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Nationwide Conference North

Alfreton Town

Hume (34), Turner (40), Adams (71) (OG) 

Hednesford Town

Bell (63), McSweeney (81)

(2) 3

(0) 2



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Andy Bell



Hinckley United (A) 21.1.06

The Pitmen crashed to defeat once more this afternoon at Alfreton's Impact Arena, despite a spirited second-half display from the visitors that almost rescued a point against one of their rivals for relegation

Steve Anthrobus had been handed the manager's job permanently in midweek after the Hednesford board had felt that performances - if not results - had improved in the five weeks since he had taken the job on a caretaker basis. Anthrobus was able to reunite last season's successful back four for the first time since October as both Mark Branch and Lee Barrow returned to the side in two of four changes to the side that had been soundly beaten by Barrow at Keys Park last weekend. Branch came in for Colin Hunter and Barrow replaced on-loan Sean Platt, who was serving a one-match suspension. Lee Williams came back into the XI at the expense of Steve Brannan and Leon McSweeney replaced Andy Bell up front

Alfreton sat only one place and one point ahead of the Pitmen ahead of today's basement six-pointer, having lost 3-1 at fellow strugglers Vauxhall Motors last weekend to extend their winless run to over four months; under-pressure manager Gary Mills made three changes of his own for today's crucial league clash as Dave Robinson came in ahead of ex-Hednesford loanee Emeka Nwadike, Mark Hume replaced veteran Peter Duffield and debutant Paul Smith replaced Rob Norris out on the left-wing

On a heavy pitch at the Impact Arena, affected by the recent bout of rain across the country, both sides started slowly and were limited to clear-cut chances at both ends in the first ten minutes. In the eighth minute, a Williams free-kick was headed up into the air by Tom Marshall and forced Alfreton goalkeeper Greg Smith to tip the ball over the ball 

Goalkeeper Tommy Whittle - the guilty party in one of Barrow's three goals last weekend - made a good stop in the fifteenth minute of this slow burner as Paul Smith's deep free-kick was flicked towards goal by the head of Mark Turner, forcing the Hednesford stopper into making a save low down to his right-hand side

Two minutes later, youngster Ross Dyer got the better of Lee Featherstone down the right flank as Mark Briggs played him into space, with Dyer's teasing cross skipping across the face of the Alfreton goal and wide as both McSweeney and Grant Beckett failed to turn the ball home from close-range

In the twentieth minute, debutant Paul Smith showed Ross Adams a clean pair of heels after skipping past the young right-back on the left touchline, pulling the ball back from the byeline and finding the head of the powerful Michael Rankine, who headed tamely wide from a good position eight yards from Whittle's goal

More good play from Paul Smith saw him win the ball from Williams on twenty-three minutes and send over an early cross from the corner of the Hednesford penalty area that was hacked away from goal by Branch under pressure from Turner

Whittle made a superb save to deny Alfreton the opening goal of the afternoon four minutes later as he acrobatically tipped a goalbound header from Turner over the crossbar after Chris Bettney had crossed from the right

The hosts were slowly taking control of the game as the half wore on and the returning Barrow made a timely sliding challenge on the impressive Matt Fisher with half an hour gone as the midfield man got on the end of a through ball from Bettney to enter the Hednesford penalty area unchallenged

Four minutes later, Alfreton took the lead as their pressure finally paid with the game's opening goal; Paul Smith was the provider once more down the left as he stole half a yard on Adams, crossing deep to the far post where Branch managed to deny Turner a shot at goal. The loose ball ran to former Doncaster Rovers man Hume, who rifled a shot beyond the despairing reach of Whittle from the left-hand corner of the penalty area, nestling in the far corner of the net

Whittle was having another one of those bi-polar performances that we have seen already this season, almost gifting Alfreton a second goal just a couple of minutes later as he allowed a Paul Smith free-kick to slip through his fingers and bobble over the line. However, referee Mr Coote disallowed the goal as both Bettney and Rankine had been standing in an offside position when the kick was taken

The hosts were not to be denied, however and grabbed their second goal of the game with five minutes of the first half remaining. More indecisive defending from the men in green saw Paul Smith's free-kick bounce around the penalty area as the Pitmen struggled to clear their lines, allowing Turner to turn the ball home from close-range as he seized upon the bouncing ball

This stung the Pitmen into life and forced Greg Smith into his first meaningful save of the afternoon two minutes later as a long-range screamer from Briggs was turned around his left-hand post by Smith for a late Hednesford corner kick

The Pitmen had, in all honesty, been shocking, both with and without the ball and were looking every inch the relegation-threatened side that the league table suggested they were. A clearly upset Anthrobus made a bold half-time double change as Dyer and Beckett were sacrificed in favour of Bell and Paul McMahon, changing the Pitmen's shape to a 4-3-3 in the process

This appeared to have a positive effect on the visitors, as they started the second half well; McMahon's driving run into the Alfreton box was checked by Robinson on forty-eight minutes, with Bell firing wide from the rebound after McSweeney had stepped over the ball

McSweeney turned provider for McMahon on fifty-two minutes as his through-ball perfectly picked the striker out, only for the Pitmen's top scorer to horribly scuff his shot into the muddy turf and send the ball straight into the arms of Greg Smith

