Bridlington Town 3
Winterton Rangers 1
WINTER arrived, Winterton arrived, but Bridlington made sure they were not caught cold in the race for the Northern Counties East League title.
Once again, they found themselves comfortably ahead at half time, and when the visitors looked like mounting a comeback, it was quickly snuffed out by a killer third goal.
On a bitterly cold December afternoon, all this was achieved without a couple of influential players.
Two of Town’s midfield quartet were missing. Tom Fleming started a two-match ban, while the departure of James Bennett to Ferriby meant the Seasiders had lost their player of the season so far, and arguably the best midfielder in the league.
In stepped veteran Martin Thacker, another player returning to Queensgate, and he gave an impressive debut - keeping the ball well and showing a range of excellent passing.
It was the central spine of the team which was the platform this victory was based on. Mark WIlberforce made a couple of good early saves, Craig Palmer and Wayne Aziz are growing as a central defensive partnership, while alongside Thacker, Wayne Wallace proved himself a more than able deputy for Fleming.
Wilberforce produced two solid, unspectacular saves within the first 10 minutes, first from captain James O’Neill and then denying Jack Cross, as they both fired in efforts from the edge of the area.
Ruthlessly, Town made Winterton pay, cashing in with their first effort of the game. An awful pass across his own penalty box by Robert Sanderson went straight to Craig Hogg and he beat Jack Ward at his near post.
Both teams looked good in possession but too often the final ball was short on quality and chances were a rarity.
Ash Allanson did pick an excellent pass to find Hogg but, with other players racing forward to support him, he went for goal and just swept a shot beyond the far post.
If the delivery was slightly lacking in open play, the same could not be said when Town won a left-wing free kick on 32 minutes. Thacker supplied a perfect cross and Craig Palmer glanced a header beyond Ward.
A sweeping attack by Rangers ended with Cross shooting narrowly wide after good work by Gavin Cooper, and Brid’s Nathan Cook then forced a decent stop from Ward with one of his regular thunderous drives.
The last action of the half saw Wilberforce claw a Craig Fisher header away from underneath his own bar and in the melee, Jake Stannard - who had scored both goals in Winterton’s 2-0 win over title-chasers Tadcaster in midweek - sustained what looked like a painful dislocated shoulder.
He was replaced at the break by Liam Wilkin, a regular among the NCEL leading scorers in recent years.
The first 25 minutes of the second half was the perfect advert for Christmas shopping. The visitors had a lot of possession and territory but rarely looked like scoring, while Town were happy to defend what they had.
Cooper missed a good headed chance, and Hogg shot wide after good determination by Josh Greening. Thacker’s work was done and he made way for Billy Logan, who again proved what a valuable and versatile member of the squad he is.
At the same time, Danny Brunton was probably left wondering what he has to do to get 90 minutes at left back, as he was replaced by Joe Danby.
A rare Brid burst saw Hogg free Greening down the left wing and he conjured up a great cross to Wallace, but he had to rush his shot and it was simple for Ward to gather.
With 17 minutes left, Winterton made things more interesting, Gavin Cooper finding room in the box to squeeze a neat shot under Wilberforce.
But three minutes later, nerves were eased as Town added a third. When Greening made another dash down the left, it looked like Brid were short of numbers in support, but Allanson and Hogg kept the ball and eventually Nathan Cook played a one-two on the edge of the box and then calmly slotted past Ward.
Among the celebrations Frank Belt and Cross squared up, and soon afterwards Belt was involved in more fiesty scenes, falling to the ground holding his face after tangling with O’Neill’s flailing arm.
Ref Michael Connell stopped play and a red card for elbowing looked likely, but the official, who on the whole had a decent game, kept all his cards in his pocket. Belt was taken off soon afterwards as his temper was rising.
Wallace’s deflected shot crept agonisingly wide as the game petered out, but once again Town had beaten top 10 opposition.
Only Tadcaster in the top half have taken all three points from the Seasiders, yet five points have been dropped against the bottom two.