Phil Airey almost managed a second-half four-goal haul after his introduction at half-time but had to settle for just two after half of his strikes were ruled out by a raised flag. Steve McLaughlin’s four goals all counted, one from the spot, to leapfrog his side above Alnwick in the table. Steve McLaughlin proved to be a thorn in Alnwick's side for 90 minutes.
Alnwick looked to get on the front foot from the start with a high intensity pressing game, which resulted in the early opening chances for the hosts. A day after his brother had scored the only goal and winner for Newcastle United, Samuel Perez made his 18/19 debut for Alnwick, having played for the club during the 16/17 season, and the forward had Alnwick’s first opportunity.
Jonathyn Quinn intercepted the ball high into the opposition’s half but didn’t know much about the deflected pass that rolled straight into Perez’s path. Turning ninety degrees to face the goal, the forward hit his shot first time but it ended up being just a sighter for both striker and goalkeeper as the effort was hit straight in to the keeper’s hands. Sammy Perez was back at St James' Park.
A minute later and the same two linked up again. This time it was Perez who was the feeder of the pass as Quinn made a run beyond the forward and behind the opposition’s defence. The role reversal was evident, however, as the pass had too much on it and ran out of play. Newcastle Chemfica were keen to make the most of the space behind the high Alnwick defensive line. With the back four for the hosts pretty much on the half way line, Ryan Doyle found himself in plenty of space behind the defence, down the right flank for the visitors, after timing his attacking run perfectly. By delaying his cross he was caught in possession and this first attack came to nothing but it proved to be a sign of things to come.
Chemfica lost their cup final appearance only on Thursday but took the lead first in this match. Another direct attack was started by a long goal kick forward and Alnwick’s Brendan Balmbra was beaten in the air by Fergus Lynch for the visitors as he managed to flick the ball on with his head. Latching onto the forward pass was Steve McLaughlin who found himself alone inside the penalty area. Cutting to his right and with time to spare, he placed his left footed effort under the keeper and his side into the lead.
His second nearly came just four minutes later. Alnwick’s Evan McEwan tackled in the middle of his own half and the loose ball found McLaughlin in the box. Around 10 yards out, McLaughlin decided to trust the foot which had already found the back of the net and cut back onto his left. In the end, he may have been better deciding to fancy his chances again as he instead passed to Darryl Basham, to his left but the latter’s first-time effort was smashed over the bar. Attacks were coming thick and fast for both sides with possession being turned over quickly and both sides had chances to add to the scoring towards the end of the first half.
Alnwick’s chance came rather unorthodox to their play earlier in the half. Their own direct ball from reserve goalkeeper, Thomas Slack, made its way to Leon Midgley who got the faintest of touches to guide it forward. Perez met the ball in his stride but rather overpowered his run and left the ball behind him. On slowing down to retrieve the ball once again, his awareness to see the Chemfica ‘keeper off his line allowed him to loft the ball over Luke Hillard in the visitor’s goal and as the effort looped down goalward it was the top of the bar that denied the goal instead. The attacking action was even more thorough in the second half.
Leon Midgley started the game alongside new signing Perez. Forward, Phil Airey replaced Leon Midgley for Alnwick at half-time, and his impact was undeniable. Alnwick were back level on the hour mark thanks to a more direct approach. Kieran Hogg’s whipped ball from just inside the opposition’s box rather threaded between the two centre halves with not much height on the cross. Airey was waiting behind his defender but plenty behind the ball. Judging the flight of the ball coming in low and on the stretch, Airey produced a diving header which lobbed the goalkeeper and put his side on level terms.
Alnwick celebrate going ahead, but it was to be short lived.
Two minutes later and Alnwick were leading. Another direct pass, this time from the middle and McEwan, as he found Ross Moore out wide on the right. Moore’s cross was hit low and hard across the floor towards the penalty spot where Perez was waiting. With a short pass to his left, first time, Airey was all alone and placed his first time, right footed effort to the keeper’s right.
Both sides were attacking with intent and Chemfica returned level just a further two minutes after. Another headed flick on from a long ball forward rolled perfectly into McLaughlin’s path. Bursting into the right-hand side of the box, McLaughlin had no choice but to hit it with his right this time. It appeared to be straight at Slack, in goal, but the ball went through the keeper’s hands for McLaughlin’s second of the game.
As the game was playing out, Alnwick were nearly ahead again moments later. Following a poor clearance, McEwan lobbed the ball back into the box for Lee Dundas’s head. His aerial pass across goal met Airey who managed to lob the keeper with his header. Celebrations were cut short however, when the ref spotted the linesman flag was raised, suspected to be for Dundas’ initial header.
And Alnwick were to suffer further. Dundas’ centre back partner, Brendan Balmbra was at fault for an aerial challenge inside his own box. The defender appeared to go through the back of Chemfica’s Jordan Robson as the latter met the ball first, with the result being a penalty awarded. The penalty incident for Chemfica's 3rd goal to put them back in front.
Alnwick’s goalkeeper, Slack, must have though he had made up for his earlier error by guessing right by diving full stretch to his left but McLaughlin’s shot just evaded the keeper’s fingertips and gave the forward his hat-trick.
Alnwick did have the ball in the back of the net just shortly after, however. Jack Henderson played a long ball forward from deep-right, inside his own half. The pass and control were equally as impressive as the ball stuck to Airey’s foot perfectly. The forward’s second touch chipped the goalkeeper in stylish fashion only for the linesman to rule out the goal for a second time for Alnwick.
Eventually the game got away from the hosts. Jack Henderson was this time at fault for a poor pass infield, meant for the goalkeeper but was closer to McLaughlin. One on one, the striker rounded the keeper to give himself an empty net to grab his fourth of the day.
Team: Slack T, Henderson J, Hogg K, McEwan E, Balmbra B, Dundas L, Moore R (Maddison S), Quinn J, Perez S, Midgley L (Airey P), Eastlake D (Pickard J (Lowes J))
Unused Sub: Muter C
Photos by John Mason