Norton United 2 Eccleshall 0

Tuesday 13th September 2011
Norton United 2 Eccleshall 0
North-West Counties League Division 1
At: Community Drive
Kick-off: 7-45 pm
Admission: £4; Programme: £1 (36 pages)
Attendance: 53
Weather: dry, cold blustery wind
Duration: first-half: 47:45; second-half: 46:34

Back in 1992, on my one and only previous visit to Community Drive ground, I saw a young player named Scott Dundas make his debut for Norton United. On that February afternoon, the opposition was Stafford Rangers Reserves in a Staffordshire County Senior League game and Scott opened the scoring in Norton’s 3-1 victory. He, of course, went to enjoy a successful playing career which included a spell at Stafford Rangers under Ian Painter as part of the Dr Martens League Western Division title winning side of 1999/2000, which I remember well. Almost 20 years after his debut, he was appointed as manager of Norton United back in May and recently had the honour of being named Division 1 Manager of the Month for August.

Community Drive is located in the Smallthorne district of Stone-on-Trent, around a mile from Vale Park. The turnstile was round to the right of the 3G court next to the cricket ground and the pitch ran widthways. Nine steps led down from the entrance at the top of a grass bank to pitchside with the stand to the left containing a row of red tip-up seats, two rows of benches and covered standing. Dugouts were opposite clearly labelled ‘home’ and ‘away’

As the August award suggests, Norton (3rd with 13 points from 5 games) have made a superb start to the season and are in fact unbeaten in the league. Four sides, in fact, had 13 points with Irlam topping the table on goal difference ahead of Abbey Hey, Norton and Wigan Robin Park. They also progressed in the FA Vase last Friday with a 5-2 win at Warstone Wanderers. Conversely, the first five or so weeks of the 2011/12 season haven’t got well for visitors Eccleshall (18th with 3 points from 5 games) who arrived at Community Drive at the foot of the table and also out of both the FA Cup and FA Vase. Their points came from a home win over Leek CSOB three weeks ago and they did win in the FA Cup at Bustleholme before being knocked out by Alvechurch in a replay. They lost heavily in the FA Vase on Saturday at home to Racing Club Warwick.

I borrowed the teamsheets from Sam Brotherton who I hadn’t seen for what must be nearly three years. During my stint as a non-league reporter with The Sentinel I got to know Sam when his son Wayne was playing for Congleton Town. Sam is now Match Secretary at Norton with Wayne as captain.

With lights on from the start, Eccleshall (in all yellow) got the game underway attacking the Community Drive end of the ground, left to right in relation to my initial vantage point near the home dugout.

Just like Sittingbourne of Saturday, it took almost 20 minutes for the first decent scoring opportunity. Dan Brown got on the end of a ball played down the left by Tom Fogg and fired a right-foot shot over the bar.

Norton (in red and black stripes, black shorts and scoks) almost took the lead just after the half-hour mark. Delroy Fox stayed onside to latch onto a pass down the left but Eccleshall keeper Jordan Carter rushed off his line to block with his feet. The ball ran to Mark McDonald who saw his shot cleared from in front of goal by a defender. Brown should have hit the target with a downward header in the 39th minute from Fox’s deep cross.

No goals at the interval. To be fair, the blustery wind made life difficult and defences were in charge.

Tea 50p from the refreshments bar at the side of the large pavilion and I heard of goals elsewhere: ‘Vale are winning, Arsenal winning, Barca drawing’.

Eccleshall won two corners at the start of the second half but it was Norton who broke the deadlock in the 50th minute. Carter failed to hold Fox’s initial shot and Brown was on hand to slot home the rebound.

Carter did well to keep out Lee Talbot’s low shot and claim the resulting loose ball at the feet of the pouncing Michael Machin. However, the Eccleshall keeper could do nothing in the 67th minute to keep out McDonald’s 20-yard volley that doubled Norton’s lead.

As I walked back to the car, I heard a loud cheer coming from the direction of Vale Park, which turned out to be either Tom Pope’s late winner or the full-time whistle.

With leaders Irlam losing 3-1 at home to Cheadle Town and second-placed Abbey Hey only managing a draw at home to Rochdale Town, Norton’s three points took them to the top of the table. Wigan Robin Park moved up from fourth to second spot thanks to a 4-0 win at Ashton Town.

1-0 Dan Brown (50)
2-0 Mark McDonald (67)