Chester-le-Street 1, Guisborough Town 4 (Northern League Division One)
Revitalised Guisborough Town reeled off their third successive win against rock-bottom Chester-le-Street on Saturday to claw themselves to just one point off safety and a realistic chance of retaining their coveted Northern League Division One status.
Despite one or two scares, an ultimately crucial 4-1 victory at Chester-le-Street brought another vital three points for the battling, never-say-die Priorymen.
And with their nearest rivals for the drop – Washington – getting hammered 10-1 at home to Sunderland RCA, Guisborough’s players, officials and fans alike are now starting to truly believe that relegation can be avoided.
Guisborough’s fantastic revival under new boss Gary Forster is being hailed in several quarters as ‘The Great Escape’ – and rightly so.
For after being 10 points behind Washington just a few weeks ago the Priorymen are now just one point behind their main Wearside relegations rivals, who seem to have almost completely imploded in their last few games.
The turnaround that Manager Gary has brought about is nothing short of remarkable. Since he took over he has steadied a fast-sinking ship and is now building up a good head of steam for HMS Guisborough and steering them towards the safer waters of ‘Survival Island.’
Guisborough now have four games left to put the seal on preserving their Division One status. It won’t be easy with yet another hugely important game next Saturday, 8 April away to another relegation-threatened side West Allotment Celtic, who are one place behind and six points adrift of Guisborough.
Then Guisborough face the long trip to Cumbria to play Penrith the following Saturday on 15 April followed by the toughest of finales with arch rivals Marske at home on Easter Monday, 17 April and finally another home match against title-chasing South Shields on Saturday, 22 April – both of which will attract bumper crowds.
Although that’s the toughest of run-ins for the Priorymen Washington, their main rivals for the safety of 19th spot in the table, finish with four difficult away games on the trot against Ashington, Dunston, Morpeth and Ryhope CW.
Gary Forster is taking a calm approach to the challenge ahead and after the Chester-le-Street victory he commented: “We clearly have some very difficult games coming up but if we can keep playing the way we have been in recent matches there is no reason why we can’t finish the season with a real flourish.
“We didn’t start very well against Chester-le-Street but once we took the lead after 10 minutes we picked our game up and deservedly went into a 3-0 lead.
“We should have actually scored more and it was disappointing that Chester-le-Street got a goal back just before half-time to put themselves back in contention at 3-1.
“Then in the second half they got another dubious penalty but James Dawson made a big save for us and we kicked on from there. Mason McNeil came off the bench late on to score and wrap the game up for us at 4-1 and I was very pleased to come away with all three points in the end.
“I thought our back four were superb again and we are very fortunate to have two great goalkeepers in James Dawson and Jordan Nixon, particularly with the injuries both have been carrying recently. Jordan is top drawer and is, I believe, the best goalkeeper in the league but in James we have a terrific deputy as he showed in the game today,” added Gary.
A delighted James later tweeted: “I love saving penalties but most importantly today was a big three points for us – nine points now in three games, get in!!”
After the game Guisborough’s long-serving stalwart and legend Gary Wood, who has literally put his body on the line for the team this season, said: “We’ve got some real momentum now, this was another great performance from the lads.
“The work ethic around the club at the moment is fantastic, everyone is giving 100% throughout the team and hopefully we can pull it off and stay up. Next week against West Allotment is another massive game for us but it’s onwards and upwards for us now,” added Gary.
After a nervous start against Chester-le-Street Guisborough got into their stride in the 10th minute when Louis Goldsack superbly headed them 1-0 ahead.
Then just after the half-four mark Connor Smith continued his welcome return to goals-coring form when he made it 2-0 with a shot from a tight angle.
In the 42nd minute Dave Onions weighed in with yet another important goal – a rare left-footer – for Guisborough to make it 3-0 but Jack Honour pulled one back controversially from the spot just before the interval to make it 3-1.
The main turning point of the match came on 57 minutes when Chester-le-Street were awarded another disputed penalty but Dawson made a fine diving save to preserve his side’s two-goal cushion.
Then with just a minute to go substitute Mason McNeill came off the bench to score and wrap up three priceless points for his side.
Gary Forster named wing ace Steve Roberts, who has given the club a massive boost by signing a new contract for next season, as his Man of the Match.
“Steve has been on fire lately and it’s great news that he has committed to playing for the club next season regardless of what division we will be in. It demonstrates just how good the spirit is throughout the team at the moment,” added Gary.
He also paid tribute to defender Lee Bythway and goalkeeper James Dawson whose performances he described as “outstanding.”
Photo: Clincher! Guisborough substitute Mason McNeill (No 16) lashes the ball home to put his side into an unassailable 4-1 lead against Chester-le-Street. Pic courtesy of Yvonne Barker.