After the nightmare run of postponements a mild Friday evening in Whickham was something to savour and, from an Esh Winning point of view, something to be apprehensive of given the 8-0 reverse earlier in the season.
Whickham came into the game level on points with Blyth and Northallerton at the top of the table, and the stags looking to pick up more points on an already impressive season for last terms bottom side, the match promised to be a good affair.
The game in the first half took a little while to get into life with both teams playing some nice football in the middle of the park but failing to create any real chances until the 10th minute when Whickhams Owen Lancaster plays a superb ball to release Kyle Wharton. Bearing down on the Esh area he looks to have free reign, just as he is about to slot the ball past Carl Robinson, Matty Soulsby flies in with a last ditch tackle and diverts the ball just wide for a corner.
With Whickham finding a foothold in the game more pressure is soaked up comfortably by the Esh defence. Until that man Wharton again finds himself on the right hand side of the pitch, dropping a shoulder he beats Sean Johnson getting to the by line he pulls the ball back. Carl Robinson gets an important touch on the low driven cross, taking it away from one Whickham player but into the path of Dan Candlish who shanks his shot wide. A real let off for Esh.
On the 25th minute the best chance of the half fell to the Stags, after strong hold up play by Connor Halpin and a lovely weighted pass leaving the Whickham defender on his backside. Callum Boakes was one on one with John Mordey, losing his footing as he shoots he hits it low to Mordey’s right. With Mordey falling to his left he does well to stick out a right foot and just get enough on it to deny Boakes an opener.
The only other chance of the half fell to Esh, a miss hit cross from Dan Mann left Mordey scrambling back and looking relieved when it fell just over his crossbar.
Despite not many chances in the half an even game was an enjoyable spectacle for those in attendance.
HT: Whickham 0 – 0 Esh Winning
The second half started with Whickham showing why they will be promoted this season, sheer dominance of possession was countered by strong defensive work from an Esh side camped in their own half. A snap shot from Ross Peareth flashing wide the most dangerous attempt allowed in the first 5 minutes.
54′ Goal Whickham 1 (Bulford) – 0 Esh Winning
With a goal looking likely the worst thing the defence could do is hastily clear a ball straight to the feet of a man that has the pedigree of scoring twice in a Wembley final. Unfortunately that is what happened, Andrew Bulford running into the space created by defenders backing off too far unleashes a superb effort beating Carl Robinson, hitting the underside of the bar and down into the back of the net. A moment of real quality deserving of a winning goal.
The next twenty minutes saw one way traffic as Whickham flexed their muscles, still a resolute Esh defence did not crumble. Only two efforts of note, one a turn and hit by Chad Collins from the edge of the box was straight at a thankful Robinsons who would have been in real bother a yard either side of him.
The other was Whickhams best chance, it fell to Collins again, meeting a superb cross from the right wing he powers a header from no further than 10 yards out, Carl Robinson reacting superbly to palm the ball over the roof of the net. His save drawing applause and praise from Whickhams goalkeeper Mordey and the bench alike a superb save to keep Esh in the game.
That miss and Bulfrod striking the foot of the post in the 80th minute sprung Esh into action, dominating the last 10 minutes with a more direct style. First substitute Daniel Kent bullying the Whickham defenders wins the ball 30 yards out, he drives forward to his left, then back to his right. Entering the 18 yard box he has the opportunity to shoot but elects to try and go past another man with the ball getting stuck under his feet he is easily dispossessed with Max Stoker screaming for the ball near him.
With the pressure mounting Esh win a quick free kick which Boakes elects to take quickly to play Kent in. The Whickham player, 3 yards away stick his arm out and blocks the ball. Boakes catches the ball and attempts to play another quick ball before the referee inexplicably gives a free kick the other way for a handball against Boakes. A dangerous free kick turns into a pressure release for Whickham.
Not to be put down without a fight in the first minute of injury time Esh win a free kick just inside the Whickham half. Mykel Summerson strikes the ball to just inside the Whickham box. Kent getting up knocks down the ball to Callum Boakes who cooly slots the ball into the net, looking to go down with cramp at the same time with the final effort he puts in. The Esh dugout goes wild until they see that the assistant referee is signalling for an offside from the initial header disallowing the equaliser and ending Esh hopes of a battling point. Frustratingly, the player that was deemed offside was not the one that headed the ball, but was involved with play, according to the assistant after the game making it even harder to bare.
An enjoyable match, against a good Whickham side, aided by some good officiating to allow the game to flow and not showing harsh cards made it a good Friday evening despite the result.
Thank you as ever to Whickham for the hospitality I have no doubt you will be promoted this year, so good luck for the rest of the season and with Division 1 next year.
Esh XI: Robinson, Summerson, Johnson, Stoker (c), Turnbull, G. Brown, Mann (Reay 61′), Soulsby, Halpin (Kent 66′), Boakes, R. Brown (Swift 76′)
Unused Subs: Wilkinson, Fish
Whickham XI: Mordey, Lancaster, Hedley, Clasper, Brown, Robson, Wharton, Peareth (c), Bulford (g), Collins, Candlish
Subs: Mole, Shickle, Martin, Soutar, Broadhead
Referee: S. Lawson
Assistants: R. Bird, D. Williams
Attendance : 101
Match Reporter: Adam Wilding
All views expressed are my own and do not necessarily represent those of the club.