It was top versus bottom at Dean Street today, and Shildon demonstrated the gulf between the sides with a thumping 7-0 victory over Billingham Town. A brace from man-of-the-match, Lee Scroggins and from Mark Doninger and a goal each from Sam Garvie, Billy Greulich-Smith and Paul Connor comfortably swept aside Town, who have yet to register a point in this season’s campaign.
Perhaps sensing an opportunity to rest some players before Wednesday night’s vital league match against title contenders, Celtic Nation, Gary Forrest gave Greulich-Smith and Mark Stephenson a starting berth ahead of Paul Connor and Carl Jones.
While many fans arrived expecting a significant increase to the home side’s goal difference, the opening ten minutes suggested the Billingham side may prove sterner opposition, matching Shildon – as they did – in the game’s early moments. But it proved to be a false hope for the visiting fans as Shildon hadn’t yet moved through all the gears. Indeed, even in that shared opening spell, Ben Wood and Darren Richardson both spurned chances to give the Railwaymen the lead.
However, Town’s resistance could only last until the thirteenth minute when Lee Scroggins stepped in to steal a loose ball from Nathan Evans in the midfield. Striding forward uncontested, he unleashed a shot from 22 yards which curled past the last defender and the keeper for his first goal of the season.
Shildon continued to press and Scroggins almost notched his second in the 19th minute, but Javis Wiggan in the Billingham goal saved well with his feet.
It took until the half hour for Shildon to add to the scoreline. A long ball forward by Scroggins picked up pace on the slick surface. Nevertheless, the industrious Billy Greulich-Smith – as is his trademark for chasing lost causes – raced Wiggan to the ball. The keeper’s clearance cannoned off the striker who was able to steer the ball home from the narrowest of angles.
Five minutes before the break it was three. After a corner was half cleared, Ben Wood returned the ball across the box to Doninger, who controlled it superbly before passing to Darren Richardson. The ball was returned to Doninger, who flighted it to the back post. Greulich-Smith rose highest to nod the ball back across the box to the unmarked Scroggins who headed past a helpless Wiggan and doubled his season’s tally.
With the result essentially decided by the break, Mark Hudson and Darren Richardson were permitted a rest ahead of Wednesday evening, with Sam Hodgson and John Brackstone – demonstrating the strength in depth of the Shildon squad – replacing them.
The expectation of a regular rippling of the visitors’ net throughout the course of the second half was to prove as false as the initial hope of the visiting fans – at least until just twenty minutes of the match remained.
The Railwaymen continued to bear down on the Billingham goal, but reverted to last season’s profligacy as several excellent chances went begging.
It wasn’t until the 71st minute that Shildon added to the scoreline and, as if to make up for lost opportunities, the goal opened the floodgates. Billingham won a free kick, which was easily cut out. Sam Garvie took the ball from box to box, feeding Paul Connor, who had replaced Ben Wood. The ball reached Greulich-Smith who moved it on to Scroggins. Looking for his hat-trick, he let fly fly from distance. The blocked shot deflected to the feet of Garvie who seemed surprised to find himself, and two others, onside. He had time to look up and confirm the lack of a flag before stroking the ball home.
In about the same time as Garvie was given to score his goal, another three flew into the visiting net. Billingham appeared to have forgotten the danger posed by the home side and pushed high up field in a misplaced determination to pressurise the home side. Instead they left gaping holes for the speedy Garvie to run into, and he duly set about a ten minute reign of terror that increased the deficit with regularity.
However, it was Scroggins’s slide rule pass from the left that led to the fifth, leaving Doninger to tap in from six yards.
Then Garvie was released, and again fed Doninger, whose shot cannoned off the post, hit Billingham’s Jack Williams and rebounded into the net.
And moments later there was the diminutive terror again, chipping the ball onto the head of Paul Connor, who nodded home from underneath the bar to send Shildon and the delighted home support into seventh heaven. The sound of the final whistle before the infliction of any more punishment was the only hope remaining to the hapless visitors. It was the only wish they were to have fulfilled on an otherwise desperate day.
The result ensures that the Railwaymen remain at the top of the table before Celtic Nation come visiting on Wednesday night. The big-spending Carlisle outfit, managed by ex-Celtic player, Willie McStay, will be the biggest test to date of Shildon’s title credentials. A number of rested players will be fresh, and hungry, for the task.