HALTWHISTLE Jubilee made a statement of intent when they knocked neighbouring Hexham out of the George Dobbins League Cup on Saturday. Greg Irwin’s 76th minute strike earned the Blues a 1-0 victory which secured their place in the quarter-finals of the Northern Alliance competition.

And in doing so, the Jubes, who are flying high at the top of Division Two, showed just what they are capable of against higher level opposition.

For Hexham have themselves enjoyed an impressive first half of the season, and are eighth in Division One, with games in hand on sides above them.

Both sides started the game confidently on a chilly afternoon at the Burn, with a healthy crowd turning out for the re-arranged fixture, following a postponement due to wet whether two weeks earlier.

The in-form Thomas Wilkie proved a threat from the off for Haltwhistle, bombing forward from left back and causing problems for Hexham with a series of long throws.

His first throw-in, on four minutes, was flicked on to Irwin at the far post, but he couldn’t quite connect to apply the finish.

There was a rare stoppage on nine minutes, when referee Paul Best’s attention was drawn to a small mound of dog dirt on the immaculately prepared playing surface.

Haltwhistle’s assistant manager Alan Batey rushed on to remove the unwelcome hazard.

The right boot of Owen Murtough, cutting in from the left, was a potent weapon throughout for Hexham. His pin-point cross on 12 minutes was met by Sam Mannion, whose fine header was superbly tipped around the post by home keeper Kieran Macmillan. Both defences held firm, with Hexham’s Callum Duncan and Haltwhistle’s Jack Currah making strong challenges in the opening 25 minutes.

Hexham striker Kurtis Harvey headed the ball into the net on 26 minutes, but referee Best Had already blown for offside while Murtough’s cross was airborne.

At the other end shortly afterwards, a Haltwhistle flick-on was met by Irwin, but his effort was thwarted by the advancing keeper Tom Craney.

Just past the half hour mark, Hexham’s Harvey managed to take the ball around the keeper, but Dion Parker managed a crucial goal-line clearance.

On the stroke of half time, Macmillan was forced into a double save. He kept out Lewis Loughhead’s strike from a free-kick, and also the rebound as Harvey looked set to pounce.

Hexham finished the first half with their tails up, and Peter McRoberts side footed just wide from 10 yards.

After the re-start, Murtough’s 20-yard free kick was bound for the top corner, but Macmillan pulled off another impressive save. From the resulting corner, another Hexham effort was headed off the line by Jack Barker.

After Wilkie was booked for bringing down Lewis Furness on 55 minutes, the Haltwhistle man redeemed himself with a deflected shot, which was well saved by Craney in the Hexham goal.

Having survived a sustained spell of pressure, Haltwhistle went on the attack again in the 65th minute, when Scott Jacobsen’s fierce drive was bravely headed clear by Hexham’s Duncan.

On 70 minutes, Haltwhistle’s Barker broke away down the right, before delivering a cross-cum-shot which almost deceived Craney, forcing the keeper into an acrobatic save to tip the ball to safety.

The deadlock was finally broken on 76 minutes, when Irwin ran onto the ball through the inside right channel, and fired low into the bottom corner from an acute angle to beat the advancing keeper from seven yards.

Hexham remained a force, however, and Loughhead clipped the outside of the post on 78 minutes, before Tom Hacking, venturing forward from right back, fired over from 20 yards.

Haltwhistle held out and recorded a memorable victory.

The two sides created their fair share of chances, and it is testament to both defences that the game was decided by a solitary goal.

It should also be noted that the match was a credit to the high standard of football in the Tyne Valley. A local derby with much at stake, the game was played in good spirits both on the pitch and on the sidelines.

Haltwhistle and Hexham can take many positive’s from the tie, and have much to play for in 2020.

It’s a return to league action for Haltwhistle on Saturday when they host Ellington at the Burn in Northern Alliance Divison Two.

Hexham are also in league action, and they will travel to Felling Magpies in Division One on Saturday, in a bid to return to winning ways.

Joseph Tulip