We travelled down the A19 to Billingham Town for today’s EBAC Northern League match.
The unavailability of RCA captain Swansbury along with Callaghan and Elliott and the suspended Best meant that the team who were so convincing on Tuesday would need to be changed again.
Hodgson returned in a defensive role while Watts replaced Best in midfield.
It was refreshing to see Mark Davison and Max Allen on the bench, both returning after long spells out through injury.
The teams lined up as follows:
Billingham Town: Bancroft, C McDonald, Osmond, Emms, Carling, Hinchley, C Wilson, Lavan, Baltazar and Bruton. Subs: Dunlavey, James, Dickinson, Joynes and May.
Sunderland RCA: Dean, Davis, Carr, Forster, Hodgson ©, Watts, Leonard, Hope, O’Neill, Callen and Fairley. Subs: Davison, Errington, Allen, Dorward and Armstrong.
The match kicked off in pouring rain and the home team took advantage of the wind which was blowing straight down the pitch.
It was RCA who started well with a good move down the right, Watts sliding the ball into the channel for Leonard who drove the ball into the box but Bancroft at full stretch was able to save at the feet of O’Neill.
A minute later and Hodgson played the ball out top the right wing for Fairley who dribbled into the box before and pulled the ball back to Callen whose shot was blocked by Carling.
Billingham then took charge of the game, Emms found Baltazar with a great ball to the left wing and he cut inside before squaring the ball to Earl who forced the a magnificent point reaction save from Dean.
A few minutes later and Emms again played the ball out wide left, this time it was picked up by Bruton who slipped past his marker but his cross was met by Forster who headed clear.
To many of RCA’s attacking moves were falling short with the final ball being intercepted and the home sides next attacking move came from a misplaced pass which was cleared forward by C McDonald to Earl who held the ball up on the right before crossing to Lavan but he shot wide from a good position.
Billingham took the lead in the 20 minute when Hinchley fired the ball forward, Bruton and Baltazar exchanged a quick one two before Baltazar managed to squeeze the ball into the net under pressure from Hodgson.
RCA tried to respond through Leonard on the left but his cross into the box was headed over by O’Neill.
A minute later and Fairley picked up a pass from Davis, Dribbles inside before squaring the ball across the face of the goal but Callen was inches away from converting.
Play switched quickly to the other end where the dangerous Bruton picked up a long clearance, had time to control the ball before giving Dean no chance with a well aimed shot into the net.
It could so easily have been 3 – 0 five minutes later when Bruton and Baltazar combined again and waltzed through the RCA defence, but Dean smothers the ball before Baltazar could put the finishing touches to the move.
However the home crowd didn’t have to wait long for the third, Emms picked up a poor clearance by Dean and sent the ball straight down the middle where Bruton was on hand to head over Dean and into the net.
In the final minute of the half Fairley forced a corner on the right, Hope crossed into the box and Forster met the corner with a powerful header into the net past Bancroft to make it 3-1.
The driving rain continued in the second half and Billingham picked up the pace of the game from the off, a good ball forward from Lavan set Earl free inside the visitors penalty area and it took another good save from the feet of Dean to deny the striker.
Shortly after this scare Wilson picked out the run of Baltazar who beat the offside trap to burst forward and it took a very good recovering tackle by Davis who conceded a corner.
A wonder strike from Lavan made it 4-1 in the 57minute when the ball fell nicely to him and he hit a tremendous shot which was still rising when it hit the net.
RCA could not seem to get anything going and it was not long before the home team make it 5-1 and it was Bruton again who finished off a good move steering the ball past Dean for his hat trick.
Billingham were absolutely on top and when Dickinson played Emms in it looked odds on to be 6 – 1 but Dean once again pulls off a fantastic one handed save to palm the ball away for a corner.
In the 80 minute RCA eventually put some pressure on the Billingham defence and were rewarded when Carr stabbed the ball home after a Leonard cross was mis-handled by the Bancroft.
A number of substitutions took place, notably Baltazar and Bruton coming off, before RCA picked up the pace of the game for the first time forcing the home team back on the defensive and with time running out another Leonard cross into the box was not cleared and the ball fell to Callen who smashed the ball home, although the ball was cleared by Osmond it was well over the line and the goal was given by the Assistant.
RCA continued to pour forward and in the 92nd minute Davison forced a corner on the right, it was whipped into the box where O’Neill managed to glance a header into the net beyond the reach of Bancroft.
The Billingham defence, which had not really been called upon up until this final ten minutes were struggling to cope, but managed to hold out for the 5-4 win despite a last minute free kick taken by Davison which thundered into the wall and was shortly followed by the referee’s whistle for the end of the match.
This was a Jekyll and Hyde performance from RCA and so far removed from the performance against Penrith that it could have been a completely different team.
It is clear that we missed Swansbury’s leadership skills on the pitch.
We need to re-group and go again with a trip up to Ashington on Tuesday, 6 October for our next EBAC Northern League match.
Then we are at home to Shildon in the second qualifying round of the FA Vase on Saturday, 10 October 2020, all ticket match. Watch out for details of when tickets will be on sale.