Have you heard the one about the son of the Wear who wears the number nine shirt in black and white stripes and now has a mantlepiece so full of Newcastle Brown Ale that it looks reminiscent of the old S&N bottling plant off Barrack Road?
It’s not the entry to a joke by the way, although Liam McBryde certainly continues to give the Grounsell Park faithful plenty to smile about. On an autumnal afternoon where goals were as frequent as falling leaves, his predatory prowess would be the one true constant on a somewhat strange Saturday.
In an encounter every bit as eventful and erratic as the final 8-3 scoreline might suggest, McBryde’s latest hat-trick – a third in his last four home league games and including two crucial second-half goals within the space of a minute – effectively settled what had hitherto been a see-saw contest. On an error-strewn day, he was unerring.
“Liam was different class,” said Stan boss Dean Nicholson of his summer signing. “We knew when he joined us that he’d guarantee goals but to have 24 already is outstanding.
“He can hold the ball up, bring others into play. His link-up play is fantastic.
“He knows how to find space and he can score all kinds of goals. I’ve said before that you are only as good as your centre forward and in Liam we’ve got a great striker.”
Washington had crossed the Tyne sitting second from bottom in the Northern League Division Two table yet delivered a performance that belied such a lowly status and will have returned home knowing they will play worse this season and win.
Twice they might have opened the scoring – the ever-threatening Bradley Chisholm expertly denied by Stan goalkeeper Dan Regan when through one-on-one and Jak Hanson firing over from a promising position in the opening exchanges – only to find themselves 2-0 down by the half-hour mark.
A deep left-wing cross by advancing full-back Jay Hornsby eluded Washington keeper Dan Mullen in the 27th minute, not so McBryde who headed into an unguarded net. The lead would be quickly extended, Leighton Hopper providing the deft lay-off from a David Luke cross for Dean Holmes to deliver a left-foot drive that Mullen could not repel.
But far from deflate Washington, that double strike would provoke a spirited response. On 37 minutes, with the Stan defence waiting in vain for both an offside flag and a whistle for a perceived push on Michael Hall, Chisholm would find himself through on goal again with Regan unable to deny him this time. Two minutes later, Chisholm would escape the attentions of stand-in centre-back Andy Burn on the right flank before his pull-back was dispatched by Jake Martindale.
James Proctor’s composed finish, – capitalising on a loose ball in the Washington box two minutes before the break – gave Stan the ascendency going into the interval when the visitors would have thought parity the minimum reward for their efforts.
But, to borrow from the bumper book of football cliches, this would turn out to be a classic game of two halves. A five-goal, second-half salvo from Stan making the final scoreline look far more emphatic.
It begged the question of Nicholson as to what he had said to his side at the break. “It did need us to get in at half-time and say a few things,” he admitted.
“No matter who you are playing – whether top of the league, bottom of the league, or a big FA Vase tie – you have got to start every game the same way. You have to have the same intensity, quality and work rate in every game because teams are going to come here, with our record, with big crowds and they are going to want to beat us. We have to be ready for that challenge every time.
“And to be fair to the lads, they responded. In the 20 minutes after half-time, they were devastating.”
Indeed they were. Four minutes after the interval, Holmes sprung the Washington backline and his attempted lob over the advancing Mullen dropped kindly for Hopper to restore Stan’s two-goal cushion.
If that dampened the visitors’ hopes of a comeback, then McBryde would extinguish their ambitions entirely. On 54 minutes, Proctor’s right-wing cross found him lurking at the far post where his perfectly-executed sidefoot volley back across the diving Mullen had the Grounsell faithful purring with appreciation. Moments later, from a similar position, he would rise unmarked to meet Holmes’ right-wing corner and all but guarantee victory.
There was still time for Ryan Bailey, on as a second-half substitute – to deliver an impressive cameo. He’s far too young to remember the original ‘Super Sub’ David Fairclough, but his two goals – in particular, the crisp 30-yard daisycutter rattled home in the 63rd minute that was worthy of winning any game before a glancing header from a Holme’s free-kick four minutes from time that completed the scoring – deserved to be more than mere footnotes in the final analysis.
“I asked Ryan to go on and secure the pitch in front of the back four for us and he did that and more, scoring two goals,” said Nicholson about Bailey.
“He hasn’t played much recently with the competition for places in midfield being what it is, but you always know what you’ll get from Ryan. You’ll always get 100%. He’s a great lad, a credit to the club, himself and his family.”
Sandwiched in between those goals, Chisholm provided Martindale with another close-range opening to give Washington a consolation third in the final stages. And in the midst of all that second-half scoring, there was still time for Chisholm, with an audacious effort from just inside Stan territory, and another Stan sub, MacKenzie Sharpe, with an acrobatic bicycle kick from distance, to try and register Goal of the Season contenders. Alas for both, respective keepers Regan and Mullen would prove equal to the efforts.
“It was important to get back to winning ways,” said Nicholson post-match. After draws with Newcastle University and Birtley, these were three welcome points. Witnessed too by a bumper crowd of 455, a Northern League record for Grounsell Park as the international break allowed the grassroots game to take centre stage.
“Our supporters have been brilliant with me since I came here,” enthused Nicholson. “It’s great to see so many here and to see record numbers. I just wish we could play at home every week!
“And they helped us. We were a bit flat in that first half and having a big crowd in, getting behind you, helped give us the lift we needed.”
It was a day of big numbers at the Stan, and not just in terms of the attendance. Eleven goals, the most for a single game at Grounsell this season. In total, 37 goals in the last five home games. And other win taking Stan past the 50-point mark and extending the unbeaten league run to 17 matches in the process. They continue to set the pace in Division Two. Can the chasing pack – in which Easington Colliery feature most prominently right now – keep up? The months ahead will be fascinating.
But a final word on McBryde, who now stands atop the divisional goalscoring charts after his latest treble. A fourth Man-of-the-Match award means yet another bottle of ‘Dog’ to add to the collection. And you suspect it won’t be the last this season. For whether on the field or in the statistical lists, he continues to lead from the front. Providing a punchline the Stan Army are only too happy to enjoy.
Credit: Joe Street