The final game of the season saw an entertaining encounter between two sides at either ends of the table. In what can be loosely described as a bright and breezy day at West Terrace. Bright and Breezy meaning it was blowing a gale; but not raining!
Billingham Town came into the game hoping to put pressure on their local rivals and maintain their faint hopes at promotion; Esh looking to cement their place off the foot of the table.
The game kicked off and within the first 60 seconds it was evident that the strong wind was against Esh; Mark Fish trying to kick a low trajectory with his goal kicks. Town dominating the early throes of the the game.
The first real chance on the 3rd minute was from Towns Chris Dickinson who fired a daisy cutter from 30 yards which sent Fish sprawling to his left who smartly turned the ball around the post.
The next 15 minutes continued in much the same fashion with, for the first time in a long time, Esh being in danger of being overrun by a dominant performance from Billingham Town. Fortunately the impressive Joe Wilkinson and Kieran Day, ably assisted by Andrew Chester and James Latham at full back, kept a firm line and left Fish with the job of finding a way out of his own half from his goal kicks.
The next real chance of note, again from Town, came on the 20th minute following some tidy footwork on the edge of the area by Craig Hutchinson the ball was eventually bundled from him, only finding Jamie Davis one on one with Fish. Davis left with a bouncing ball could only go upwards, Fish gambling on this and making himself a big obstacle managed to get something on the ball and guide it behind for yet another corner.
Esh’s first chance of the mathc fell to Kai Hewitson, on the 25th minute, who found himself attacking the left handside of the box, unleashing a dangerous dipping effort, which look for all the world destined to hit the net before Alex Leeds in the Town goal launched himself to his left and somehow found a way to get enough on the ball to divert it wide.
27′ Goal Esh 0-1 (Hutchinson) Billingham Town
With the resolve of the Esh defence being tested over and over again it was only a matter of time before the ball found its way to the leagues top scorer. And so it proved the case, after a lovely ball in from Chris Dickinson, Craig Hutchinson found himself in acres of space and slotted a lovely finish leaving Mark Fish with no chance. An impressive 51st league goal of the season looked an ominous sign for Esh Winning.
33′ Goal Esh 0 -2 (Dunlavey) Billingham Town
A second well deserved goal was always in the offering after yet more good work on the right wing the ball was crossed to the left hand side of the area, just on the edge of the 18 yard line Connor Dunlavey was lurking. Dunlavey hit a perfect left footed volley which whistled into the net, again leaving Fish with no chance at all.
Yet more pressure from Billingham Town really had the Esh team rattled, Mark Fish to the rescue some 40 yards off his line to win a sliding tackle against former Esh man Luke Hogan. Fish nursing a bad back throughout the game belaying his injuries to keep Esh in the game.
41′ Goal Esh 1 (Soulsby Pen)-2 Billingham Town
Much against the run of play and following a lull in the wind a long ball down the left hand channel sent Callum Boakes scampering into the Billingham Town box drew a sliding tackle from behind, which undoubtedly took some of the ball as well as the man. Mr. McMahon our referee taking his time to make his decision finally points to the spot and awards Esh a spot kick, something we have not seen in 2017 for Esh, Matty Soulsby steps up and slots the ball home to the keepers right to bring the Stags right back into the game.
With this boost Esh had the final chance of the half, Kai Hewitson finding space 25 yards out hitting a decent struck effort, unfortunately straight down Leeds’ throat.
HT: Esh Winning 1-2 Billingham Town
Following the change of ends the odds started to stack in Esh’s favour, both the wind and the slope at West Terrace came into play. This was evident on the 47th minute with a long ball played from the back found Kai Hewitson one on one with Leeds, he slots the ball past the Town keeper, unfortunately he beats the post as well.
Billingham Town still posed a constant threat, following good work from Hogan, Hutchinson plays a tidy ball to Dickinson to the right of the post, Fish narrows the angle but gets beat with a low effort before Esh captain Max Stoker manages to cut the cross come shot out, clearing the danger among sea of blue shirts.
The biggest threat of the second half came after more good work from Hutchinson and Davis found Luke Hogan alone in the Esh area, as he strikes the ball into the Esh net the whistle goes for an offside, Hogan straying a yard off before the ball was played. The Esh team using the opportunity for a committee meeting of captain, keeper and defenders to regain control.