A brilliant last-ditch challenge from Ryan Clarke denied the hardworking Bell a certain goal on fifty-six minutes as McMahon crossed from the left to find his strike partner, but a superb challenge from the Alfreton man turned the ball away from goal and behind for a corner kick to the visitors

Back came the hosts after the Pitmen's bright start and Fisher got on the end of another fine Paul Smith cross on fifty-eight minutes but looped his effort onto the roof of Whittle's net

A minute later, the Pitmen made their final substitution of the afternoon as Brannan was given half an hour to influence proceedings as he replaced the tiring Williams

The away side were handed a route back into the game on sixty-three minutes as a blunder from Greg Smith handed them a goal back. An Adams cross was met by McMahon at the far post, although his header lacked power and looked to be a simple catch for the Alfreton stopper. Smith, however, made a hash of the catch and fumbled the ball into the path of Bell, who followed the ball in to nod the rebound home from close range and reduce the deficit

The Pitmen were on top for the first time in the game as they went in search of an unlikely leveller, with Tom Marshall firing a free-kick narrowly over the crossbar from the right-hand corner of the Alfreton penalty area on sixty-six minutes after Adams had been brought down by Bettney

Beckett clipped a corner kick into the Alfreton six-yard box two minutes later and found McMahon, whose close-range effort was blocked by Hume before Greg Smith smothered the bouncing ball on the edge of his six-yard box

The Pitmen's hopes of a comeback were hit on seventy-one minutes as Alfreton restored their two-goal cushion through more comedic Hednesford defending; Bettney's free-kick from the right was aimed at Paul Smith, who had made an early run into the penalty area as he looked to get to the ball first. Whittle elected to come for the ball but then stopped at the last moment, marooning him on the edge of his six-yard box and taking Adams by surprise, who managed to get in front of Smith but could only watch on in horror as his touch turned the ball into his own net. A moment to forget for Adams, but yet more question marks regarding Whittle's competence as a step two goalkeeper after yet another poor piece of judgment


 The Pitmen were back on their heels once more, and Alfreton went close to sealing the points on seventy-three minutes as Turner's shot took a huge deflection off Barrow's leg but ended up going wide of the unsighted Whittle's right-hand post

On seventy-eight minutes, Whittle partially redeemed himself with a superb save to deny Rankine his first goal for the Reds following his recent switch from Armthorpe Welfare, tipping his shot over the crossbar at full stretch


The Pitmen dragged themselves back into the game, however, three minutes later as McSweeney made it 3-2 with a twenty-yard volley off his left foot that took a nick off Robinson and beat Greg Smith all ends up after Brannan had set him up. A fine strike and game on once more

The Pitmen threw more bodies forward in search of a late leveller and tested Greg Smith's reflexes on more than one occasion in the final ten minutes of the game. Briggs tried his luck from a free kick on eighty-two minutes after Bell had been fouled by Hume, only after Rankine had been booked for encroaching from the wall. Smith made a good save to deny Briggs, palming the ball away from goal at his post for a Hednesford corner kick

The excellent Bell had been one of the bright spots for the Pitmen in a largely poor afternoon and went close to an equaliser on eighty-five minutes as his quick turn from a Brannan pass left Robinson behind, only for the striker to pull his angled shot across Greg Smith's goal and wide of the far post

Smith denied McMahon a minute later as he beat away the substitute's snapshot from the edge of the penalty area before Bell went agonisingly close to scoring with two minutes left as he somehow put his first-time shot from ten yards out the wrong side of the post after Briggs had fed him the ball

In the final minute of normal time, Beckett's cross from the left was flicked on by Tom Marshall and into the path of Bell once more, but he volleyed his effort over the crossbar as he stretched to reach the ball at the far post

There was still time for a late counter-attack from the hosts as they broke down the right through Bettney, whose cross was turned wide of the post by the incoming Rankine from ten yards out as the Pitmen tried to get numbers back

It had been a rousing second half from the visitors, but they had ultimately given themselves too much to do much in the final forty-five minutes in much the same way they had done at Nuneaton on Boxing Day. It was a case of what could have been had they started with Bell and not Dyer, with Bell very much influencing the game after coming on at the break. However, three points for the Reds lift them off the bottom of the table as they record their first league win since September to leapfrog their visitors and dump the Pitmen to the bottom of the table in the process. Anthrobus has a real job on his hands with a side whose Achilles heel of conceding unforced goals at regular intervals shows no signs of being remedied. They make the short trip across the A5 to face mid-table Hinckley United at their brand new Marstons Stadium next weekend, with Anthrobus on the hunt for potential new faces this week to give his flagging side a timely boost as they continue to search for a first win of 2006

Alfreton Town: G. Smith, Clarke, Featherstone, Robinson, Hume, Powell, Bettney, Fisher, Rankine , Turner, P. Smith     Subs Unused: Blunt, Godber, Duffield, Stevenson, Norris 

Hednesford Town: Whittle, Adams, Branch, Barrow ©, Teesdale, T. Marshall, Williams (Brannan 59), Briggs, Dyer (Bell 45), McSweeney, Beckett (McMahon 45)      Subs Unused: Hunter, Bragoli

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