Nationwide Conference North

Hednesford Town

Bell (50)

Alfreton Town

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Paul McMahon



Hinckley United (H) 20.8.05

 The Pitmen got their first points on the board in this new Conference North season as they edged out Alfreton Town tonight at Keys Park courtesy of a solitary Andy Bell goal in the second half

Saturday's curtain-raiser had seen the Pitmen on the end of a sobering defeat at Barrow to leave manager chris Brindley with much to ponder ahead of tonight's first home game of the new season. Brindley elected to make one change to his starting line-up from the one that had started at Holker Street as Jamie Barrett was dropped to the bench in favour of Paul McMahon, allowing the hosts to line up with a 4-4-2 formation after flooding the midfield to little effect at the weekend

Alfreton had also lost their opening game of the season on Saturday as they went down 2-1 to Vauxhall Motors at the Impact Arena. Manager Gary Mills made one change to his side for tonight's trip across to Staffordshire as Matt Fisher came into the side in place of the injured Shaun Smith at full-back for the Reds

Looking to shrug off Saturday's disappointment, the hosts started with purpose on a warm and sunny August evening as they won a second-minute corner on the right which was delivered by Lee Williams, finding the weekend's goalscorer Lee Barrow at the far post; his downwards header was aimed at Andy Bell, but a timely interception from skipper Dave Robinson cleared the early danger for the Reds

The visitors were well-organised, particularly in midfield, where Matt Fisher and Chris Bettney enjoyed plenty of the ball early on. However, the Pitmen's defence last term had been the meanest at step three and was looking to prove its worth at a higher level. The closest the Reds came to an early chance saw Neil Ross get past Richard Teesdale in the ninth minute but saw the ball nicked off his toe by Barrow's fine challenge

The Pitmen once again looked to create openings from set-pieces and a thirteenth-minute free-kick from Beckett saw the left-sided midfielder play a delightful pass into the path of Colin Hunter, who made a move in behind Clarke to get to the bouncing ball. The former Morecambe winger stole a yard on the full-back and sent over a good cross that McMahon stretched to reach but just failed to connect with from eight yards out

Former West Bromwich Albion man Kevin Donovan showed his Football League quality three minutes later as he neatly side-stepped a challenge from Rob Heath before playing a crossfield ball across to Jason Blunt, who in turn took the ball past Ross Adams before attempting an ambitious effort from twenty-five yards out that he cut across the ball and fired well wide of goal

In the nineteenth minute of a cagey encounter, Bell's clever flick over the head of Fisher found McMahon scampering towards goal, only for an offside flag to pull the play back after the former Walsall Wood man had made his move a little too early

The Pitmen were unlucky not to take the lead five minutes later as Williams delivered another fine ball into the Alfreton penalty area where goalkeeper Shaun Bodkin flapped at the ball and misjudged the flight of the ball, allowing it to fly over his head and towards goal. Williams was denied a fluke goal however by Mark Turner's persistence, as the former Telford United man hacked the ball off the line and away from goal

Jon Stevenson did well to get on the end of a fine pass from Donovan two minutes later, turning quickly with some neat close control to create a pocket of space just inside the penalty area before driving a shot into the Heath Hayes terrace

Alfreton's first real sight at goal came just before the hour mark as Stevenson turned provider after picking out Turner's pass down the left flank, picking out Clarke with an inch-perfect cross that found the defender making a late run into the penalty area and past the unsighted Mark Branch. However, the Alfreton number two blazed his shot high over Tommy Whittle's crossbar

Back came the Pitmen and Branch's long throw level with the Alfreton penalty area was flicked on by Barrow on thirty-three minutes, finding Heath just inside the Reds penalty area. The former Stoke City man took a touch but shanked his shot over Bodkin's crossbar from fifteen yards out

Bettney delivered an inch-perfect corner kick onto the head of the vastly experienced Mark Blount on thirty-six minutes, finding the former Burton Albion defender at the far post as the Pitmen were caught ball-watching. Fortunately for the hosts, Blount got underneath the ball and headed over the crossbar from eight yards out

Four minutes later, more questionable handling from Bodkin saw the Alfreton stopper lose Adams' deep cross in the air and drop the ball into the vicinity of Bell, who was only denied by Blount's quick thinking in hammering the ball out of play for a corner kick to the Pitmen

The hosts had the ball in the net just three minutes before the interval as the busy McMahon ran onto Heath's slide-rule pass and slotted past Bodkin, only for a late flag on the Wimblebury side of the ground seeing referee Mr Keane disallow the goal