Esh started to create more chances as the half went on, on the 69th minute Callum Boakes puts a dangerous corner in finding Stoker 8 yards out, his effort beating everyone but the crossbar!
With Esh now playing with a back three a break was always a possibility, so it proved with Towns last real attack of the game on the 70th minute, Dunlavey finds space in the Esh area and unleashes a viscous effort that Fish does well to get a glove on to his left, the ball falling on the penalty area to Hutchinson, with Town expecting him to score his 52nd goal of the league season, Joe Wilkinson has other ideas and forces a rushed shot harmlessly wide of the Esh goal.
At this juncture it is important to note the growth of Wilkinson who following a shaky start, giving a penalty away at Heaton Stan, has found himself having two of the brightest strikers the league has to offer in his pocket. Macauley Langstaff for synners did not get a sniff and today Hutchinson was kept the quietest he has been all season according to some of the Billingham Town contingent. Today great praise also has to go to Andrew Chester and Kieran Day the other members of the second half back three, who kept a dangerous Town side at bay.
84′ Goal Esh 2 (Hewitson) – 2 Billingham Town.
An equaliser that looked so unlikely for much of the first half was in the offing after a long ball was superbly plucked out of the sky by Max Stoker in the midfield, he sends a superb ball through to a charging Kai Hewitson in much the same position as he missed the chance earlier in the half. Leeds again rushing out to meet him Hewitson beats him in exactly the same way and slots the ball into the bottom corner of the net, learning from his earlier attempt.
With Esh in the ascendancy and Billingham looking on the rack, Joe Wilkinson flies in hard on Craig Hutchinson easily dispossessing him, he then wins the next tackle against McDonald before defying his centre half position by dropping a shoulder to beat one last Town man over the half way line before laying an inch perfect past to Hewitson who fires a shot which is deflected out for a corner.
From the resulting corner Leeds is caught underneath the ball, being helped out by his defence putting the ball behind for another corner. The same ball is put in by Mordue which looks to be creeping in at the back post before a last ditch hand is thrown out by Leeds, to force yet another corner from the other side of the pitch. Callum Boakes steps up to whip in left footed, again Leeds is crowded out by the Esh players, Matt Soulsby reaches the cross, flicking it on to Keiran Day who puts the header over the two men in front of him, only for the bar to come to the rescue for the third time in the half.
With the final whistle being met by a cheer from the Esh bench it is indeed a vital point. This becoming all the more relevant with Ryton picking up the three points at Hebburn. This means that they need to avoid defeat against Thornaby on Wednesday to finish above The Stags in the league. All that being said it is not to take anything away from the Esh lads, who have only lost 3 games in 2017, we are undefeated in 8 at home and whatever happens, and wherever we are playing next season we are determined to make West Terrace a beautiful, friendly but forboding place to come for away teams.
Esh: Fish, Latham (Clarkson (y)), Chester, Stoker (c), Day, Wilkinson, Soulsby (g), Arnott, Mordue, Hewitson (g)(y), Boakes
Unused Subs: Hird, Stewart, Marley
Billingham Town: Leeds, McDonald, Dixon, Osmand, Oakley (c), Moor, Dickinson, Davis, Hutchinson (g), Hogan, Dunlavey (g)
Subs: Lavan, Ridley, Redman, Keogh, Lavan
Referee: M. McMahon
Assistants: A.Jones, D. Coulson
All that is left to say is thank you to all involved with the club this year, there is massive thanks to be paid to the ever loyal groundstaff, committee, management, players, sponsors and of course the people that pay to come through the gates and support us. We are not the most wealthy of clubs but we are so proud of God’s little acre and the welcome we like to think we offer to everyone, be it opposition or ground hopper!
There are three players in particular that have been involved with the club for a long time who now go off to pastures new with University beckoning, James Latham and both Langton twins Joe and Dom will be missed. Joe can be seen below in our win against Crook in the vase, the passion evident on Joes face is the same for both Dominic and James let that be in no doubt.
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All views expressed are my own and do not neccisarily reflect those of the club.