Hebburn Town, of the Northern League Division 2, battled their way into the Third Qualifying Round of the FA Cup by defeating higher division opponents, Runcorn Linnets, through a Liam McBryde strike to win 1-0 on a sunny, South Tyneside, afternoon at the Hebburn Sports Ground.
The goal came during a first half that saw the Linnets – who play in the North West Counties League, one level above their hosts – struggle to cope with the rapid, direct, play of the home side. After 21 minutes, a speedy Hebburn breakaway resulted in a right wing corner that Dean Nicholson delivered with supreme accuracy right on to the forehead of Christopher Jewels. The ball crashed down off the underside of the bar and bounced out only as far as the edge of the six-yard box where McBryde held off close defensive attention to hook the ball home for the only goal of the game.
While McBryde will be credited with the decisive goal, it was Jewels who typified the Hebburn performance with the captain leading his team with strength and tenacity from the back. After being booked in the opening minutes for a strong tackle, just one of many decisions that referee Mr Peart got absolutely correct, Jewels then proceeded to not put a step wrong as he played the part of the proverbial brick outhouse at the heart of Hebburn’s defence.
The Linnets were actually the quickest team to start, and their first chance fell after a cautious opening ten minutes when a long kick from the goalkeeper, Richard Mottram, bounced into the Hebburn box for the onrushing Robert Whyte to collect. The Runcorn captain, clear of his markers, thumped a low, left footed shot that beat Dan Regan in the Hebburn goal, only to watch the shot cannon off the outside of the post.
Regan was in action again soon after when a right sided Linnets free-kick was met by the head of Michael Ellison on the edge of the box, but the big centre back’s header was comfortably taken by the home goalkeeper, making his debut for the club.
Hebburn almost took the lead moments before McBryde’s clincher. Dean Nicholson collected the ball on the right wing and his deep cross to the back post was headed back across goal by Tony Stephenson to create a chance for Paul Gardiner. Gardiner’s ghosted through the Linnets defence but could only watch as his header rose inches over the bar.
Hebburn’s tactics of getting the ball forward as quickly as possible for the pace of McBryde and his strike partner Stuart Nicholson was creating havoc in the visiting defence. With McBryde chasing a beautifully weighted through-ball from Jamie McGlen, the Runcorn stopper Christopher Lawson had to be aware as the last man in order to intercept while stretching. Seconds later it was Stuart Nicholson who was running in on goal chasing a through-ball. With only Ellison and the ‘keeper to beat, the ex-West Bromwich Albion man dropped his shoulder, spun the opposite direction but fizzed a shot just wide after leaving his marker trailing.
Despite the later period of the half being all Hebburn traffic, the home side were thankful to their ‘keeper who made a fine save on 29 minutes. A neat exchange of passes on the Linnets right between Kevin Towey and Christopher Dykes saw Towey break into the box and a one-on-one chance; after standing up to the shot, Regan quickly got down to his right to save the shot.
After a better start to the second half by the Linnets, a start which saw them camped in the Hebburn half, they were offered a route back into the game when Mr Peart dismissed Paul Hutchinson for a high, two-footed, tackle on the hour mark. The referee had no hesitation in brandishing the red card, despite the protests of the Hebburn players and bench. The decision seemed harsh from certain viewpoints, but when viewed from side-on the referee got the biggest decision of the day correct.
Runcorn could have been reduced to ten men themselves soon after when substitute Neil Black twice went charging into tackles. The first was a reckless challenge on Gardiner which saw Black leave the ground to fly through the air into a two footed tackle and the second was a late decapitation attempt on Jewels; both instances saw both the tackler and the recipient of the challenge left sprawling on the ground but leniency was shown by the referee.
Hebburn manager Paul Bennett was forced into a re-jig of his tactics following the sending off and he reacted by leaving one man up-front and playing with two distinct banks of four. The tactics worked perfectly as Hebburn soaked up strong Runcorn pressure and limited clear chances. With a massive ten minutes of injury time added on at the end, Hebburn fans had their hearts in the mouths as a mass scramble inside their box resulted in three efforts on goal straight after each other; with many of the travelling fans in the 170 in attendance willing an equaliser, the Hebburn defence threw bodies towards the ball to block each shot and see the game out for a deserved win and to continue with their Wembley dream.
Post Match Reaction:
[Before the game we were told] to go out and enjoy it first of all because it isn’t often that we’ll get to play in this kind of FA Cup game. Play for each other and there will be ups-and-downs in the game and just make sure that we stick together.
The save I had to make, I thought the ball was going to go out of play to be honest and their lad done well to keep it in. He beat two of our players and I thought he was going to put it across to my right, into the far corner. I got down and managed to get my knee to it and then we managed to clear it from three of four yards off the line, comfortably.”
Dean Nicholson – Hebburn Town midfielder:
“A game of two halves today I thought. First half we were certainly the better side; they came at us [in the second half] and when we went down to ten men they pushed on but we had enough to see the game through.
I thought [the sending off] was very poor. There was nothing different to a challenge during the first half by their number five. It could have affected us in two ways but we made sure it didn’t affect us too much.
Jeff went in there and was a very, very good centre half alongside Jewelsy. I thought Jewelsy was the best player on the pitch by a country mile. I thought the back four from minute one to minute ninety, well minute one hundred according to the referee, were absolutely brilliant. I’m not sure where he got the extra time from but the way the back four played in the second half, we could’ve played another ten minutes and not conceded. They looked very, very solid back there.
For a split second I thought my shot was going in, but it’s all about the team. From number one to number eighteen, and then including the gaffer through to the physio and everyone, it was a big day today and gladly we’ve all come through it.
My dad went down there on Tuesday to watch them against Warrington and the gaffer went down last week. We’ve had three people watching them and each have said that they are a very good side. We had stuck on the [dressing room] wall all of their strengths and weaknesses. I’m sure they would have watched us last week against Brandon. When you got to this stage of the competition it’s something that you need to do; it isn’t a league game. We’re happy to come off the pitch having won 1-0.
A lot of the young lads, and even Jamie to be fair, will remember today. They had a lot of fans here and they made it hard for us. But to win a game 1-0 is always very pleasing. We’ll all be looking on Monday to see who we get to play. We hope it isn’t [fellow Northern League side] Spennymoor away, but what comes our way, comes our way. The main aim is to get a decent game and if we can win that game and progress, then that would be fantastic.”
Andy Hudson, as if you didn’t know already, is loaned to us by Gannin Away, upon which you will find jewels of Northern League football. Andy also writes Blagul Fotboll for all things Swedish football.