30.4.2014

Skrill North Play-Off Semi-Final 1st Leg

Hednesford Town

Melbourne (33), Glover (56)

Altrincham

Reeves (13), Walshaw (59)

(1) 2

(1) 2

Attendance

MoTM

Current Form

Next Match

1,209

Danny Glover

L W W W D W W W L D

Altrincham (A) 3.5.14

An entertaining, open encounter at Keys Park this evening leaves this semi-final between the Pitmen and Altrincham on a knife-edge ahead of Saturday's return leg at Moss Lane; both sides have all to play for as they eye up a possible home final against Guiseley, who beat North Ferriby 2-0 in the other game this evening

Having made wholesale changes to his side at the weekend in their dead rubber against Barrow on the last day of the Skrill North season, Hednesford manager Rob Smith brought back his big hitters for the team's biggest game of the season. Dan Crane, Darren Campion, Ben Bailey, Dave MacPherson, Marvin Johnson, Danny Glover and Tom Thorley all returned to action, with Dale Reaney, Francino Francis, Kris Taylor, Charlie Anagho-Ntamark, Michael Lennon, Paul Sullivan and Robbie Thompson-Brown all stepping down after starting in Cumbria

Altrincham - many people's predictions for the title at the start of the season - came into the semi-final first leg off an unbeaten run of three games that had lifted Lee Sinnott's side above the Pitmen into third place in the Skrill North table. Strikers Damian Reeves and James Walshaw had grabbed nearly fifty league goals between them in a productive season in front of goal, meaning Ben Bailey and McCone would have an uncomfortable evening as they looked to keep the prolific forwards quiet

Another 1,000 plus crowd gathered at Keys Park on a warm late April evening to witness a strong start by the visitors, playing neat, incisive football to push the Pitmen back in the opening stages

However, it was the hosts who had the first sighting on goal on eight minutes, with centre backs Bailey and McCone linking up at a set-piece. Bailey's long, deep throw found McCone lurking, but his miscued header bounced up and over the crossbar and into the Hednesford end stand

MacPherson incurred the wrath of referee Mr Richardson just ten minutes into the game as he clattered into Adam Griffin and was shown an early yellow card for his aggressive challenge

Altrincham were rewarded for their confident start to the game with the opening goal on thirteen minutes, with Reeves unsurprisingly notching once again for the visitors. John Disney's clearance was blocked by Nicky Clee, who beat the right-back and whipped in a cross that Reeves swept into the net from close range

The hardworking Glover wasted a good chance to bring the Pitmen level on nineteen minutes, as Johnson's ball was picked up by the striker just outside the penalty area. In plenty of space, Glover struck a rising shot that failed to test Stuart Coburn in the Altrincham goal

The away side could perhaps count themselves lucky o remain with ten men on the pitch on twenty-four minutes, as a heinous foul by Simon Richman on Disney somehow saw the midfielder only awarded a yellow card when a red could have been well justified by the referee

A neat passage of play on twenty-eight minutes involving the on-loan Johnson and Wayne Riley saw Johnson scamper to the bye-line and pull the ball back towards Riley, who was just inches away from tapping the ball home at the near post as the ball flashed across the face of goal

Johnson went on another marauding run two minutes later on the opposite wing, beating two challenges but firing weakly straight at Coburn from twenty-five yards out

Hednesford got themselves back on level terms on thirty-three minutes, with Alex Melbourne deciding to notch his first goal of the season at a crucial time to equalise for the hosts; a neat ball from Thorley was dummied by Melbourne, allowing the ball to run to Johnson. He in turn slipped the ball into the path of Melbourne, who ran on into the penalty area. From a tight angle, and under pressure from defenders, Melbourne did brilliantly to fire a low shot beyond Coburn and into the far corner of the net

Back came Alty, who finished the half much the stronger of the two sides. With six minutes left before the break, former Northern Ireland International James Lawrie tested the reflexes of Crane with a low drive from the edge of the penalty area that Crane did well to turn behind for a corner kick

A run from Shaun Densmore down the Alty right caused the Pitmen issues on forty-three minutes, with his low cross turned wide of goal by Reeves, who had got in ahead of McCone

Smith and his management team will have had a number of strong words with his side at the half time break, with Altrincham looking the far more polished and threatening side despite the scoreline. The Pitmen emerged with more purpose to them in the early stages of the second half, forcing three successive corner kicks and a free-kick that was eventually skied over the crossbar by Thorley

Indeed, it was Altrincham that went closest to regaining the lead on fifty-three minutes, as Clee's corner kick was headed firmly against the crossbar by Walshaw, who was left unmarked at the near post

The game took a dramatic new twist three minutes later, with Hednesford scoring yet another outstanding goal to add to the ever-growing 'goal of the season' contenders. this time it was Glover who added his name to the list as he seized upon Densmore's headed clearance a good thirty-five yards from goal, bringing the ball out of the night sky with his chest before striking an unstoppable dipping volley over the head of Coburn and into the far corner of the net. Brilliant

However, the Pitmen's defensive frailties - surely the main reason that Smith's side were not pushing the likes of Telford and North Ferriby for the title -  came back to haunt them once again just three minutes later as Altrincham drew level once again. Lawrie's free-kick was partially cleared to former Hednesford loanee Jake Moult, whose cross was headed home by Walshaw from close range

MacPherson's legs were given a well-earned rest on the hour mark, with Taylor given another chance to continue his rehabilitation with another half hour's game time in midfield

A deep free-kick from Johnson on sixty-four minutes caused confusion in the Altrincham ranks, with Coburn flapping at the ball and failing to effectively clear his lines. The ball eventually fell to Bailey, who lashed his effort into the Heath Hayes terrace from twelve yards out

A quick break from Altrincham a minute later saw Walshaw played in on goal, with his shot deflected by Disney towards his own goal. Crane did brilliantly to move his feet and allow for the trajectory, making a fine save to turn the deflection away and back to Disney, who cleared the ball

Looking to take a slim lead to Moss Lane at the weekend, Smith elected to throw on the man for the big occasion on seventy-three minutes, with big man Marvin Robinson coming on in place of Glover, who had earlier received a blow to the head and was heavily bandaged

The game became frenetic and stretched as it entered the final fifteen minutes, with chances at both ends; Crane did well to claim a long ball ahead of the dangerous Walshaw, Robinson was adjudged to have fouled Densmore as he looked to head Johnson's cross past Coburn

With seven minutes remaining, Wayne Riley's season came to an end as he was taken off and replaced by Paul Sullivan - Riley will now serve a three-match ban for a straight red card received at Oxford City two weeks ago

Another deep ball into the Hednesford penalty area by Moult with two minutes remaining found the head of Reeves, who headed over the crossbar from an excellent position ten yards from goal

Both sides will be reasonably happy to be going into Saturday's second leg at Moss Lane with the game finely poised, with the Pitmen now looking to produce a similar performance to their 3-1 victory at Alty back in November if they are to progress to a second successive play-off final, which may be against Guiseley after the Yorkshire side's confident 2-0 win over North Ferriby United this evening

Hednesford Town: Crane, Disney , Campion ©, Bailey, McCone, MacPherson (Taylor 60), Riley (Sullivan 83), Johnson, Glover (Robinson 73), Melbourne, Thorley       Subs Unused: Francis, Lennon

Altrincham: Coburn, Densmore ©, Griffin, Moult, Havern, Leather, Lawrie, Richman , Walshaw, Reeves (Perry 90), Clee (Marshall 90)       Subs Unused: Doughty, Wilkinson, Saunders