After a September to remember, October so far brings more cause for optimism for everyone associated with Heaton Stannington.
In front of Grounsell Park’s biggest crowd of the season, Dean Nicholson’s side recorded their biggest win of the campaign to date, with a resounding 7-0 victory over Bedlington Terriers.
Everywhere you look, the statistics tell an impressive story. 15 games unbeaten, nine Northern League wins in a row, 37 points taken from the last 39 available and a defence that has now recorded four consecutive clean sheets in the league and gone more than six hours without conceding a goal in the process.
The first of four consecutive Saturday home games in the month could not have gone better for the Stan. Buoyed by the previous weekend’s hard-fought triumph at Billingham Synthonia, they wasted little time in exerting their superiority over opponents looking to end a six-game losing streak.
Liam McBryde and Leighton Hopper, two excellent acquisitions made by Nicholson after his summer appointment, ensured Stan were in the ascendency early in the game. McBryde, a constant threat throughout, ghosted away from the Bedlington defence in the 15th minute to meet Dan Stephenson’s right-wing corner at the near post and direct a header into the far corner of the net. Four minutes later, Stephenson combined with opposite full-back Lee McAndrew from a left-wing corner before the latter delivered a cross for Hopper to nod home.
That there were no further goals before the interval was probably the biggest surprise of the afternoon. But a relentless Stan would go on to exert their dominance with a five-goal second half performance.
McBryde’s second arrived just before the hour-mark. McAndrew’s cross headed on by Hopper for the Stan marksman to sweep past Bedlington keeper Robert Hodgson from close range. On 67 minutes, the pair would link up again, Hopper again nodding into the path of McBryde who waited for Hodgson to commit himself before registering his first hat-trick for the club with a composed finish.
McBryde’s fourth would come on 79 minutes when he rose unchallenged to head home a left-wing cross from Kevin Carr and take his tally to 16 for the season. Within moments, the midfielder would get on the scoresheet himself and gain deserved reward for a fine individual performance; bursting forward to round Hodgson and slide home.
But arguably, Stan saved the best for last. Debutant Josh Morton finding Hopper in space on the corner of the Bedlington penalty area before he turned neatly and flighted a beautiful chip over a despairing Hodgson to complete the scoring two minutes from time.
A remarkable run of results has left the Stan sitting pretty at the top of the Northern League Division 2 table. And, whisper it, this squad looks capable of only getting better. So is the p-word (promotion) being discussed in the dressing room now?
“No”, answered Nicholson emphatically after the game. “We have made a really good start and that is testament to how well the lads have done. But we’ve played 18 games now and still have 22 more to play. We just have to keep going and try to pick up three points when we play.” Be assured, feet remain firmly grounded at Grounsell.
Still, the 420 who witnessed Stan’s latest victory are relishing every fixture right now. “The supporters have been different class,” said Nicholson in an ebullient clubhouse, where the Stan’s tireless band of volunteers had once again delivered their own man-of-the-match performance. “We came in knowing the club had the best following in the league and it was great to see such a tremendous crowd today.”
Around him, talk among the Stan Army over a post-match pint reflected on how richly entertained they had been before drifting to forthcoming fixtures, including the big FA Vase tie against Eccleshill United later in the month. Elsewhere, others took to social media to post the ‘Magnificent Seven’ theme tune and speculate on which Stan players could reprise the roles of Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen and co. It was that kind of wonderful evening.
“We want the supporters who come here to enjoy themselves. We want them to see us play good football. We are here to put smiles on people’s faces,” Nicholson explained.
In a season that offers much promise, that’s one guarantee already delivered. May the good times continue at Grounsell Park. Roll on Saturday…
Credit: Joe Street