A classic match with two distinct halves concluded in disappointment as The Miners’ winless start to the season extended to four matches.
The absence of Sam Leach and Dan Coupland, along with the acquisitions of Alfie Raw (midfield) and Josh Winn (striker), and the return of Rinor Ejupi from vacation led to a significantly altered lineup taking the field at Olivers Mount. Raw and Winn were immediately included in the starting lineup, as was Sam Denton, who joined Harry Viggars and Jamie Barkway in a three-man defence. Matt Antcliff was chosen as a wingback over Kieran Clayton, and finally, the revered Town legend Lee Turner made a comeback and took a seat on the bench.
An early setback occurred when Denton sustained an injury in the 7th minute and had to be substituted with Duke Witter, prompting a reshuffle in the defence. The game commenced competitively with few clear-cut opportunities, but by the 20-minute mark, The Miners had the upper hand. However, similar to our previous match at Whitley Bay, the final pass or finish was lacking. Ejupi’s powerful shot was denied at the near post by Handsworth keeper Dylan Parkin following an advance by Tabish Hussain. Subsequently, Josh Winn’s downward header was saved after a well-executed cross from Sam Barker. From a Witter cross, Barker’s close-range attempt was stopped by Parkin, with the ball spilling against the post, though the midfielder was flagged offside. When set up by Ejupi’s run along the right wing, Winn shot directly at Parkin, as Town struggled to convert their chances.
Towards the end of the first half, the home team had a couple of opportunities of their own. Toby Wells punched away Alfie Dodsworth’s shot, and then Mitch Dunne’s attempt was feeble after a cross from the left wasn’t cleared.
At the other end, Winn was unfortunate not to secure a debut goal, being put through by Witter and finishing well through Parkin’s legs, but was judged offside. Ejupi then fired wide from a tight angle after the ball was manoeuvred along the right flank.
The half-time whistle was likely more of a relief for the home team than for the visitors. They responded with two swift goals early in the second half, altering the course of the game entirely. A free-kick was played forward to Dodsworth at the edge of the box, who gave The Ambers the lead with a powerful strike across Wells into the bottom corner. A defensive error led to their second goal; Barkway’s back-pass was short and seized upon by Kieran Wells, who outmanoeuvred his stranded namesake and found the net.
The goals deflated Town’s momentum, and it wasn’t until the 73rd minute that they managed to produce a response. Some away fans (including your correspondent) were cheering what seemed like a goal when substitute Turner appeared to find the net with a curling shot after a dynamic run by fellow substitute Louis Silva, but unfortunately, the ball struck the side netting. A well-placed free-kick was repelled by Parkin, denying Town twice, first from Jason Davis’ well-taken effort and then from Raw at close range.
Regrettably, Town did not repeat the heroics witnessed almost a year ago. Barkway’s participation ended seconds before injury time as he was sent off for remarks directed at the referee. The home side nearly capitalised by securing a potentially harsh third goal when Craig Nelthorpe found himself unmarked in the box following a right-sided delivery, but he could only shoot over the crossbar.
Another exasperating game where finishing proved to be the primary difference between the two teams. Despite their exertions, The Miners fell short once again. With Albion Sports engaged in FA Cup action on Saturday, we will have another weekend of rest before facing the current league leaders, Knaresborough Town, on Tuesday, August 22nd (kick-off at 3 pm).