By Jamie Durent
Tue 01st May 2012 : 13:25
They came. They saw. They very nearly conquered.
After twice clawing themselves back from the brink at 3-1 and 4-2 down to tie 4-4 with the Newcastle United reserves, a valiant Team Northumbria display was ended with an agonising penalty shootout defeat.
"We've been lucky this season on penalties but it just wasn't to be," said TN boss Paul Johnson.
"But I'm just so pleased with our performance and the way we've fought back from two goals down twice."
The reserves were first on the scoreboard when a loose ball in the area was finished by left-back Paul Dummett before Brad Inman nearly made it two, only to be denied by a good save by Andy Jennison.
TN's response came in a familiar package, with a defensive mistake gifting the ball to Peter Watling and he finished beyond Jak Alnwick to tie the game and give Johnson's side a huge lift.
However parity was short lived as James Tavernier got forward from right-back and his cross was well finished in the area by Phil Airey to re-establish the reserves' lead.
The first two scorers combined for the Magpies' third goal shortly before the break as Dummett saw his shot blocked but Airey was on hand to smash home the rebound.
"We gave them a little bit too much respect in the first half," said Johnson.
"But in the second half we proved we can play and began to tire them out with our passing."
Airey clipped the crossbar just after the break as he went in search of his hat-trick before TN gave themselves a lifeline in the game.
A tried and tested combination all season, Mark Bertram's expertly delivered corner was met by a towering Tom Davies and his header into the bottom corner cut the deficit to one.
Jennison had to be on hand again to deny a long range effort from Tavernier before Newcastle sub Dan Taylor slotted a Michael Richardson pass under the TN goalkeeper and seemingly put Willie Donachie's side out of sight.
But as for TN's first goal, slack defending allowed Christian Graham space to pick out Watling and his cutback was met by Dan Riley whose shot squirmed under the body of Alnwick and created a nervy finale.
And Johnson's side grabbed the equaliser their play deserve with almost a carbon copy of Davies' first goal, this time the unbeatable centre-back planting a header across goal that Alnwick could not keep out.
"Tom's defended well and came up trumps on the set pieces like he has done all season," Johnson said.
"He is a weapon and a threat at set pieces and it's something we rehearse.
"It works so well and I'm pleased for Tom that he's grabbed his goals and defensively too he was outstanding."
There could have been yet another twist in a remarkable TN comeback when a superb through ball by Riley was dispatched beyond Alnwick by Watling, only for a dubious offside flag to be raised and the goal chalked off.
Inman and Greg McDermott took aim at Jennison's goal as extra-time began before an unmarked Tavernier was again denied by a reflex save from the on-form TN stopper.
Nerves were rattled as hard as the post was in the final minute of extra-time as McDermott curled a free kick around the wall only to see it cannon off the woodwork, and TN's resilience had earned them the shootout.
"I'm astounded at the lads keeping up the performance for 120 minutes as a lot of people said to me their fitness would be telling," said Johnson.
"We gave them another half hour to test us and it's an unbelievable effort from the lads."
The game was to be decided from 12 yards and both Graeme Cairns and Ryan Donaldson dispatched their penalties for the two sides.
However Graham saw his effort thump off the foot of the post as Taylor stepped up and put Newcastle into the lead.
Watling confidently buried TN's third spot kick with McDermott doing the same for the reserves before a top save from Alnwick denied Riley and put Newcastle on the brink.
Richardson stepped up and slotted home the winner for a 4-2 shootout victory but Johnson would not let this detract from a monumental effort from his side.
"I'm just so pleased with the result and the way we fought back," he said. "It was just outstanding tonight."
"I think we can go into Wednesday against Northallerton full of confidence on the back of this game," he said.
"If we can perform against a side like this then Northallerton won't be a patch on them.
TN take on Northallerton Town in the final of the Ernest Armstrong Memorial Cup on Wednesday night at Norton Sports Complex (7pm ko).
Back to News