Northern League Division 2
Talk about mouthwatering and it doesn't get much better than this fixture! Norton sit at the top of the table with Esh 3 points behind in 2nd. place. Although the result will probably decide the fate of the championship, Norton go into the game comfortable in the knowledge that they were assured promotion after Wednesday's 2-2 draw between Marske United and Sunderland Ryhope CA, while Esh need 3 points from the remaning fixtures to guarantee promotion.
Add to the above the fact that Esh is one of my favourite grounds, also that I have a lot of friends who are connected to both clubs and I see a good day coming for me.
Once again, I am being chauffered to and fro; my friend Paul Sigsworth of Billingham Synthonia is doing the honours, this time (cheers, Paul).
I am happy to say that this turned into one of my most enjoyable games for a long time, as much for the welcome I received as for the football. From entering the ground, I kept meeting people I knew, then when Paul and I went into the clubhouse, I felt like a long-lost relative! First, I was presented with a get-well card by Billy Molyneux, the father of Danny the Esh Winning goalkeeper; the card contained a message from the Esh players and committee. Then when I opened the match programme, I was delighted to see that programme editor Lee Stewart had included a welcome message for me in his opening notes.
The game itself started off quite brightly with both sides displaying their eagerness to win all three points. However, after just 15 minutes, Esh defender, the well-experienced Graham Liddle formerly of Darlington, Tow Law, Washington and Ryton, had what looked like a collision with (I think) Norton striker Gary Mitchell who was through on goal. Lids seemed to straighten his arms on contact and this left the referee with no choice other than to send him off as he was in the position of last defender.
This setback only served to instill even more spirit into the Esh side who surprised everyone with their continued attacks. Not that Norton didn't contribute; it was an end-to-end game which continued in the same vein into the second half. The last 10 minutes saw Esh, having made use of all their substitutes, almost continually on the attack with Tony Hanson having a shot which Norton keeper James Briggs only managed to palm onto the post but held onto the ball when it rebounded.
This sharing of the points has left the championship still up for grabs but Norton now look favourites, with Esh left needing 2 points from their last 2 matches to be assured promotion.
Thanks to everyone at both clubs for an enjoyable afternoon, also the many neutrals who made up the excellent attendance of 262.