First away game of the season results in maximum points for Stu’s 2s
Morpeth Men’s 2nd XI travelled to Darlington for their second league game of the season. New captain, Stuart Fairbrother and his squad were put to the test having not been able to fulfil any pre-season friendlies and missing their first league game the previous week due to a late cancellation by Richmond. Keeping it simple, the squad were asked to focus on two things, maximising opportunities in the opponent’s D while limiting those in their own…. goals win games. Morpeth started well pressing the home team and forcing early mistakes despite the challenging bouncy surface. Good work from midfielders Ross Valentine, Miles Ingram and Rob Morris created problems for the Darlington defence with their direct play resulting in some early penalty corners and good chances in front of goal.
Darlington struggled to build play, resorting to long balls that by-passed the high press, or a few opportunities that came from the odd poor pass or bad decision from Morpeth. The newly formed Morpeth defensive line held strong in the middle with a Man of the Match performance from student Ryan Rollins. The wide defenders ably assisting and providing necessary cover. When Darlington did enter the Morpeth D, it was without control or the necessary end product and keeper Paul Finch was able to watch the ball go wide. Having stifled one Darlington attack a quick counter led to a well constructed goal, an early sign of the potential quality throughout the squad. The ball was passed forward at pace until a penetrating run from Rob Morris created a shooting opportunity. Initially saved, Ross Valentine was there in support and able to tap home.
Shortly after it was Rob Morris again who took the ball wide to his left across the top of the D and swept an accurate reverse stick shot between keeper and post to take the score to 2-0. It wasn’t a comfortable lead though, and it was clear an edge could make all the difference as the ball pinged around the uneven surface. It was the “edge” of Fairbrother’s stick diverting a speculative ball across the D that struck an attacker resulting in a penalty corner for the home side. It was a chance wasted by Darlington and Morpeth continued to dominate the play up to the end of the first half. An easy team talk for the new captain, more of the same required, and regrettably for Howler of the Day (Miles Ingram), space to be exploited…
Conversely, it was a slow and complacent start to the second half and Darlington converted an early chance. As their central midfielder broke through a line of defence, an overload was created and exploited at the top of the D with the shot just finding the target. Enough to rattle the away team, but not to cause panic. Morpeth set about their task again and soon restored the fluid hockey that was creating chances in the correct half of the pitch. The substitutes were well employed in the warm conditions and the forward line were relishing the opportunities created by the midfield. It was a long diagonal pass from Peter Durance in defence that created a good opportunity for Ian Foster to open his tally for the season. Foster’s good run around the edge of the D to create space wasn’t matched by the shot, fired just wide of the goal. The next opportunity saw Morpeth enter the D from the left and drive along the goal line forcing a save from the keeper. The first save fell to schoolboy Tom Hewson who made a wide turn away from the defender and flicked the ball into the back of the net for his first Morpeth goal. The 2 goal lead restored.
The game settled back into a familiar pattern, long balls by Darlington, frequently just returning possession to Morpeth, but it was an aerial pass from Darlington that nearly unlocked the defence. Fairbrother brought the ball down for it to be nicked away by the attacker taking him into the D. The umpires correctly bringing back the play for the initial encroachment of 5m by the attacker. A later forward ball was picked up by the young Darlington winger who was able to round his marker and open up space in the D. Finchy saved the first shot but with the Morpeth defenders unable to effectively clear the ball wide, the Darlington striker fired the ball into the goal from a narrow angle past the prone keeper.
With the lead diminished again, Morpeth needed to show some composure and put the game beyond the hopes of the home team. Morpeth retained possession well, advancing up the field, but tiredness was starting to show in the pace and decision making. The space that was there in the first half seemed harder to find and was duly noted by the rest of the team. Fortunately it wasn’t able to compromise another circle penetration that saw John Dixon deal the killer blow scoring Morpeth’s fourth of the game.
Late in the game, another umpiring dilemma cancelled out a third strike from Darlington, the initial swing and miss at a bouncing ball in the D caused defenders to take cover and the second attempt found the goal. The decision was correctly given against Darlington to maintain the 2 goal lead. With seven minutes to go Morpeth remained composed, though in hindsight a change of tactics from the new skipper would probably have nullified what threat the Darlington forwards did present, something to think about for next week. A solid performance all round with scope for improvement, Morpeth earned their first victory on the field of play and their place at the top of the league.