|6 February 2024
|Northern League Division One
The Stan made the relatively short midweek trip just south of the Tyne to take on high flying Birtley Town. The hosts have been enjoying a successful first season in Division One and looked set to provide a tough test for Heaton.
From the very start of the match, Birtley looked to impose a physical and direct style of play. The opening ten minutes saw the Stan defending a couple of good long throws and two corners. It was from the second of these corners that the hosts took the lead on 12 minutes. The initial cross was cleared by Burn but the ball fell to former Heaton Player Matty Ward whose powerful shot flew into the top right corner of Brass’s goal.
Birtley’s aerial attack continued to cause Heaton problems and Brass saved twice in the following minutes, albeit one from a chance ruled offside by the referee’s assistant. Heaton started to grow into the game and fashioned a couple of chances with Reid and then Hopper both firing warning shots over the Birtley bar. Heading into the final minutes of the first half Stan continued building pressure, Dan Stephenson saw a corner ball recycled back out to him and a scrambled clearance resulted in Burn shooting wide. Burn almost made it to the end of a neat through ball shortly after but Birtley’s keeper was alert to the danger and collected the ball.
The Stan’s breakthrough came in first half stoppage time. While Birtley protested the award of a throw-in to Heaton, Hornsby found himself with time and space down the left to fire in a low ball which was tucked in by Reid at the back post. The Birtley protests continued after the referee blew for half-time but the two sides headed into the break even at 1-1.
Heaton made two changes before play resumed in the second half with Burn and Reid replaced by Anderson and Lashley. It was the hosts that had the first chance in the second half, with Brass saving well from Birtley’s Heslop before a couple of promising Heaton attacks were also repelled. Birtley continued to trouble the Stan defence with long balls, corners and throws, however, on 63 minutes, a sharp break down the wing from Lashley saw him thread a pass to Hopper who managed to poke the ball just beyond the Birtley keeper and into the back of the net. Lashley himself had a chance to put the game out of reach just ten minutes later but saw his long range effort crash back off the post.
Birtley continued to push for an equaliser but Heaton’s defence held firm, Brass in particular making several important saves in a man of the match performance. Hopper and Lashley continued to stretch the Birtley defence on the break, with Hopper being cynically brought down resulting in a Birtley booking heading into the final ten minutes. Hopper was once again fouled deep into stoppage time, this time resulting in a red card for the Birtley defender as the last man. Lashley was unable to convert the resulting free kick but Heaton saw off the remainder of the time to secure a very hard fought three points. The result sees Heaton sitting in 7th place in the league with at least three games in hand on the teams around them. A break in competitive fixtures for the Stan sees them take on Temecula FC from the USA in a mid season friendly on Friday night before Boro Rangers visit Heaton next week.