It was a 6-goal thriller as Birtley came back from 3-0 down to take a point in a pulsating top of the table clash against Billingham Town.
Match programme is available HERE.
Big thanks to Andrew Jameson for the use of his photos. You can view the rest of the album HERE.
Birtley Town v Billingham Town lived up to all expectations on Tuesday evening as a bumper crowd of 363 saw a game of two halves and six goals. Birtley made three changes to the side that beat Newcastle University. Callum Turnbull returned to the defence to replace the injured John Martin. Isaac Robinson was back between the sticks and there was a full debut for Tom McIntyre, a recent signing from Ryton & Crawcrook Albion, as he replaced Jack Harrison in midfield.
The game started at a frantic pace with Aidan Rutledge and Tom Scothern both forcing saves from Billingham keeper Harkess in the opening five minutes. On 13 minutes, Robbie Bird opened the scoring with an excellent finish after cutting in from out wide. By 15 minutes, Birtley were well and truly on the ropes after a powering header from Jack Pounder doubled the visitors lead. It took until the half hour mark for Birtley to get any sort of foothold in the game, Joe Barwick seeing his effort go wide. It looked like game over on 42 minutes when Andrew Nelson capitalised on some hesitation to put Billingham 3-0 up going into the break.
Half-time allowed the Hoops to regroup. Birtley pulled one back when Ben Garrity capitalised on some slack play from Billingham to find Rutledge. He calmly took on two players before lifting the ball over the Billingham keeper to make it 3-1. The goal seemed to lift Birtley however on 63 minutes Robbie Bird was tripped in the area and a penalty was awarded. Leighton Harris stepped up but his effort was brilliantly saved by Isaac Robinson which certainly appeared to lift the home team and crowd.
On 75 minutes, Joe Barwick cut inside and delivered a cross that was helped on by Rutledge for his second goal of the game. Two minutes later, the hat-trick was completed when Rutledge met an outstanding delivery from Brandon Turnbull with his head to make the scores all level.
The game finished 3-3 with neither side managing to create a clear cut opportunity in the final stages.
Afterwards, Paul Bryson reflected on a roller coaster game. “There was a lot of hype going into the game and it was a top of the table clash. The game didn’t disappoint and we knew it was going to be a really difficult encounter against a side that I see as favourites to win the league. We started well and had a couple of chances. They opened the scoring and then dominated the first half. They controlled the game in the first half, very dangerous, well organised and took a 3-0 lead at half-time. We needed a response from the lads in the second half and we certainly got that.”
“Aidan scored a great individual goal to get us back into the game, he went beyond a couple of players and that give us a lift. They came back with their quality down the left and got the penalty. Isaac makes a great save, that gave us a huge lift. Aidan gets another two goals to equalise. The game ebbed and flowed after this point, both sides looking for the winner. We are delighted with the response from the lads. We showed superb character. I didn’t see that at half time and fair play to the lads. Second half was superb and I thought Tom McIntyre was outstanding on his debut. Aidan now has 25 goals which is remarkable.”
“In terms of Billingham, they are the best side we have played. If anyone finishes above them then they will rightly win the division.”
The result left Birtley in second place behind Billingham. At the end of the evening, both sides can reflect on a brilliant game that was an outstanding advert for non-league football.
Birtley now turn their attention to the FA Vase game against Newton Aycliffe. Kick off is 3pm at the Arrowmark Home Improvements Stadium
Attendance – 363.
Manager Paul Bryson heaped praise on the supporters after the game. “We had a great crowd, the youngsters were nice and vocal. It helped to spur our lads on. We would have taken a draw before the game and certainly at half-time. I think the game was a fantastic spectacle for Northern League football.”
Player of the Match – Tom McIntyre.