Updated: Sep 19
Newcastle Benfield got their Northern Football League campaign off to the best possible start with a last gasp victory over Ashington AFC.
Late goals from Mark Turnbull and Paul Brayson secured the three points on an afternoon where they looked destined to come out second best.
Ian Skinner has built a strong reputation at this level after building a young, vibrant side and Benfield certainly felt the full force of that in a one-sided first half.
The hosts enforced an aggressive, high-intensity style of play which seemed to unnerve Stuart Elliott’s side in the first period.
That led to numerous errors in possession that put the Lions under pressure in the opening exchanges.
It took just seven minutes for Ashington to carve out their first real effort of the game as some excellent build-up play saw the ball land with Robert Taylor who dragged his effort wide of the mark.
This was followed up shortly after with opposing skipper Curtis Coppen heading just over the bar from a corner.
The warning signs were there for Benfield, but they did create a rare early opportunity when Richie Slaughter’s ball over-the-top from midfield found Cyril Giraud who had his effort well stopped by the keeper.
The French striker was drafted in as a replacement for Dan O’Reilly who was unavailable for this game, and caused constant problems with his intelligent running off the shoulder of the defence.
After just quarter of an hour the Lions got their first inkling that it perhaps wasn’t a game that would go their way, with Bradley Varga being forced off and replaced by Turnbull.
That bad luck worsened just a couple of minutes later when Benfield’s appeal for a penalty kick were waved away by the referee.
Kane Evans was released down the right flank when he crossed the ball into the box – however an unfortunate slip saw the defender block the cross with his hand, leading the shouts for a spot kick.
Despite widespread appeal from the visitors, those appeals were ignored and the Lions were left to lick their wounds.
Ashington sensed this drop in morale and flooded forward with wave after wave of attack.
In truth, the home side could have had a three or four goal lead if it wasn’t for the Benfield stopper.
Alfie Gordon may only be new to this level of the game, but the 18-year-old certainly made his case for being one of the hottest prospects in the Northern League with some wonderful saves.
After tipped a fierce shot wide of the mark to his right, Morgan then pulled off a stunning stop to deny a sure-fire wonder goal from Brandon Slater as he stopped his effort from nestling in the top right corner of the net.
The pressure from Ashington was relentless at this point, and that told as Matty Parker gave away a penalty for pulling back Ben Sampson in the area.
But after Gordon’s midweek heroics in the FA Cup victory penalty shootout win over Seaham Red Star, the young stopper pulled off another save from 12 yards to spare the wing-back’s blushes.
Despite that save, Ashington got their reward for a dominant first half when Lee Scott slotted home from close range to give the hosts a 1-0 lead at the break.
There was no escaping the fact that Gordon had kept Benfield in the game after a torrid first half, but Elliott’s half-time team talk seemed to spark the visitors into life.
A long-range effort from Slaughter in the opening minutes of the second period signaled a change in mentality from the Lions, and that was a familiar theme through the second half.
Two efforts from Parker went close to bringing the visitors back into the game, before Giraud hit the woodwork with an accurate effort from a tight angle.
It certainly appeared like it just wasn’t Benfield’s day, however the introduction of Reece Noble and Jack Cooper turned the game in the Lions’ favour.
Despite more free-flowing attacking play from Ashington, Benfield looked more and more likely to get themselves back into the game when Lewis Scorgie headed narrowly wide of the mark from a set piece.
But with just four minutes left of normal time, Mark Turnbull popped up with a header that brought the hosts level.
It was a goal that looked to have got the visitors out of jail, but what came next left supporters in attendance rubbing their eyes.
In a carbon copy of Turnbull’s effort, veteran striker Paul Brayson netted with a header of his own to give Benfield a shock lead.
On the balance of play few would argue that Ashington deserved the three points after a very impressive display, but such a show of character from Elliott’s side will certainly stand the Lions in good stead for the season ahead.
Man of the match: Alfie Gordon
Reporter: Phil Spencer