BEDLINGTON Terriers went top of the table on Saturday night after recording their second 4-1 win inside a week.
They entertained Billingham Town on Saturday looking to build on a fine midweek performance which saw them deservedly beat Bishop Auckland 4-1 in County Durham.
Striker Tony Shandran failed to shake off a knock sustained in the Tuesday game, meaning his place alongside the prolific Alex Benjamin was taken by Shaun Reay.
The opening 25 minutes produced little in the way of goal action, and it was shaping up to be far short of a classic when the Terriers finally made the breakthrough from excellent work by Reay.
He made progress down the left to the goal line before nutmegging his marker and laying into the path of Anthony Chapman who side footed home from six yards.
Town did respond, with Flockett pulling an effort wide from 15 yards before the visitors got back on level terms four minutes before the break.
In space 25 yards from goal, Glen Butterworth unleashed a rocket of a shot which flew into the top corner before Terriers keeper Paul Newton could even react.
The score line was probably a fair reflection of the game with neither side particularly impressing.
Bedlington came close to reclaiming the lead minutes after the restart when Stewart’s low cross saw Benjamin’s flick allow Flynn to head towards goal only for Hamilton to superbly claw around the post.
However, the Billingham stopper’s next involvement was to be his last, as Reay pounced on a back pass hit blindly, and when he rounded Hamilton to seemingly then roll into the empty net, the keeper pulled his legs away to leave the referee no option but to show a red card and award the penalty.
Billingham replaced an outfield player to bring on Michael Arthur in his place, but Benjamin continued his hot start to the season and showed his cool from 12 yards to convert the spot kick by sending the keeper the wrong way.
If people thought the visitors were just going to meekly roll over and accept their fate, their illusions were rudely shattered minutes later when Newton was forced into making a brilliant save.
To their credit they continued to push whenever possible and the home side didn’t look comfortable even with the man advantage.
Bedlington made a double change with 25 minutes remaining, with Colin Morton and Richard Hodgson replacing Christensen and Chapman respectively.
Stewart went close to extending the lead with a right foot curling effort which only just cleared the crossbar.
Then Hodgson fed Reay, whose drive was tipped over brilliantly by Arthur.
It wasn’t until the 80th minute that the hosts finally got the decisive goal.
Stewart broke down the right and his low cross saw Hodgson step over the ball allowing it to run to Benjamin, who in turn wrapped his right foot around it as he struck first time into the net from 15 yards.
This was the striker’s 14th goal in only ten league games since his second half hat-trick against South Shields on the opening day of the season.
The Terriers made their final change with Graydon replacing Benjamin, and it was ‘Rasher’ Graydon who almost had an immediate impact when he saw his shot from 25 yards just go over.
A fourth goal did arrive with two minutes remaining.
Stewart again the architect with another break on the right leading to a low cross which this time ran to Hodgson. He cleverly sent the keeper the wrong way and the ball went in off the post.
After the disappointments of the defeats against Ashington and Newcastle Benfield, the Terriers had bounced back.
That being said, the outcome of this game was never a foregone conclusion until the third goal and the man advantage took its full effect.
The Bedlington management team know there is still plenty work to be done to turn this talented squad into genuine contenders, and while this result returned the team to the top of the league, they have played several more games than their main rivals and therefore efforts will continue to discover the best formula to achieve the best results.
Bedlington were due to be in League Cup action at Morpeth Town on Tuesday night.
Then on Saturday sees Terriers return to the FA Vase competition when they entertain West Allotment Celtic at Welfare Park.
Celtic have just appointed ex-Bedlington boss Tom Wade as manager, and he is assured of a warm – if hopefully unsuccessful – welcome back to a club he helped stabilise on its rise from the bottom.