SUNDERLAND RCA’s STL Northern League championship challenge received another massive setback last night when they were beaten by West Auckland, writes MALCOLM PRATT.
Following Saturday’s reverse at the hands of Spennymoor Town, the Wearsiders needed to immediately bounce back and they made a dream start at Darlington Road.
Home defenders were culpable in failing to clear an innocuous ball into the box and Brian Close nipped in to fire home from six yards.
FA Vase finalists West equalised on 37 minutes when Steven Johnson, recently signed from Shildon, drove into the top corner of the net, giving RCA goalkeeper Neil Atkinson absolutely no chance of saving.
Two minutes before the interval, Neil Hixon’s side had the chance to regain the initiative, but home goalkeeper Mark Bell saved Joe Walton’s penalty.
Midway through the second period, West scored what proved to be the winning goal as Jonathan Gibson struck from 15 yards following an excellent three-man move with Mattie Moffat and Michael Rae.
Just before the end, RCA’s misery was compounded when they had former West player Tom Berj sent off.
The Wearsiders still lead the First Division table but are now rank outsiders since the other three challengers – Spennymoor, West Auckland and Dunston UTS – all have several games in hand.
Consett, meanwhile, secured their top-flight status with victory at Norton, for whom goalkeeper James Provett made four outstanding saves before being eventually beaten in stoppage time as Michael Mackay slotted the ball into the net.
In Division Two, Hebburn Town are now second after Alex Benjamin steered his side to an emphatic 6-0 victory at Darlington RA, who are now out of the promotion race.
Benjamin rifled all six goals and his tally would have been seven had he not failed with a penalty.
Bedlington Terriers reached the semi-finals of the Brooks Mileson Memorial Cup when first-half goals by Craig Hubbard and Mark Convery saw off a spirited challenge from North Shields.
STL NORTHERN LEAGUE, Division One (top)
P W D L F A Pt
Sunderland RCA 39 25 7 7 99 49 82
Spennymoor 35 23 7 5 72 28 76
West Auckland 33 23 6 4 86 46 75
Dunston UTS 31 21 8 2 63 22 71