7.5.2013

Evo-Stik Northern Premier League Play-Off Semi-Final

Hednesford Town

Durrell (56), (98) (penalty), MacPherson (71)

AFC Fylde

Blinkhorn (24), Hinchcliffe (90), Farrell (105)

(0) 3

(1) 3

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Dave MacPherson

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FC United of Manchester (H) 11.5.13

After Extra Time | Hednesford win 3-1 on penalties

An incredible evening of high drama at Keys Park saw Hednesford Town beat AFC Fylde on penalties to set up a Saturday afternoon shoot-out against FC United of Manchester in the Pitmen's second play-off final in three seasons

Saturday's game between the two sides had seen the Pitmen run out 2-1 winners, with Rob Smith's battlers missing out on the league title by goal difference in the process. Fylde had made a number of changes to their side at the weekend as they anticipated a potential semi-final at Keys Park, with Dave Challinor's Coasters naming a very different line-up to the one that were edged out by the Pitmen four days previously. The hosts were able to name an unchanged side, with Jamey Osborne passed fit to continue alongside Dave MacPherson in midfield

A big, vocal crowd were in attendance to roar both sides towards a potential final against either FC United or Witton Albion, who were competing for the other final slot at Gigg Lane on the same evening

Francino Francis almost gifted Fylde an early opener in the eighth minute, as his header back to Dan Crane fell short of the Hednesford stopper. Fylde striker Matt Blinkhorn - signed on a dual registration deal recently - nipped in to poke the ball past Crane, but failed to get enough purchase on the ball, allowing Francis to recover and clear

Francis was involved at the other end of the pitch on thirteen minutes, as Elliott Durrell's inswinging free-kick was headed home by the big defender at the far post. However, a late flag from the linesman on the Wimblebury side chalked the goal off, although it was unclear as to why it had been disallowed

Dave MacPherson was putting an imperious shift in for the Pitmen in midfield, as he chased, harried, tackled and generally threw his body around the pitch in an attempt to stifle the creative influences of the Fylde midfield

He could do nothing, however, to stop the visitors from taking the lead midway through the half through Blinkhorn. Hednesford failed to fully clear a Sean Cooke free-kick just inside their own half, with Blinkhorn firing a low volley past Crane from eighteen yards out as the ball dropped to him

Fylde looked to extend their lead three minutes later, as a quick break down the left saw Blinkhorn slip the ball into the path of Cooke. despite being forced wide, the midfielder still tested Crane's reflexes with an angled drive that the big keeper palmed away at his near post

The nervousness in the Hednesford defence following the goal was evident, as they almost gifted Fylde a second goal on the half-hour mark through a defensive mix-up. Francis and Crane allowed Michael Barnes to nip in between them down the right side of the Hednesford box. His  low cross to Blinkhorn saw the striker attempt a cheeky back flick into the net, but under pressure from Ben Bailey he failed to connect and the loose ball was cleared by Darren Campion

Hednesford recovered from this ropey period to create a couple of chances of their own as half time approached. Durrell swung in a dangerous free-kick that Fylde keeper Ben Hinchliffe turned over the crossbar, followed by a shot from the same player from the edge of the area that dipped inches over the crossbar

Francis ended a topsy-turvy half with frustration, as the big man went close to levelling matters on forty-four minutes by heading Durrell's corner kick narrowly wide of the far post

The early stages of the second half saw Hednesford push hard as they searched for an equaliser. Osborne picked up a loose ball thirty yards out and unleashed a shot with the outside of his right foot that skimmed the crossbar as it flew over

They got their reward for a confident start to the half on fifty-six minutes, with Durrell notching goal twenty-nine of the campaign to get the Pitmen on level terms. Kris Taylor's free-kick was not cleared by Fylde, allowing Durrell to volley a loose ball past Hinchliffe at his near post

The game very nearly turned on its head two minutes later, as Michael Lennon got the better of Paul Scott and poked the ball goalwards. Again, it required a great stop from Hinchliffe, who turned the ball away with his legs

Lennon felt he should have been awarded a penalty on sixty-two minutes, as he appeared to be hauled down in the box as he battled with Scott for possession. The referee was unmoved, however, and continued with the game

