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UniBond Northern Premier League

Hednesford Town

Ashton United

Wharton (52), Ralph (71)

(0) 0

(0) 2



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Ross Dyer


Ossett Town (A) 19.4.08

Hednesford's penultimate home game of the season saw them turn in one of their worst performances of the campaign, leaving manager Phil Starbuck to fume at his players after the game as he locked them away in the dressing room after a demoralising and dispiriting defeat at home to mid-table Ashton United 

There were two changes to the Hednesford side that had drawn well at play-off chasing Guiseley the previous week, with wingers Mario Pedro and Anthony Maguire making way for David Brown and Rob Davies respectively

Ashton had been in mixed form recently and currently occupied thirteenth place in the UniBond Premier League table after only one win in their last five games. Manager Danny Johnson was very much down to the bare bones with his squad and made two changes to his side for today's game from the one that had started the 3-1 defeat at home to Marine in midweek as Matty O'Neill came in for recalled Altrincham man Steve Aspinall and Liam Ralph replaced Danny Caldecott

It was the returning Davies who had the first chance of the game in the second minute, lifting a shot over the bar from eighteen yards out after a Ross Dyer lay-off to the former West Brom man

Three minutes later, Ralph sent over a fine free-kick across the face of the Hednesford goal from the left, with the ball eventually drifting wide of the far post

 Ben Brown blocked a goalbound shot from Ian Fitzpatrick in the sixth minute as the Ashton striker managed to get the better of Tom Marshall and turn the Hednesford skipper just inside the penalty area

Hednesford goalkeeper Paul Evans made a smart save low down to deny Ben Smith in the eleventh minute of the game as he pushed the former Oldham midfielder's free-kick away from goal for an Ashton corner kick

David Brown had a rare sight at goal for the Pitmen four minutes later as he showed a Ralph a clean pair of heels twenty-five yards out to turn the full-back, but lifted his subsequent long-range shot high over Damien Rooney's crossbar

The tricky Ben Deegan thought that he should have been awarded a penalty for the visitors on twenty minutes as he was sent sprawling by Daniel McLeod with the pair clashing on the edge of the Hednesford box. Referee Mr Law left that the contact had taken place outside the penalty area and only awarded Ashton a free-kick which Smith curled straight into the arms of Evans

Four minutes later, a corner from Ashton's Steve Garvey was whipped in at speed and missed everyone, with a touch being sufficient to deflect the ball home if anyone in yellow could have got a touch

The chances kept coming for Ashton with Stuart Howson unable to keep his header down as he met a corner from Garvey on twenty-seven minutes and Fitzpatrick shot wide after Deegan and Howard had traded headers between themselves on twenty-nine minutes

Davies was lucky to stay on the pitch just after the half-hour mark as the combative Welshman dived into a challenge on Garvey with his studs showing, very much like his challenge against Prescot Cables that saw him sent off a few weeks previously. This time he was lucky and escaped with only a yellow card and a severe warning from Mr Law

Another good delivery from Ralph down the left saw him whip in a fine free-kick on thirty-four minutes that was met by the unmarked Iain Howard at the near post, only for his header to lack power and allow Evans to make a comfortable save


With five minutes of the first half remaining, a neat passage of play from the away side saw Deegan exchange passes with Smith before pulling his low shot narrowly wide of Evans's left-hand post


Despite the away side dominating proceedings, the Pitmen went close to taking the lead twice just before the half-time whistle. Chad Sheppard's drive was only narrowly off target on forty-four minutes after the again-excellent Ross Dyer had set him up, followed in added time by a great chance for the by the unlucky Alan Nagington, whose lob over the onrushing Rooney hit the crossbar and came back out into play before Ashton cleared their lines

After an underwhelming first-half performance and yet another tongue-lashing from Starbuck at the break, the Pitmen then somehow managed to produce a second-half even worse than their first-half display as Ashton dominated the second period

The hosts the second period well initially as Ross Dyer was denied by some smart defending as his two shots were both blocked from close range on forty-seven minutes. David Brown failed to hit the target from the follow-up as Ashton only managed to clear the ball as far as the winger

This was as good as it got for the hosts, as Ashton took the lead eight minutes into the second half. Deegan's cross into the Hednesford penalty area fell to Nathan Wharton, who held off a challenge from Ben Brown to fire past Evans from close range; it was Wharton's first goal for the Robins

Starbuck had seen enough from his misfiring side and made his first change of the afternoon on the hour mark with Pedro coming on down the flank in place of Sheppard

Pedro was an immediate threat for the hosts, lifting a shot wide of the target on sixty-three minutes after making one of his trademark mazy runs down the left

The Portuguese ace went even closer three minutes later as he cut inside from the wing and drifted past a challenge from stand-in full-back O'Neill, only to strike a rising shot just over Rooney's crossbar

On sixty-nine minutes, the home side made a second substitution of the game as Maguire replaced Wayne Dyer in midfield after a subdued performance from the Montserrat International in midfield

Ashton continued to have the better of the play however and finally extended their lead with nineteen minutes remaining after a spell of pressure; Deegan lured skipper Tom Marshall into giving away a free-kick which also saw the Hednesford skipper booked, allowing Ralph to curl the resultant free-kick past Evans into the left-hand side of the keeper's goal to make it 2-0. As with Wharton, it was also Ralph's first goal for his club on his full debut for the Robins

Before the game restarted, Starbuck made his final change of the afternoon as McLeod - who had looked out of his depth all afternoon - was replaced by fellow youngster Morgan Hurley at right-back

Pedro was the only man in white who looked both willing and able to pick the lock for the desperately disappointing hosts, who looked devoid of confidence and desire throughout. A neat run down the right-wing from Pedro on seventy-seven minutes took him past three Ashton players, but his shot was blocked by Howson as it headed towards goal

Both sides seemed to accept the scoreline in the final ten minutes as the game resembled a training game in the closing stages with chances at a premium. Ross Dyer did have a chance to get set up a grandstand finish on eighty-five minutes, swivelling on a Paul Robinson cross before firing narrowly over the crossbar

Ashton substitute Colin McAllister almost added a third in the final minute of the game after his pace had been enough to win a race to the ball with Evans, but his shot from an acute angle was turned away from goal by Ben Brown


Another disappointing defeat and another poor performance from the Pitmen, who allow Ashton to complete a league double over their hosts and earn themselves three points that should maintain their step three participation for another year. With the season now petering out quickly and only a couple of games to go, it's now really a case of the players - and Starbuck - playing for their futures in 2008-2009 in the games that remain against Ossett Town and North Ferriby United

Hednesford Town: Evans, McLeod (Hurley 72), B. Brown, Sheppard (Pedro 60), Marshall © , Robinson, D. Brown, W. Dyer (Maguire 69), R. Dyer, Nagington, Davies        Subs Unused: None

Ashton United: Rooney, O’Neill, Ralph, Wharton, Flynn, Howson, Garvey, Smith, Deegan (Bennett 76), Fitzpatrick (McAllister 86), Howard      Sub Unused: Jones

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