Birtley emerged with a valuable point on Wednesday night, following a physical encounter away at high-flying Boro Rangers.
Match highlights available here.
Managers Paul Bryson and Paul Foster were able to name a strong first XI, with the experienced Alex Francis returning to his familiar midfield berth following recent injury woes. Francis wasted no time in asserting himself on the game, heading home at the back post just five minutes into proceedings. The next fifteen minutes were to set the tone for the evening, with some lively tackles flying in, and plenty of action at both ends. Rangers nearly drew level when ‘keeper Conor Grant mis-controlled a back-pass, but the experienced stopper was able to scramble it clear. Ben Turner then came close from a free-kick which sailed just wide of the upright.
On 19 minutes, Birtley doubled their advantage when a trademark Glen Hargrave long-throw was flicked into the net by Rangers skipper Steven Keenan. The hosts continued to apply pressure, with Ben Garrity having to race back to clear a Thomas Bligh effort off the line. But the Rangers man soon got his just desserts, racing to the edge of the box and hitting a fine shot past Grant to get his side back in the game. The pick of the goals came shortly after as poacher turned provider, with Aidan Rutledge hitting a beautiful cross-field ball to Hargrave who absolutely buried his strike into the far corner.
Birtley started the second half with some extra muscle in the side, as Tom Scothern made way for defender Owen Lancaster. The two sides continued to trade blows, both literally and metaphorically, with Grant being forced into a great save to deny Daniel Lofts, and Alex Francis smashing a free-kick against the crossbar. In the 62nd minute, the hosts pulled one back through leading scorer Stuart Rose, who stooped to head in at the back post. Within a minute, Rangers were back on level terms, as again Rose found space to head home.
In the remaining half hour, Birtley had to be resolute as Rangers chased a winner. Both Rose and Callum Hickman placed decent chances wide, but perhaps the best effort came from full-back Keenan, who hit an absolute rocket which Grant did well to push away. Keenan was involved in a major flash point in the dying minutes, as he shoved Callum Smith to the floor and earned himself a red card which proved to be the last action in what had been an enthralling game.
Brysa had mixed emotions during the game but overall was pleased with a draw. “We are pleased with the result and for large periods we played very well. It was a night of mixed emotions. Before the game we would have been happy with a point but when we are 2-0 and 3-1 up, you want to take all three points. Then when they equalised on the hour mark we would have been happy with a point again. The lads effort, commitment and professionalism was outstanding from the moment we arrived at the ground until we left.
It’s always difficult to come this far on a midweek fixture and fair play to the lads for their attitude and performance. We were a constant threat during the first half and Glen’s throw-ins were a particular threat. He then scored a good goal himself. Boro Rangers are an experienced side who know how to play the game. They have good deliveries from set pieces and know how to influence the game, this is what got them back in the game. It’s a good point but only if we back it up with a good result at the weekend.
I thought Jack Honour was outstanding again against a very difficult opponent and deserved his player of the match award. We move onto another difficult away game on Saturday followed by a midweek trip to Sunderland West End.”
The Hoops are back down the A19 again on Saturday to face Easington Colliery at the Welfare Ground. If it’s even half as good as last season’s encounter, it’ll be well worth the trip. Kick off is at 3pm.