The Pitmen's pressure saw them take the lead for the first time in the game on seventy-one minutes, with MacPherson grabbing the all-important goal that his efforts deserved. Osborne's cross found Harvey, whose sidefooted shot was deflected away from goal. The ball eventually dropped to MacPherson, who bundled the ball over the line from close range to make it 2-1

Durrell drilled a low shot wide and Osborne had a half-hearted penalty appeal turned down as the game entered the final stages, with the hosts looking to end it in normal time

Fylde's chances were limited, as Francis and Bailey once again dominated the ball in the air as the visitors found it difficult to find a way through. Cooke tried his luck with a long-range shot on eight seven minutes but blasted wide of goal

The Pitmen looked to lock the game down in the final minute, as Rob Smith made a more defensively minded double substitution: Alex Melbourne came on in place of Harvey, whilst Osborne limped off and was replaced by Nathan Woolfe

However, there was to be late, late drama as the game moved into added time, as Fylde grabbed quite simply the most bizarre equaliser you are ever likely to see. A Fylde free-kick, a few yards inside their own half was taken by Hinchliffe, pushing all of his team-mates into the Hednesford penalty area. Hinchliffe's long, drifting ball into the box looked like a simple catch for Crane, but the Hednesford keeper made a fatal error of judgment as he lost the flight of the ball, and allowed it to fly over his head and into the net. An astonishing, incredible end to the ninety minutes that you simply couldn't have possibly foretold

So extra time it was then, with the Pitmen striking first as they looked to end the game before the dreaded penalty kicks. Francis was adjudged to have had his shirt pulled in the area as he tried to get his head to a Taylor corner. The referee awarded the Pitmen a spot-kick, with Durrell firing confidently home to give the Pitmen the lead

Fylde's response almost saw them draw level immediately, as Barnes slipped substitute Jimmy McCarthy in on goal, but the midfielder's low drive came back off the post despite beating Crane

Lennon's hard work and endeavour was recognised by the supporters on ninety-nine minutes, as he was taken off to a standing ovation from the main stand and was replaced by Aaron Rey

With half time in extra time imminent, Fylde found their scoring boots once again through Adam Farrell - the Pitmen had three chances to clear their lines, but Farrell's persistence saw him breakthrough and drive a low shot under Crane and into the net to level matters once more

Fylde went close to regaining the lead in a breathless encounter just after the restart, as a long-range effort from Barnes came back off the crossbar

Crane partially made amends for his earlier mistake on 115 minutes, as he made a great save low down to his left to turn away a shot from substitute James Dean

The Pitmen seemed to be simply hanging on at this point, although Rey could have won it in the final minute as he headed past Hinchliffe but failed to get enough purchase on his backward flick and allowed it to be cleared

The final whistle saw both teams line up for penalties, with memories of the 2011 play-off final defeat fresh in Hednesford supporter's minds. Durrell successfully struck first for the Pitmen, but Fylde's Farrell was denied by a fine save from Crane

Woolfe's penalty was saved by Hinchliffe before Luke Denson levelled the shoot-out with a good penalty. The third round of kicks swung it very much the Pitmen's way, as John Disney scored, but Joe Booth skied his shot high over the crossbar

Taylor scored the Pitmen's fourth spot-kick with ease, leaving Adam Sumner the job of having to score to keep Fylde in the game. Crane banished the memories of his earlier error by saving Sumner's kick to send Keys Park wild and spark a pitch invasion and celebrations as the Pitmen sealed their place in Saturday's final, which will be against FC United after their win over Witton Albion

Hednesford Town: Crane, Disney, Campion © , Bailey, Francis, MacPherson, Osborne (Woolfe 89), Durrell, Harvey  (Melbourne 89), Lennon, (Rey 99), Taylor      Subs Unused: O’Connor, S. Barnes

AFC Fylde: Hinchliffe, Denson, Sumner, Hughes ©, Scott, Breeze  (Booth 72), Farrell, Winter (Dean 76), Blinkhorn , M. Barnes, Cooke (McCarthy 87)      Subs Unused: Dorney, Haslam