The hosts could be fairly content with the first-half display, having looked less porous at the back than they had done on Saturday and had created decent chances to take the lead against a side that had comfortably finished mid-table in 2004-2005

The Pitmen were fired up at the start of the second half following Brindley and Steve Anthrobus's pep talk and took the lead with their first visit to the Alfreton penalty area in the fiftieth minute; Fisher made an error of judgment as he tried to play his way around Williams, allowing the midfielder to rob him of the ball and play Heath into space down the right. The midfield man spotted Bell arriving at the near post and clipped his cross into the path of the striker, who had the simple task of nodding past Bodkin from close-range

They could have doubled the lead just four minutes later as a lovely reverse pass from McMahon played Bell clear of a static Alfreton defence; Bell's low driven shot looked goalbound but Bodkin denied him a second goal in quick succession by making the block with his legs

On fifty-seven minutes, the excellent McMahon was denied by the woodwork as he made a surging run into the Alfreton penalty area and struck a rising shot against the crossbar, with Bodkin nowhere near the effort

On the hour mark, Alfreton responded through Blunt, whose fine run down the left saw him drift past Adams and crossed for Donovan, only for the veteran to head agonisingly wide of Whittle's left-hand post from only six yards out

A defensive error from Clarke on sixty-five minutes saw the full-back slip at the crucial moment and allow Beckett into space, who the midfield man playing McMahon into the penalty area. Blount did well to push the striker wide, which narrowed the angle for his shot and culminated in McMahon firing well wide of goal

More defensive blunders, this time from Blount, saw the defender miss his header on seventy minutes and allow the ball to bounce through to Bell. The Hednesford goalscorer took a touch and waited for Williams to make up ten yards before rolling the ball into his path, which Williams curled beyond the reach of Bodkin but narrowly over the crossbar

On seventy-two minutes, Bettney did well to muscle his way past Branch's meagre challenge and cut in from the right flank, but chose to shoot from an impossibly tight angle and drive his effort into the side-netting

Whittle had been underused thus far the Pitmen on his home debut but was called upon to make his first save of the evening on seventy-six minutes as he tipped Blunt's dipping cross over the crossbar for an Alfreton corner after the winger's cross drifted towards goal

Three minutes later, Heath picked up Richard Teesdale's pass and exchanged passes with Beckett before playing the ball to Bell, who held off Turner's challenge before firing his long-range effort over the crossbar

With eight minutes of the game remaining, Alfreton's best chance of the evening to level matters fell to Robinson as Bettney's corner kick was met with a full-blooded header from the former recent signing from Tamworth, whose effort was cleared off the line by Adams. The Pitmen struggled to clear their lines and the rebound dropped to Stevenson, who snatched at his shot and fired wide from close-range

The experienced Peter Duffield had come on for the Reds by this point, with the 36-year-old having a great chance to equalise for Alfreton five minutes after coming on as he made a run into the penalty area that was not tracked by the Hednesford defenders to reach Turner's clipped pass, sidefooting his effort weakly into the arms of Whittle from ten yards out

The Pitmen caught Alfreton on the counter-attack with five minutes of the game remaining as Williams lumped the ball up to Bell, who took the ball into the visitors' penalty area but saw his scuffed shot saved by Bodkin

Clarke was shown a yellow card by Mr Keane a minute later after he had halted McMahon's progress just inside the Alfreton half to stop the Pitmen's man of the match from breaking clear

In the final minute of the game, Bell turned provider for Heath as he made a run down the left and cleverly pulled the ball back into Heath's path, only for the former Stafford Rangers man to just fail to turn the ball home as the pass was slightly too strong for him

With time running out, teenage striker Craig Marshall - impressive in his pre-season appearances for the Pitmen - was given a late run-out as he replaced McMahon up front

It had been an excellent evening's work from the hosts, who get themselves on the board for the season and had gone toe-to-toe with their more experienced opponents and won. Brindley was delighted with his side's application at the end of the game and will be pleased that they had kept a clean sheet against a dangerous Alfreton attack that will give teams problems more than once this term. Saturday sees Hinckley United make the short trip across the A5 to face the Pitmen, with the Knitters having drawn their opening two games of the season so far

Hednesford Town: Whittle, Adams, Branch, Barrow ©, Teesdale, Williams, Beckett, Heath, Bell, McMahon (C. Marshall 89), Hunter     Subs Unused: Barrett, Brannan, T. Marshall, Rogers

Alfreton Town: Bodkin, Clarke , Turner, Robinson ©, Blount, Fisher (White 87), Bettney, Donovan (Featherstone 80), Ross (Duffield 80), Stevenson, Blunt       Subs Unused: Powell, Smith