After an unbeaten 2015/16 league campaign which saw Heddon steamroller anyone in their path, the dawn of the new campaign brought a reality check for those believing that this season would be more of the same, with Hexham Phoenix taking the three points back across the A69.
Heddon came into the game raring to go and high on confidence, despite a pre-season best airbrushed from the pages of history! Allied to this, experience of a skeleton squad beating the same opposition in last season’s cup semi-final, gave credence to the belief that a win against one this season’s title favourites was a strong possibility.
Heddon started the game kicking into a strong wind at Selman Park (no change there then!). The away side were happy to knock it around their back four and early pressure was dealt with well by the Heddon defence, with long balls generally travelling through to Waddsy. As to be expected for the first game of the season and given the conditions, Heddon found it difficult to link play together, with passes being forced on too many occasions, or simply given away to the opposition. However, there was some joy to be had on the wings with Murtagh and Richy causing defenders problems when running at them, but lacking the final ball to trouble Hexham. Chances for the home side were few and far between, the best arguably falling to Dan Walker, who unselfishly headed the ball down in the direction of a team mate when arguably better placed to score himself.
Hexham were looking dangerous going forward, winning a succession of corners due to constant pressure. After 25 minutes, the Heddon resistance broke, a ball into the box not cleared after two attempts, with the loose ball dropping to the Hexham number 10 who smashed it past Waddsy. Ten minutes later Hexham grabbed their second. Usain Bolt – fresh off the plane from Rio, knocked the ball past Dan Ramshaw on the halfway line and set off on a 40 metre dash. Despite the best efforts of Scoob to jockey him, the striker fired across Waddsy from a tight angle to double the lead. The rest of the half was all Hexham, as some heads seemed to drop for the home side, who were indebted to Waddsy for pulling off an unbelievable save from one strike that looked to be heading straight for the top corner.
Heddon began the second half in a much improved fashion, working harder off the ball while beginning to gain a stranglehold in the midfield, in particular Elliott on his debut broke up play effectively and kept the ball moving. The industrious start to the second period brought about a goal for the home side, Murtagh harrying the Hexham defence to pounce on a backpass and slot past the onrushing Phoenix keeper. There followed an exciting period of play, with both sides creating chances, and both keepers being called into action.
With 15 minutes to go and with Heddon searching for an equaliser, manager Dave Green decided to switch to a 3-5-2 (or it could have been a 3-0-7) formation in a bid to get something from the game. This immediately backfired, with Hexham flooding forward, and the striker grabbing a goal on the rebound, despite another good save from Waddsy. Three became four soon after, a shot from the edge of the box taking a deflection to finish the scoring. This knocked the stuffing out of the home side, with tempers flaring both on the field and on the touchline – Bailey v O’Donnell at UFC 205 coming soon!
Overall, a disappointing scoreline and a performance which requires a lot of improvement. While it could be argued that it was never a 4-1 game, it can’t be argued that the points did go to the better team on the day. It is true to say that not every team will be as good as Hexham Phoenix, however if we have any aspirations of finishing at the top by the end of the season, those are the standards we have to meet.
Ratings (compiled by Tom Watson)