Northern League Division 2
I always enjoy the craic with the lads from Crook and I also feel comfortable at Birtley so this was an easy choice for me. Having made sure the game was going ahead following the heavy rain over the past week, I then spent a pleasant hour in the William IV Hotel in the company of the fathers of two of the Birtley players.
Birtley have registered a lot of players this season - 42 at the last count - so there were several new faces on view in the green and white hoops. Crook were suffering from players absences due to injury, holidays and family events and their supporters were just a little worried about the outcome as the defence had been the hardest hit.
This last fact became evident early on as Birtley opened the scoring in the 8th minute by virtue of one of my old favourites, former Esh Winning, Washington and Seaham Red Star front-runner Steve Burns, with a clever right-foot strike from wide left into the far corner. Just 6 minutes later, Birtley went further ahead when Andy Innes turned in a nice cross from the right by Phil Sowerby to round off a powerful attacking move.
2-0 at half time and Birtley were worthy of their lead for all their hard work.
Crook management duo Peter Dixon and me old mate, former Birtley Assistant Manager Paul Foster, made a substitution at the start of the 2nd half which seemed to have an effect. Crook became more direct in their attacks and managed to hit the woodwork on three occasions. Their was a strong shout for handball in the penalty area on about 65 minutes which I thought was a certain penalty but it wasn't given. With 10 minutes left, another handball claim was given and Darren Kokes hit his spot-kick hard and low into the left corner. There followed more frantic attacks by Crook but resolute defending by the Birtley defence marshalled by new signings Martin Nugent and Robbie Houghton ensured the points for Birtley.