By Chris Sweetman
RYAN Baxter’s opening goal proved insufficient for Newcastle Town as they slumped to a disappointing 3-1 to Witton Albion at the U Lock It Stadium.
Newcastle came into the game trying to back up a fine win at Bootle ahead of a long run of home games, and increase the gap to the relegation zone. They got off to strong start, as Baxter raced onto a long ball to lob the Witton goalkeeper and give Newcastle the early lead.
However, Witton quickly struck back with Elliot Rokka’s composed finish and took the lead through Kingsley William’s thunderbolt shot.
The hosts extended their lead shortly after the break, as Jim Lawrie pounced on Newcastle keeper Joe Slinn’s fumbled save.
Although they enjoyed plenty of pressure in the final quarter, Newcastle could not find the breakthrough, as they suffered a third defeat in their last five games.
The game got off to a frantic but scrappy start, with neither side able to exert any real control over the opening exchanges.
Newcastle were not helped by an early injury to Tommy van der Laan, which saw him replaced by Callum Lovatt after just three minutes.
With neither side able to retain possession long enough to build early on, it took nearly 15 minutes for the first shot of the game, as Witton’s Joe Duckworth rattled the Newcastle bar.
Newcastle then almost took the lead, as home keeper Ollie Martin did well to claim ahead of Nathan Morley, after good work by Will Lloyd and Luke Walsh.
Moments later Newcastle did take the lead, as Baxter slipped free of the Witton defence and collected the through ball, before lobbing Martin for his second goal in four days.
The goal had come slightly against the run of play, with Witton having looked more likely to score up to then.
However, the visitor’s lead lasted just five minutes before Witton surged into the Newcastle penalty area, and worked the ball wide for Rokka to slid it past Slinn to equalise.
Witton took the lead minutes later as they broke again, before Prince Haywood’s shot was blocked, but William’s raced onto the rebound and hammered in a thunderbolt finish that Slinn could do nothing about.
Despite the 2-1 scoreline, neither side had been able to stamp their authority on the game, with the difference being Witton’s better ability to punish Newcastle’s mistakes.
That led to Witton exerting tremendous pressure on Newcastle as the first half continued, but a lack of accuracy, and excellent goalkeeping by Slinn, meant they could not extend their advantage.
Meanwhile for Newcastle, Morley and Walsh were proving a willing and effective running threat, but resolute Witton defence meant that the visitors could never capitalise.
Instead the half ended with neither side adding to their goalscoring chances, and Newcastle with a lot of work to do to get back into the game.
Unfortunately for Newcastle, in the second half both sides quickly picked up where they had left off in the first half, with Witton exerting pressure early on. The hosts then effectively killed the game off less than ten minutes into the half, as Slinn spilled a long-range shot, and a brief scramble saw Lawrie poke home.
Now 3-1 down, Newcastle needed some composure or goals, and they quickly discovered the former as they began to win a series of corners and throw ins to pressure Witton.
Newcastle also nearly got a goal back from one such corner, as Morley’s cross was powerfully met by substitute Max Chimenes, only for his header to strike the crossbar instead.
Moments later Lloyd found space to shoot, but his effort was half blocked by a defender and ultimately easy for Martin to gather.
From there it became clear that Witton had weathered the Newcastle storm, as the hosts began to exert their pressure again.
Rokka should have had a second goal as he found himself one-on-one with Slinn, but the Newcastle keeper made himself big enough to block the shot.
From there the game dissolved back into a scrappy, stop-start affair, with neither side again able to exert control.
That also meant that there were very few chances to affect the scoreline, although Slinn had to save a late effort from Joe Duckworth.
Then, with the clock in injury time, Callum Lovatt summed up the game for Newcastle as he fired off a low shot that ultimately looked comfortable for Martin to save.
Despite the defeat, Newcastle remain 15th and clear of the relegation playoffs places, and could till rise above eleventh placed Skelmersdale United when they visit the Red Industries Stadium on Saturday.