THE good run of results for Bedlington Terriers FC before and since the enforced winter break continued apace in the last week with comfortable wins against two of the league’s bottom three sides within four days.
After goals from Stewart, Elliott and Chapman proved enough to quell bottom club Ryton’s resistance on the Terriers travels in midweek, Stokesley were the visitors to Welfare Park on Saturday.
The Terriers unveiled new signing Steven Baptist, who joined on a month’s loan from Gateshead.
In the absence of Tony Chapman it provided an opportunity for him to start his Bedlington career, taking up a wide left position in midfield.
On a heavy pitch there was little sign of the goal glut to follow as the Terriers made hard work of converting territorial domination into a lead.
In the opening minutes, a free kick from the right saw Richard Flynn flick a header which forced Stokesley keeper Robert Dean into making a low save.
And on the quarter hour mark Stewart shot inches wide of the post from 20 yards, while later in the half he provided the cross which saw Alex Benjamin loop his header over Dean and into the net to seemingly give his team the lead.
However, the assistant flagged for offside when it appeared it was Anthony Shandran, in an inactive position, who was beyond the last defender.
Just when it seemed that a disappointing half was going to finish without a goal, the Terriers made the breakthrough a minute before the end.
Skipper Elliott started and finished the move, sliding a pass to Benjamin inside the area, and when his turn on the defender presented an opportunity on goal, it was Elliott who had continued his run to slot past Dean from ten yards.
This changed the game as the hosts came out from the restart with all guns blazing.
Shandran had a goal bound shot from 15 yards blocked early in the half, then moments later Shandran fed Benjamin who in turn laid it off to Baptist whose low shot was deflected inches wide.
It seemed only a matter of time before the second goal would come, and so it proved as Chris Carr was fouled in the area. Benjamin was as clinical as ever from the penalty, finding the bottom corner for his 27th league goal of the season.
Bedlington were camped in the Stokesley, with Convery hitting an angled shot which Dean again did well to stop.
However, he was beaten again just before the hour mark when Shandran, with his back to goal in the area, laid a simple pass back to Baptist, who struck a left footed rocket from 20 yards which smashed into the net.
Three soon became four when the same players combined again to allow Baptist to notch his second, this time a right footed low drive into the bottom right corner of the goal.
The game then took a slight breather with both sides making changes, with the Terriers replacing Elliott with Richard Hodgson, and the visitors making all their available changes in a 14-minute spell midway through the half.
Bedlington kept pressuring the Stokesley goal and Benjamin scored his second and his team’s fifth on 74 minutes.
This time Baptist turned provider, slipping the ball to Benjamin and he cut in before striking an angled clip which Dean could only get slight contact on as it made its way to the bottom corner.
This was his 30th goal in all competitions this season, a tremendous return in mid January, and even more impressive considering the 53 days spell with no games played.
Bedlington soon made a second change, with Shandran replaced by Alex Henderson.
Benjamin wanted another though to complete his hat-trick, and it duly came with just three minutes remaining.
This time it was Hodgson who was the provider, sliding straight through the middle to Benjamin, who had timed his run perfectly to go clear on goal. He coolly rounded the keeper before jogging up to the goal line then smashing it over to record his 29th league goal in an astonishing 23 games.
The Terriers have not seen this type of goal gluttony since the days of the Wembley year when John Milner at his peak.
Other than making their final change with teenager Calum Donoghue coming on for Benjamin, the final minutes concluded without further action.
In terms of the league’s form table, the Terriers moved into fourth place, with an impressive 16 points out of a possible 18 in their last six games, the only dropped points being an impressive draw away at top four Shildon.
On Tuesday night, Bedlington were due to be back on the road at Whitley Bay, with US billionaire and club president Robert Rich in attendance on his birthday, with lots of the world’s media also in tow.
The Terriers are hoping to give him a suitable present to mark the occasion by securing a positive result.
This Saturday sees the travels continue with a tough game at Newcastle Benfield, before returning to Welfare Park the following Tuesday night for the visit of West Auckland Town, who currently lie just below then in the league.
Having seen the recent good run of form take the club up into fifth place, this difficult run of games will be a real test of the Terriers credentials to challenge for honours.
With runaway League leaders Consett to follow, there are certainly some enticing games to whet the appetite of Bedlington supporters in the next fortnight.