....against Durham City on Saturday – even though the pitch was playable.
The match referee postponed the game just 40 minutes before kick-off because a small area next to the touchline where his assistant was going to run was frozen and deemed to be dangerous, and he refused to consider switching his assistants to the opposite sides.
Aycliffe were even more unhappy because a local referee, who is qualified enough to carry out pitch inspections, had told them in the morning that the pitch was playable, providing they could soften the questionable area, which they thought they had done so by spreading salt, hastily purchased from the local supermarket.
Aycliffe manager Alan Oliver said: “As a club, we are very disappointed. The pitch was perfectly playable, but the ref wasn’t convinced a small area down the touchline was 100 per cent safe. We suggested that the assistants swop sides to solve the problem, but the ref refused.
“There was plenty of give in the ground all over the pitch. We made a huge amount of effort to put the game on, because we expected a good crowd. It was farcical.”
Aycliffe also claimed that the ref didn’t turn up until 2pm instead of the required 1.30, and an earlier decision might have reduced the inconvenience to both clubs and supporters.
Northern League secretary Tony Golightly, who last month encouraged clubs to work as hard as possible to get matches played, said: “We’ll have a look at the referee’s report when we receive it.”
Aycliffe wasn’t the only game to be postponed less than an hour before kick-off. So was the big promotion battle between Northallerton Town and Jarrow Roofing, and another Second Division game between Chester-le-Street and Horden CW.
The league has suffered over two dozen postponements in the last week, and there are growing signs of fixture congestion, even more so as there are forty-six games in the First Division this season. Two clubs have still to complete a third of their fixtures.
And as one Aycliffe official pointed out on Saturday: “There won’t be many games played before March if games are called off for this.”
Bishop Auckland climbed to fourth in the table by winning 1-0 at Ashington.
Both teams had chances to break the deadlock and the game seemed to be heading for a goalless draw until midfielder Dion Raitt, on his return from injury, bundled the ball in from a cross by Dale Jardine with just two minutes remaining.
Bishop Auckland manager Colin Myers said: “It looked as if the game had 0-0 written all over it. We scored when they had us under the cosh.”
Bishops could go third on Monday night if they win at Team Northumbria.
Ashington assistant-manager Perry Briggs said: “We had five or six good chances, and should have taken at least one of them. They caught us on the break because we switched off for the last 5 minutes. We’re disappointed with the result because we’ve been on a good run.”
Shildon gave themselves a boost ahead of their FA Vase tie against Parkgate this Saturday by winning 2-0 at South Shields, the third time they’ve beaten the Mariners this season.
They took the lead when Chris Hunter crossed for Jamie Owens to score with a header early on, but they didn’t get their second till midway through the second half when former Shields player Robbie Briggs scored direct from a free kick.
Shildon manager Gary Forrest, who rested some players with this Saturday in mind, said: “We weren’t brilliant, but we went about our job well. Shields kept going right to the end and made it tough for us.”
Hebburn Town won their seventh away league game of the season by winning 3-1 at Newcastle Benfield.
They took the lead in the opening minutes when Tony Stephenson crossed for Dan Kirkup to score from close range, but Gary Ormston equalised with a header for Benfield.
Hebburn defender Jeff Forsyth was dismissed for his second yellow just after half-time, but the ten-men made it 2-1 when Dan Kirkup split the defence for Paul Gardiner to score, then Aaron Croft dribbled past a defender and fired the third.
Hebburn manager Paul Bennett said: “It as a spirited team performance. With five players missing we juggled the pack and dug out a fantastic result with ten men for 40 minutes of the second half. The lads ran through brick walls and put their bodies on the line. We took our chances when they came our way. The result takes into the Darlington game on Tuesday with a bit more confidence.”
Newcastle Benfield manager Anthony Woodhouse said: “I’m bitterly disappointed. We had the better of the game, but failed to take our chances.”
Crook Town moved into clear second ahead of Northallerton in the Second Division when they won 3-0 away at Washington.
They took the lead when former Darlington player Richard Hodgson scored from a free-kick after 16 minutes, and after they hit the post and the bar, Chris Wallace scored a superb goal on 63 minutes, running from the halfway line past three defenders and beating the Washington keeper.
Craig Hughes wrapped up a good win when he quickly controlled a through ball from Kyle Davis, and flicked the ball home over the advancing keeper.
Crook manager Gary Pearson said: “The result was never in doubt once we took the lead. We missed a hatful of chances in the second half.”
Washington manager Richie Latimer said: “I was really disappointed with the players. We gave away some poor goals and didn’t take our chances. At best, we had four lads turn up for us. Taking nothing away from Crook, who at times played some really good stuff, but from my point of view I need the lads to pull their fingers out and get back to working as a team and not when they fancy it.”
Leaders Ryhope CW stayed five points clear at the top of the division after they beat Esh Winning 4-0, with striker Johnny Butler recording his twenty-eighth league goal of the season, to put him two ahead of his team-mate Chris Winn.
He put them into the lead after 20 minutes with an effort from the edge of the box, and on 58 minutes Michael Charlton got the second with a powerful left foot shot from 20 yards.
James Cook scored the third with a header, and with five minutes left sub Stephen Moody grabbed the fourth.
Ryhope CW manager Martyn Swales said: “It was a great result on a very wet and soggy pitch. We started off well, and then took control against a good footballing side. Most pleasing was another clean sheet, the second in two weeks.”
In the other Second Division game, Whitehaven beat Alnwick 4-1, Kevin Connelly and Craig Robson both getting two apiece.
Credit: Ray Simpson