Cullercoats U21 went into the game on the back of defeat in the cup final by Walkergate with injuries taking their toll. Lumi Ballabanaj replaced the injured Lewis Williamson in a midfield three alongside Josh Connelly and James Bromham. Alex McEwan was sacrificed in attack for Jack Shipley through the middle in an effort to hold the ball up, against a strong, physical Cramlington side.
The Doves started strongly and immediately put a strong Cramlington United Reserves side under pressure. Cramlington had arrived with four of their first team players, who play in the second division of the Northern Alliance, in their effort to push for promotion.
It was Cullercoats who went ahead early on, with a corner resulting in a foul in the box, and captain Karl Charlton stepping up to smash the resultant penalty home. The opening 25 minutes continued with Cullercoats doing the pushing. Jack Shipley and Andrew Tallen both had opportunities to double the lead, Shipley snatching at his shot as the ball fell to him in the box, and Tallen forcing a good save from the Cramlington goalkeeper at his near post.
Towards the end of the half, the visitors grew into the game and began to put our U21s under pressure, with their experienced players controlling the game for the final 20 minutes of the half. Only two incredible saves from Scott Mason kept Cullercoats in the lead. The first with his face to block after a low cross, and another with his foot, De Gea style, to deflect the ball on to the post.
Half time couldn’t come soon enough for the home side, who were forced into a change during the break, Alex McEwan replacing an injured Dan Morton. Marcus Holmes was also introduced early in the second half, and it was the two new players into the game who made the impact on 60 minutes as Holmes danced passed three challenges before releasing Bromham on the right, who’s cross was met by McEwan to make it 2-0.
Just minutes later, with a touch of luck, Cullercoats found themselves three up. A corner from Tallen was deflected directly into the goal by a defender, via a smart dummy from Bromham.
Cramlington refused to lie down, and Cullercoats made the game harder for themselves, chasing more goals. Charlton conceded a needless penalty with a body check on a striker who was running away from goal, with Cramlington scoring the resultant spot-kick.
Another second half substitute, Kian Parker, played a part in our U21s fourth goal, playing a wonderful through ball to Tallen who finished to notch his 35th of the season.
At 4-1 the game was seemingly over with ten minutes left, however Cramlington had other ideas. Just a minute after Cullercoats had scored, and hadn’t switched on, a striker broke through a couple of weak tackles to poke in their second.
Credit to the visitors, they forced the issue, putting us under a lot of pressure and brought the score back to 4-3 from a corner as the game moved into injury time. A final set piece, a deep free kick gave Cramlington the opportunity to equalise right at the death. However the high ball into the box was well claimed by Mason in goal on the edge of the 18-yard box, followed by the final whistle.
We made it hard for ourselves, showing a lack of maturity at times to close the game out, but got the three points that mattered going into Saturday’s title deciding game against North Shields Athletic Reserves.
Mason 9*; Hall 8 (R. Patterson ’75, 7); Watson 7; Charlton 8; T. Patterson 8; Connelly 8 (Parker ’60, 7); Bromham 9; Ballabanaj 8; Morton 7 (McEwan ’45, 7); Shipley 7 (Holmes ’55, 8); Tallen 8.
Man of the Match: Scott Mason