The Hawthornes, Brigg. 05/04/17
Northern Counties East League, Division One.
I love a good bonus game, and this was exactly that. After the previous night’s cup semi final, a glance at the fixtures, puppy dog eyes to the missus and we were flying down the M180 before you could say The Zebras.
We had seen Penistone a few times this season and after the early season form, things seemed to be slipping for Church. They looked absolutely nailed on for promotion before Christmas, unbeaten until November and still in the top two in January, Church were now battling to finish in a position as high as possible to get the home advantage in the play-offs.
Brigg meanwhile have had an inconsistent season, losing more than they have won and drawing very few. After a good few years in the late nineties and early noughties, the club won promotion to the Northern Premier League Division One in 2004. Those halcyon days saw the club win the FA Vase twice, in 1996 and 2003 and also make an appearance in the FA Cup First Round Proper in 2001/02, losing 4-1 at Tranmere Rovers. The past couple of years haven’t been too kind for the Zebras though, successive relegations have taken them from the Northern Premier to the NCEL Division One, I suppose mid table mediocrity would be welcomed by some see fans as a base to build on.
After making the relatively short journey to North Lincolnshire we were met by a corrugated iron gate emblazoned (amongst other things) with “Welcome to Bandit Country” in block capitals. Banksy can sleep easy, but I liked it, enough to take a photo and make it the featured image to this post.
I’m doing the ground a disservice though, there are umpteen photos that could’ve made the grade. The clubhouse that greets fanatics appears on numerous websites, apps and blogs, its sign is already lit in anticipation of the dark setting in on this late spring evening.
The usual perimeter-of-the-pitch walk was adhered to, past a covered terrace with two rows of red seats and a sign commemorating Brian, Peter and Jack and round to the longer covered terrace hogging the touchline on the opposite side of the ground, this would be our office for the evening. I particularly enjoyed the ‘dormant’ refreshment hut, possibly a relic from the heady heights of the Evostik and their ground regulations, there was certainly no soleros on sale this evening.
On to the game then, this would be the first time that we had seen Brigg this season so I was unaware of their players, I was told that a number of their regulars were missing through injury or suspension. Penistone however had the imperious Brett Lovell at the back and leading the boys, Lovell just missed out on my HipHoppingXI but his commanding performances and attacking threat at set pieces make him a stand out NCEL performer. Striker Danny Joynes was named on the bench with former Stocksbridge goal machine Andy Ring preferred up top.
It was Brigg who broke the deadlock on 9 minutes, David Deane tapping home to make it 1-0 to the hosts, Nathan Plumtree providing the assist with a low cross from the left hand side.
Andy Ring was full of good running for Church but his evening was one mainly of frustration, shortly after the opening goal he beat his man and cut the ball back to James Young only for his cross to be nodded out for a corner. Next, Ring broke free, beating the offside trap but his lobbed effort could only find the roof of the net.
The equaliser came on 24 minutes, a debateable free kick was awarded to Church just outside the area. Ken and I mentioned Lovell’s aerial ability and he looked like he was all over this set piece. The ball was floated in to Lovell who controlled well but his scuffed shot broke to Scott Whittington who fired an unstoppable shot past keeper Dale Coy via the Crossy.
Ring was at it again, breaking free of the defence but hitting his shot wide when it was probably easier to score. He made amends on 38 minutes though, stealing the ball from Coy in the penalty area and unselfishly picking out Ryan Smith who hit the top corner from five yards out.
Half Time – Brigg Town 1 v 2 Penistone Church
Church, and Ring picked up where they left off at the end of the first period, Ring glancing a header over the bar from a Penistone Corner after four minutes then heading straight to the keeper on 56.
Brigg had a rare attack after 65 minutes, Lewis Dennison hitting an audacious effort from 20 yards that was well held by Church keeper Marcus Ambler. But it was Penistone who extended their lead five minutes later, James Young floating a ball into the box for the unmarked Jack Moore to volley home.
Ring resumed his battle with Coy once more as the clock ticked down, skipping inside and firing a shot that tested the Town keeper and forced him into a decent save. Both Penistone and Ring would rue these missed chance though as the last ten minutes belonged to the Zebras.
Firstly, Ryley Thompson put a superb ball into Sam O’Malley who leapt like the proverbial salmon to reduce the arrears on 81 then five minutes later Town Captain Anthony Bowsley floated in a free kick for Lewis Dennison to loop his header over Ambler and into the Church net. 3-3, a fantastic comeback from an under-strength Zebras side and more dropped points for Penistone. Luckily, their early season form has almost certainly secured their play-off spot but they aren’t going in with a great deal of momentum.