Anchors celebrated McHugh was getting his marching orders for protesting too much and using foul language. After a long delay Purewal took over in goal and Stockton took advantage of the spare man, pressing forward and playing in lots of crosses but West were holding on until deep into injury time, just as it seemed they’d pulled it off, a through ball beat the defensive line and found Nathan Mulligan free in the 18 yard box he squared to Owens who slotted it home to start wild celebrations on and off the pitch. West were not happy with the Referee and linesman’s interpretation of the offside rule but the last player to play the ball was a West defender and the goal stood. There was just enough time left to kick off and the game finished.
Another great result for the Anchors in a run of tough games against top 8 sides, especially on the road, Stockton sit 5th in the ‘current form table’. The squad is almost at full strength now, just long term victim Adi Nicholson to come back and it looks well balanced at the moment with options on the bench in all positions for the manager to utilise. The players seem to have got a little confidence and they showed great battling qualities in a game that could have got away from them quite easily. Man Of the Match Michael Arthur with another solid performance with 3 top drawer saves that proved crucial after 90mins.