By Chris Sweetman
OLIVER Ritchie’s spectacular volley was not enough to prevent Newcastle Town slipping to a late 4-3 defeat to Stalybridge Celtc at the Red Industries Stadium.
The game started with a minute applause for local broadcaster George Andrews, who passed away last week.
Both sides started the day level on points, with Newcastle ahead on goal difference, knowing the winner were likely to end the day in the playoff places.
Captain Tommy van der Laan got the hosts off to the perfect start, as he turned Kyle Stubbs’ long throw in after just five minutes.
However, Stalybridge struck back through Aaron Dwyer, before Matty Bryan latched onto a long ball and raced away to give the visitor’s the lead.
However, Newcastle equalised on the stroke of half time, as Dan Cockerline headed home from a corner, only for Brad Byrne to immediately restore Stalybridge’s lead.
Newcastle were dominant after the break, with Ollie Ritchie scoring the best goal of the game, as he volleyed home from long range.
However, they could not convert any of a subsequent plethora of chances, and were made to pay as Scott Wara notched the winner on 90 minutes.
A key game for both sides began in a suitably even fashion, with both sides looking to get forwards early in.
It was Newcastle who got the better of those exchanges, as an early Stubbs long throw found Tommy van der Laan, whose looping header just crept over the line.
That goal sparked an early taste of how the game would play out with immediate chances at either end, first for Newcastle’s Phoenix Lee, then Bryan for Stalybridge.
Newcastle were showing plenty of promise and ambition in attack, but were too often guilty of being too casual with their passing, which kept allowing Stalybridge chances on the break.
It was passiveness in defence that led to Stalybridge’s first goal however, as Aaron Dwyer was given too much time and space to find his spot and fire into the bottom corner.
Cockerline had a golden chance to restore the lead minutes later, but, under pressure he could only poke Ritchie’s cross wide.
Stalybridge were trying to exploit the long ball over the top against a Newcastle defence badly missing the suspended Joshua Jordan, but were frequently thwarted by the offside flag.
However, that tactic finally worked on 30 minutes, as Bryan latched onto Max Leonard’s long ball and raced away to put the visitors ahead for the first time.
Newcastle were struggling to get a foothold in the game, but late in the half, a series of throws saw Stubbs called on again, and this time Ritchie’s powerful shot was tipped over by Stalybridge keeper Luke Hewitson.
The resulting corner saw the ball fired to Cockerline at the back post, who headed past Hewitson to equalise.
However, straight from kick off Stalybridge surged forward, and Dwyer’s ball across the goal mouth drew Newcastle keeper Joe Slinn out of position, giving Byrne an empty net to tap into.
That saw Stalybridge take a 3-2 lead into the break, after first half that had proved frantic, scrappy and highly entertaining.
While the second half did not match the first in terms of goals, it was definitely its equal in terms of drama.
A fast start by both teams saw Leonard blaze a shot wide within a minute.
However, that was Stalybridge’s last shot of regular
time, as Newcastle dominated the second half.
Moments after Leonard’s shot, Ritchie went on an incredible run through the heart of the visitor’s defence, but Cockerlinecould not apply the finish.
However, shortly after a Newcastle corner was cleared only as far as Ritchie, and this time he took responsibility himself, firing a sumptuous volley into the top corner for his first goal of the season.
That put the hosts back level, and they began to push in earnest for the goal that would put them into the playoff places.
Hewitson had to be quick an aware to beat Cockerline to a rebounding ball, and then produced an excellent low save to deny the Newcastle striker again moments later.
Callum Speed then almost found Ritchie at the back post with an excellent cross, but Stalybridge just managed to force the corner.
Minutes later, a dangerously placed Newcastle free kick saw Dan Edwards go for goal, with his effort ending just high and wide of the top corner.
Newcastle continued to press hard, but were unable to muster any more clear chances until the last ten minutes.
First, Cockerline headed wide from a corner, then with full time looming he was set free by an excellent pass from Stubbs.
Cockerline had a lot of ground to cover to reach the goal, and it proved too much as Stalybridge were able to get back and cover.
That was Newcastle’s last real chance to clinch the game, and then – with normal time up – Stalybridge got forward in their first meaningful attack of the half and won a free kick.
Dwyer’s delivery fell perfectly for Wara, who had time to chest the ball under control and smash the volley past Slinn to secure the points for the visitors.
It was a crushing blow for Newcastle, who had shown enough enterprise to deserve at least a point, but had learnt a key lesson in taking their chances.
Their win puts Stalybridge fourth, while Newcastle drop to seventh ahead of their trip to Clitheroe next week.