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Owolabi hat-trick not enough in eight goal thriller at South Shields

Owolabi hat-trick not enough in eight goal thriller at South ShieldsA second half hat-trick from Tunde Owolabi wasn’t enough for FC United to get anything out of the game between the league’s top two teams, as hosts South Shield took all three points thanks to a 5-3 victory in front of 3,274 noisy fans on Saturday afternoon.

With all ’elite’ football cancelled it seemed that a few fans in the area thought they’d give the nonleague game a try with supporters from Newcastle United, Sunderland, Sheffield United and Swansea City in the crowd. What they witnessed was an amazing contest between the top two teams in the league.

Having said that, the first half performance from FC United was far from the level we have seen this season. The Reds, playing in white, struggled to keep hold of the ball or create anything substantial in the opposition half. It was no surprise that the home team went into the halftime break ahead, what was a little surprising is that they went three goals to the good as United wilted under pressure.

The first two Mariners goals were well worked efforts. Both times a the Reds were caught out by a driving low, hard cross in between the defensive line and the goalkeeper Cameron Belford.

Former FC United striker Jason Gilchrist turned home the first from no more than six yards out in the 21st minute and 20 minutes later, Josh Gillies repeated the same trick to double the lead.

Two down at the break and you could have given FC a chance in the second half but the hosts made in 3-0 on the stroke of halftime. Luke Griffiths was dispossessed too easily in his own half and a hurried clearance rebound off a Reds defender with the ball landing in front of Gilchrist at the edge of the area. Shields’ striker gladly seized the gift with a strike that was pretty much unstoppable.

Such was the difference between the two sides, even the most optimistic FC United supporter would have been hard pushed to say they felt that the Reds had a way back into the match in the second half.

But it’s not the FC United way to just lie down and take a defeat and Neil Reynolds signalled his intent at the start of the second half by making three changes as Finlay Sinclair-Smith, Dan Trickett-Smith and Morgon Homson-Smith all came on. Michael Donohue, Paul Ennis and Regan Linney all made way.

The impact was almost instantaneous as within six minutes of the restart the score was back to 3-1. For the first time in the game Owolabi managed to get a hold of the ball at his feet and run at the Mariners defence. He weaved in and out of the defence before making his way across the box before firing home to give FC United a lifeline in the game.

But less than a minute later the gap was back to three as the home team went straight up the other end and scored through another former FC United player, Nathan Lowe.

As the game carried on Shields sat back a little and there were hints of a little bit of fatigue in their play, buoyed on by this and the noisy travelling support FC United grew into the game. With 20 minutes left Owolabi had scored another great goal, this time linking up with Sinclair-Smith before firing home, and the gap was back to just two goals.

Sensing an unlikely comeback - even by FC’s standards - was on the cards, the Reds kept pushing forwards and it should have been 4-3 when Sinclair-Smith hit a beautiful volley towards goal, but it hit the keeper (who knew nothing about it) and the crossbar before bouncing clear.

The home team killed off any lingering thoughts of a comeback with just minutes remaining as the impressive teenager Bali Mumba, who is on loan from League One Sunderland, got the goal that his performance deserved to make it 5-2.

But there was still time for another Owolabi goal, sealing hat-tricks in consecutive games for the league’s leading goal scorer. Despite a great showing in the second half, giving the league leaders and champions elect a three goal start is a handicap that you just can’t recover from and so it finished 5-3.

Website reporter’s man of the match: Tunde Owolabi. Three goals in the second half, all showing his confidence and ability on the ball. Tunde now has 35 goals in the season in 41 appearances, and only eight players have scored more goals for FC United in the club’s 15 year history.

Report by Craig Phillips

First Posted ~ 14:51 Sun 15 Mar 2020
News ID ~ 8668
Last Updated ~ 17:00 Fri 19 Feb 2021