Consett gave their chances of finishing as runners-up behind champions Dunston a big boost on this day last year with a fully-deserved win at one of their bogey grounds, Newcastle Benfield’s Sam Smith’s Park.
Manager Chris Moore rang the changes from the previous game at Whitley Bay, with Dan Hawkins, Ryan McKinnon, Nick Allen and Luke Carr coming into the starting line-up, with Nick Cassidy, Matty Slocombe, Danny Craggs and Michael Mackay dropping to the bench. As well as taking the captain’s armband in Craggs’ absence, Arjun Purewal filled the unfamiliar right-back position.
Benfield included one former Consett player, Richie Slaughter, in midfield, with another, the evergreen Steve Bowey, among their substitutes. There were also two future Steelmen in the hosts’ ranks, midfielder Jake Orrell and striker Dale Pearson, who started on the bench.
Consett started well, and had their first chance after three minutes, when Calvin Smith’s long pass played in Michael Sweet, but the striker’s angled drive was wide of the far post. Nine minutes later a good passing move gave Allen the chance to try his luck from 25 yards, but his effort was well over the top.
It took Benfield 13 minutes to create their first attempt on goal, and McKinnon got a vital block on Joe Robson’s well-struck shot. Then right-back Rhys Evans wasn’t too far away with an absolute rocket from outside the box, which flew just over the bar.
When a goal came it was out of nothing, and it was the home side who got it. McKinnon got caught in possession by Paul Brayson as he tried to bring the ball out, and the veteran striker homed in on goal before chipping the advancing Kyle Hayes for his 24th goal of the season.
The game then entered a 20-minute spell where not a lot of note happened, other than Consett centre-back Ross Wilkinson picking up a yellow card for a scything tackle which brought Dennis Knight’s jinking run to a rather abrupt halt.
Just as the game appeared to be heading into the interval with the home side in front, Consett turned it on its head in the space of six minutes. First, Aksel Juul picked out Sweet’s run with a fine pass, and although keeper Dan Nimmins saved the striker’s initial effort, the No 9 beat Benfield skipper Mark Turnbull to the loose ball to bundle it in and make it 1-1.
A minute before half-time Consett took the lead, with a goal from former Benfield player Luke Carr. He picked up the ball wide on the right, and began to cut inside. Unfortunately for the home defence, they didn’t heed their fans’ warnings not to let him onto his left foot, and before they knew it the ball was nestling in the bottom corner and they were 2-1 down.
The goal clearly buoyed Carr, and he fancied a second in stoppage time after being fouled outside the box, but curled his left-footed free-kick over the bar.
Three minutes into the second half the Steelmen increased their lead, thanks to a calamitous piece of defending. There was no danger at all when Turnbull got the ball in his own box, but his attempted back pass fell woefully short of his keeper, and Nimmins was stranded as Sweet stroked home by far the easiest of his 27 goals for the season.
Sweet was in the mood for more, and he might have completed his hat-trick in the 63rd minute as he met Darren Holden’s deep cross at the back post, but he got his angles all wrong and his header drifted back across goal instead of troubling the keeper.
Carr saw a 25-yard free-kick deflected off the wall for a corner, and Craggs was inches away from getting on the end of a return ball from Matty Cornish as the two subs combined in the 73rd minute.
Consett were controlling the game, with Smith outstanding in midfield, and Sweet had another chance to complete his hat-trick in the 77th minute, but was denied by Nimmins as he tried to squeeze the ball between the keeper and his near post.
Wilkinson will have been disappointed not to have troubled the keeper after winning a towering header, while a late rally by Benfield saw Evans fire just wide after good approach play by Bowey and Brayson.
When the final whistle went, Consett were worthy winners of the three points, and with one game to go, were a point ahead of third-placed Bishop Auckland, and four ahead of Hebburn, who we meet in our final fixture, though both have two games in hand.
NEWCASTLE BENFIELD: 1 Daniel Nimmins, 2 Rhys Evans, 3 James Martin (sub Dale Pearson 32), 4 Mark Turnbull (captain), 5 James Novak (sub Bradley Varga 87), 6 Jake Thompson, 7 Joe Robson, 8 Richard Slaughter, 9 Paul Brayson, 10 Jake Orrell, 11 Dennis Knight (sub Steve Bowey 75). Sub not used: Stuart Elliott.
CONSETT: 1 Kyle Hayes, 2 Arjun Purewal (captain), 3 Darren Holden, 4 Dan Hawkins (sub Matty Slocombe 84), 5 Ryan McKinnon, 6 Ross Wilkinson, 7 Nick Allen (sub Matty Cornish 64), 8 Calvin Smith, 9 Michael Sweet, 10 Luke Carr (sub Danny Craggs 71), 11 Aksel Juul. Subs not used: Nick Cassidy, Michael Mackay.