Bridlington Town 4
Brighouse Town 1
AND so, the race for the Northern Counties East League title will go down to a final day shootout. Winner takes all.
Play like this and Bridlington will be lifting the silverware on Saturday. Even though they once again gave their opponents a headstart, just one goal instead of the customary two, they showed remarkable calmness and belief in their own ability.
Brighouse arrived bang in form and third in the table. Town could have given you a list of a dozen or more teams they would rather have been hosting under the circumstances.
But in awful conditions, never once did they panic. Instead they grew stronger as the game went on and ground down opponents who were certainly no mugs.
After a warning early on, when Brighouse had a big appeal for a penalty after they felt Chris Jenkinson handled following trickery by left-winger Leon Henry, the Seasiders found themselves a goal down within seven minutes.
Henry was again the source, once Tom Fleming had been dispossessed, and his cross was headed back across goal by Danny Naidole and into the far corner.
Nathan Cook and Ash Allanson were off target with Bridlington’s early efforts but the danger was there to see at the other end as firstly Frank Belt made a vital clearance from inside his own six yard box and then Naidole was a whisker away from a second goal when his 20-yard volley skimmed the side netting.
Jenkinson made a good block to stop Henry’s piledriver and Mark Wilberforce beat away James Sutcliffe’s free kick. Town were looking confident on the ball but it was the visitors creating all the chances in the first half-an-hour.
Ten minutes before the break, the hosts got the equaliser their patience deserved. Cook dug out a cross which won a corner and from the delivery, Tom Fleming beat keeper Ben Ineson to the ball, and his brave header was good enough to level matters.
Now it was Bridlington creating the chances. James Bennett skidded a 25-yard shot at Ineson and Craig Palmer spoiled a good run by wildly shooting over the bar.
At least the traffic was going in the right direction as far as Town were concerned, and once Wilberfoce had denied Henry at the start of the second half, that’s the way it stayed.
On 55 minutes, they took the lead. When the ball fell to Cook 30 yards from goal he looked to lining up one of his blockbusters but instead, he craftily feigned a shot, skipped past a defender and picked out James Bennett just inside the area, who curled a lovely finish high into the net. Excellent work by Cook, matched by Bennett.
Seven minutes later Bennett turned provider, a sublime pass from the halfway line found Josh Greening’s perfectly-timed run and he dodged round Ineson and tapped into an empty net.
Nerves were eased, although there had been little evidence of them on the pitch. Perhaps the terraces were where the anxiety was felt most.
It was by no means game over. Adam Wilson found the side netting with a thumping header from a left-wing free kick and then substitute Shane Hamilton’s first touch was a header which presented Nick Jagger with a very good chance but he could find no satisfaction and blasted over the bar.
Brighouse looked to be tiring on the heavy pitch, but a second goal for them at this stage would have made for a tense last 10 minutes.
Cook tapped into an empty net but the whistle had long since blown for offside against Greening, and the midfielder then sliced wide after a good build-up involving Bennett, and subs Billy Logan and Robbie Hawkes.
In the end, Robbie Hawkes sealed the points, scampering on to Fleming’s flick on and neatly slotting past the keeper.
You will see the league champions at Queensgate on Saturday, it remains to be seen if they wear red or black and white. Town may find themselves having to win, or being content with a point. Ninety minutes of football which, ideally, you would want to watch as a neutral because of the high stakes.
The clubhouse might need to stock up on brandy to calm the Queensgate faithful’s nerves before kick-off. Don’t miss it.