Birtley got 2023 off to a flying start on Saturday, putting five past promotion favourites Billingham Town at an unseasonably mild Bedford Terrace.
Match highlights are available here. Match Gallery will be available here.
The Hoops were back in action after a lengthy lay off when they made the trip down the A19 to face Billingham. Centre-half Jack Honour laid down a marker in the opening minutes with a crunching tackle that left Billingham frontman Jack Pounder writhing in agony. The Hoops skipper was centre-stage again in the 17th minute, nodding Callum Smith’s inviting corner past James Winter to open the scoring.
Before long, Birtley had doubled their lead through the prolific Aidan Rutledge, who fired home from the spot following a handball in the box. The hosts almost hit back immediately, as Pounder forced a superb save from Conor Grant, with the referee waving away appeals for handball in the aftermath.
Rutledge then turned provider, as he laid the ball off to Callum Smith, who extended his side’s lead with a cool finish. Smith turning back onto his right foot before smashing the ball into the net which started some excellent celebrations from the Birtley bench. 3-0 can be a dangerous scoreline between these teams if the reverse fixture was anything to go by, and so it almost proved as Billingham’s Leighton Harris missed an absolute sitter on the half-hour mark, after being handed it on a plate by team-mate Robbie Bird. On the stroke of half-time, Bird got his just desserts; breaking through on the left and slotting past Grant to set up an intriguing second half.
The frenetic first-half pace did not continue after the break, with the two sides fighting out a scrappy quarter of an hour before Rutledge claimed his second penalty of the afternoon on 58 minutes following another handball. That goal saw him become Birtley’s highest goal scorer in a season, beating Paul Terrell’s record of 41 goals (all comps) from the 2002/03 season. And he wasn’t finished there; receiving Tom McIntyre’s exquisite through-ball on 67th minutes before lifting the ball over Winter to complete his hat-trick.
Some bizarre scenes followed in the 69th minute as the referee stepped in to break up a scuffle in the centre of the park. Whilst his back was turned, the hosts hurriedly took a throw-in, which Bird collected before rounding Grant for the finish. After consulting with his assistant, he eventually ruled it out, to the relief of those in green & white. That seemed enough to take the wind out of Billingham and the Hoops were happy to see out the remaining twenty minutes and take the three points back to Birtley. Matty Ward made a late appearance to make his debut for the club.
“At the start of the season, every club has goals. We reached our first one yesterday by accumulating more points than we did last season. We still have 16 games to play. Aidan became our record goal scorer beating Paul Terrell. I played with Tez and he was outstanding. It was a really pleasing result and I’m over the moon for the supporters who travelled down. We are delighted for the club in general, we are in a good place. We need to keep this going and get to where we want to be.”
H2H v Billingham Town
P9 W2 D2 L5 F14 A21 Pts 8
13.09.2014 – Birtley Town 2-1 Billingham Town (K. Hewitson, Robert Smith)
14.02.2015 – Billingham Town 3-1 Birtley Town (OG)
08.08.2015 – Billingham Town 1-0 Birtley Town (N/A)
31.10.2015 – Birtley Town 1-1 Billingham Town (M. Grey)
15.09.2018 – (FA Vase 2QR) Billingham Town 3-1 Birtley Town (A. McEwen)
24.11.2018 – Birtley Town 0-4 Billingham Town (N/A)
13.04.2019 – Billingham Town 4-1 Birtley Town (L. Whybrow)
20.09.2022 – Birtley Town 3-3 Billingham Town (A. Rutledge x3)
07.01.2023 – Billingham Town 1-5 Birtley Town (J. Honour, A. Rutledge x3, C. Smith)
The Hoops host Chester-le-Street Town on Friday evening (7:30pm) in the Morrison’s derby.