Birtley were back to winning ways when they picked up all three points on a windy afternoon at Ryton & Crawcrook as goals from Glen Hargrave, Aidan Rutledge, Andrew Clarkson and Jack Honour sent Birtley back into the play-off places.
Match highlights can be viewed HERE. (We’d recommend the sound off…it was a tad windy!)
Birtley made a number of changes from the team that lost to Tow Law Town in the Durham Challenge Cup. Aidan Rutledge and Glen Hargrave returned to the starting lineup, Lewis Exley replaced the injured Sam Hedley at left back. Joe Barwick returned to a midfield role and there was a first start of the season for Ricky Tanoh in a much changed Birtley side.
The opening stages were played at a frantic pace and Birtley had the better openings. Rutledge and Honour both had opportunities however Ryton remained solid. On 28 minutes Birtley were awarded a penalty when Rutledge was taken down in the box. It was Rutledge himself who stepped up but his effort was saved by RACA keeper Adam Mooney.
The Hoops were finally ahead on 39 minutes when Hargrave cut inside and belted an unstoppable strike from the edge of the area. The goal was a huge moment in the game and changed the complexion of the tie just before the interval. An early contender for goal of the season in a strike that deserved to win any game.
After the break Birtley took the game to RACA. The Hoops doubled their lead when Rutledge met a Callum Smith free-kick and headed downwards to give Birtley clear daylight. It was game over on 53 minutes when Jack Honour met another Smith cross and extended Birtley’s lead. Honour nearly had his second when he forced the keeper into a brilliant stop but from the resulting corner there was no mistake as Honour scored his second of the game.
Birtley were causing real problems from their set pieces and the delivery from Smith was on point throughout the game. Ryton were reduced to 10 men when Joe Thompson was dismissed for an awful challenge on the relentless Joe Barwick. Smiggs landed his fourth assist of the afternoon when his deflected cross found Andrew Clarkson who slotted home for his first of the season. Substitute Jay Roper pulled a consolation goal back for Ryton when he converted a penalty in the 87th minute after fellow sub Daniel O’Reilly was brought down by Grant.
It was an impressive three points and display from Birtley in difficult conditions. There were strong displays across the defence with mentions to Conor Grant, Ben Garrity, Lewis Exley and Jack Honour. Callum Turnbull also gave a commanding display on his return to his former club. Joe Barwick delivered a brilliant and energetic display in midfield supported by Tom McIntyre and Callum Smith produced four assists and was a constant threat from set pieces. Birtley now move onto a difficult away game against high flying Boro Rangers.
Manager Paul Bryson was pleased with how we the lads dealt with difficult conditions. “Really pleased with result and the performance in very difficult conditions and the wind playing a big factor. We dealt with the conditions really well and ran out convincing winners. I am pleased for Jack Honour and I thought Joe Barwick had his best game of the season, unfortunately picking up an injury that will rule him out for a couple of weeks.
The squad is getting really pushed, tried and tested. It’s a credit to the lads to come to a difficult place like Ryton and get a result with a few missing through injury. The games are coming thick and fast, the full squad will need to be utilised going forward. we look forward to Wednesday.”
Attendance – 180 including around 50 travelling Birtley supporters.
Player of the Match – Jack Honour. Two goals and a third player of the match award of the season for the Birtley skipper.