On a sunny evening, in front of a bumper crowd of 262, the Stan played their 1st home league match of the season. Due to covid, it was also their 1st league home match since 31 October last year. It was the 1st competitive home match for new manager Dean Nicholson. It was also important for another Dean, Imray, who made his 150th league start for the Stan. The Stan got their 1st league win at the 2nd attempt after an undeserved loss at Ryton on Saturday.
There were 4 changes from Saturday with Hall, Hopper & Carr being replaced by Sharpe, Imray & McAndrew. Regan also returned in goal in replace of Flynn. Although ex Stan Josh Holland plays for Birtley, he was not in the squad for this match.
The match started with McBryde & Burn setting up McAndrew whose shot was saved by the Birtley keeper Mills. The Stan then had 3 corners before a bad foul on Stoddart. The consistent Stan pressure paid off in the 7th minute when a mistake by Mills from a back pass allowed McBryde to take the ball and tap it into the empty net from the edge of the box. Birtley had their 1st proper attack cleared in 8 minutes & Regan then blocked when the ball came back into the box. Birtley attacked again but the ball was headed clear. There was now a period of attacks at either end as both teams tried to press forward including, in 17 minutes, a Burns shot easily caught by Mills & a speculative long shot by Birtley which was easily caught by Regan. In 21 minutes, the visitors had another long-range effort that hit the bar. Action in both halves continued but it was the Stan who scored again in 28 minutes when Sharpe ran into the box & supplied Burn in the 6-yard box who tapped the ball into the net for 2-0. The Stan sought to kill the game off 7 in 33 minutes but shot over followed by a McBryde effort from the edge of the box going just wide. Birtley shot wide in 36 minutes but it was mainly Stan now although Regan had to block for a corner in 38 minutes. 2 minutes later Burns was in on Mills who blocked him. Birtley didn’t give up & sent a ball across the Stan box followed by a stan counter which was blocked by Mills. The Stan deservedly led at half time.
The 2nd half started with a Birtley free kick into a crowded Stan box which Regan caught. The Stan then should have been 3-0 up when McAndrew was supplied with the ball & raced into the box passing the ball across goal to the advancing Sharpe who got his footing wrong & couldn’t send the ball into an open net. 4 minutes later McBryde supplied McAndrew but the ball was deflected out for a corner which came to nothing. Burns then shot straight at the keeper from a free kick. In 53 minutes, a mistake from a poor pass back was solved by a good tackle by Hornsby. In 54 minutes, the Stan were 3-0 up when a McBryde low shot from outside the box saw Mills unable to stop it. In 56 minutes, a long-range effort from the Stan required Mills to punch clear. 2 minutes later & Birtley had a rare long-range effort which went wide then Regan had to kick clear. The Stan should have been comfortable now but it was not to be as Birtley got a goal back in 62 minutes. Hornsby headed the ball away when Birtley attacked but it fell to Williamson who blasted the ball into the net from the edge of the box. Birtley were putting the pressure on now & the Stan had to clear 4 times. The Stan didn’t attack again until 72 minutes when Bailey was blocked for a corner. A minute later & a Birtley free kick went high & wide. In 74 minutes, Proctor came on & immediately won a free kick. It led to a corner which Esdaille headed over. The Stan attacked again & Mason shot over. Birtley then headed wide before Burn shot wide when he should have passed. Both sides tried to attack but overall, it is a nervous last few minutes for the Stan with 2 pass backs nearly intercepted by the visitors. 3minutes into added time & Birtley forced a corner which led to a Stan counter which was dealt with. The match ended just after Birtley had scored from a penalty in the 95th minute. The Stan had a deserved but not straight forward win due to a late Birtley revival. It was also overall a great return to competitive football at Grounsell Park with the attendance being the 6th biggest of the night in all English tier 5 and 6 non-league matches.