HEBBURN Town left it late to seal the three points as they moved a whisker away from promotion to the Northern League Division One.
After a terrible first half, perhaps the worst 45 minutes that Hebburn have played all season, the Hornets scored twice in the second period – and will be promoted tonight should Team Northumbria defeat Morpeth Town.
The South Tynesiders were nervous during a first half that saw the hosts deservedly take the lead after eight minutes. The lowly Teessiders, fourth from bottom of the league, created all of the opening chances and Paul Thorns, an irritation to the Hebburn defence in a superb opening 45 minutes, scored with a header from six yards from a Marcus Laing cross.
Hornets boss Paul Bennett, “emotionally drained” at the final whistle, admitted his team were “very nervous” during that first half but following a half-time dressing room bust-up between multiple players, the result of such an insipid performance until that point, Hebburn mixed it up in a vastly improved second half.
Bennett played a longer ball game, with Dan Kirkup moving from centre-back to centre-forward as a 4-5-1 became a 3-4-3 which Thornaby could not cope with.
Despite non-stop Hebburn pressure, the game was anything but plain sailing, with a number of good chances being wasted through wasteful finishing.
Dean Nicholson levelled for Hebburn with 16 minutes remaining, with Hebburn eventually getting a share of luck as the ball appeared to have been cleared off the line, only for the assistant referee to signal a goal.
With Kirkup so dominant in the air and more chances being created, it was always a matter of ‘when’ and not ‘if’ the winning goal would arrive.
Yet it wasn’t until the final five minutes when the winner was eventually bagged and, predictably, it was Alex Benjamin with a sublime finish.
Paul King attacked the Thornaby box and slid the ball into Liam McBryde. With defenders all around him, McBryde managed to push the ball left to Benjamin who calmly took one touch back inside his marker before smashing the ball into the roof of the net from eight yards out.
“That football match was completely against the ethos of my football,” said Bennett afterwards.
“But that was the culmination of nine months of hard work, and the result was very important.”
With Morpeth going down 1-0 to an injury-time penalty at Chester-le-Street, Hebburn stand on the brink of promotion.
Should Morpeth win a point or more tonight, a win for Hebburn at home to Ryton & Crawcrook Albion on Saturday will see the South Tynesiders return to the top division of the Northern League for the first time since 2001.