An Aidan Rutledge hat-trick helped Birtley to a fourth consecutive win which sent them to the top of the table. It was an impressive 3-0 victory for The Hoops against a Horden side who had Barney Dobinson sent off for a second yellow card on the hour mark.
Birtley made one change from the 3-0 victory over Billingham Synthonia with Isaac Robinson making his first start of the season in goal replacing the missing Conor Grant.
The match started with a competitive and fast pace. The first half chance fell to Rutledge for Birtley when he rose to meet Jack Honour’s cross, but his header was saved by Horden keeper Paul Griffith.
The deadlock was broken in the 22nd minute after a neat exchange between Josh Holland and Alex Francis. Holland delivered a cross which was chested down by defender John Bowes and Aidan Rutledge capitalised on a lack of communication between the goalkeeper and defender to poke the ball home on the line.
Both sides had chances in the first half. Callum Smith and Glen Hargrave then had half chances for Birtley, with Bowes and Doughty having opportunities for the hosts to level.
The second half was a frantic affair with the home side adopting a 0-3-7 formation for the restart. In the 53rd minute, Horden forward Jack Maskell flattened goalkeeper Isaac Robinson in an aerial challenge which led to a flare up between both sets of players resulting in yellow cards for both Maskell and Barney Dobinson (off the ball incident) which proved crucial. A few minutes later Dobinson was shown a second yellow for dissent towards the assistant referee leaving the hosts with ten men.
Birtley took full advantage of the extra man looking dangerous on the counter attack against a Horden side who were chasing the game and in the 66th minute, Birtley doubled their lead as Rutledge nicked the ball off the defender midway through the Horden half before driving through the defence and chipping a delightful finish over the goalkeeper to make it 2-0.
Both sides made numerous changes and Birtley had further opportunities to extend their lead through Smith, Rutledge and in particular Joe Barwick. The third goal came after a sustained period of pressure from the Hoops. Alex Francis’ corner was brilliantly headed into the top right corner by Rutledge to complete his second hat-trick for The Hoops, Joe Barwick could have added a fourth goal late on but was denied by a brilliant save low down when he looked destined to score and Isaac Robinson produced a late save from ex-Birtley man Davey Stevens to ensure a second clean sheet.
It was an excellent performance from Birtley with mentions to Callum Turnbull, Jack Honour, Sam Hedley and Ben Garrity for commanding displays. Tom Scothern was once again tireless in midfield. The Hoops have recorded four consecutive wins to take them to the the top of the table and back to back clean sheets. It might be a brief spell for Birtley at the top of the table with Billingham Town playing on Wednesday night.
Manager Paul Foster was delighted with another three points on the road. “I’m absolutely over the moon with the result against a very good Horden side. They will rightly be in the mix come the end of the season. We showed last night that as well as trying to play football, when we have to we will roll our sleeves up and show a different element to our game. We showed what we are all about, we never gave them an inch and stood up to a physical side.
Horden are a good side and it was pleasing to see the mentality of the lads, we can and should be competitive in each and every game regardless of the opposition. To take six points from two difficult away fixtures is very pleasing. I know there has to be a man of the match, that’s the way it goes, I thought the whole team deserved it last night as the effort and commitment shown to the cause was outstanding. We limited a side like Horden to maybe one chance in the whole game. This shows how well we played collectively and Aidan’s (Rutledge) header from Alex Francis corner was worth the entrance fee alone.”
Man of the Match – Josh Holland. A second MOTM award for Holland this season. (Player sponsor – Steven Carroll)
Attendance – 167.