21.4.2007

UniBond Northern Premier League

Hednesford Town

Ashton United

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Iain Screaton

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Kendal Town (A) 28.4.07

The Pitmen's vague hopes of making the top five are finally extinguished this afternoon as they draw with Ashton United at Keys Park with a meek end-of-season performance from Phil Starbuck's side

Starbuck was happy to stick with the same XI that forced an entertaining draw out of fellow play-off contenders Guiseley on Monday, resisting the temptation to rotate his misfiring attackers after a meagre recent return in front of goal from the likes of Jon Douglas, Danny Bacon, Justin Jenkins and Dave Whittaker in the past ten games

Ashton had all but sealed their participation at step three for next season last weekend with a fine 2-0 win at home to Lincoln United to put the Robins nine points clear of near-neighbours Mossley with only three games remaining. The caretaker management team of Chris Royle and Lee Coathup had taken over from former boss Scott Green last month and also stuck with the same XI that had started their previous game as they looked for the point that would see them over the line with two games to spare

In front of one of the lowest home crowds this season, the Pitmen were sloppy in possession in the early stages with Tom Marshall's lazy pass falling straight into the path of Gary Kharas in the fourth minute just outside the Hednesford penalty area. The striker elected to play Tom Baker in on goal rather than shott himself, with Ross Adams saving Marshall's blushes with a fine block tackle to deny the striker

Three minutes later, a long ball forwards from Ashton goalkeeper Lee Bracey bounced over the head of Marshall and into the path of Steve Garvey; he brought the ball under control and chipped a cross to the far post, where Danny Forde arrived late to stab the ball wide of goal from a tight angle

In the tenth minute, Kharas probably should have given Ashton the lead as he picked up a pass from Phil Cooney and turned Marshall well on the edge of the Hednesford penalty area, but tried his luck with a cross-cum-shot that drifted wide of Ryan Young's right-hand post

The Pitmen responded through some of Phil Hadland's wing wizardry three minutes later, feinting one way and turning the other to leave Ian Bennett on his backside before crossing towards Ross Dyer, whose misguided header failed to test Bracey at his far post

Dyer was involved inside the Ashton six-yard box once more on sixteen minutes as heading agonisingly wide of goal after being set up by Danny Bacon's neat stand-up cross to the far post once more

Young made a wonderful save to deny Baker in the twentieth minute as he leapt full-length across his goal to turn the striker's curling free-kick away from goal and behind for an Ashton corner kick

 

Chris White - still sporting a fetching head bandage following his nasty cut in the Gateshead game recently - irked referee Mr Hutchinson in the twenty-third minute as he blatantly pulled back stand-in manager Royle as the Ashton man brought the ball out of defence and beat the veteran skipper

Three minutes later, a sloppy pass from James Holden was intercepted by Tuesday night's goalscorer Mario Pedro, who made progress down the right flank before cutting the ball back to Bacon. The striker took one touch too many to sort his feet out, however, and succeeded in firing a shot straight into the shins of Royle before the ball was cleared

Ashton continued to look the better bet for the opening goal of the afternoon as Kharas outmuscled Screaton in midfield on twenty-eight minutes before playing Garvey through on goal in the inside-left position. However, one of Ashton's scorers in the Lincoln game was denied a second goal in two games by a late offside flag from the official on the Wimblebury side

Lee Soar made a rare venture into the Ashton penalty area and headed an Adams corner kick firmly over the crossbar after beating Marshall to the ball at the near post on the half-hour mark

Kharas was proving to be a real pain for the Hednesford defenders and the former Staybridge striker could have grabbed the opener on thirty-five minutes as he sidefooted a clever through ball from Cooney just wide of the post as Young was wrong-footed by a slight nick off the boot of Adams

Eight minutes before the break, a free-kick was quickly taken by Holden to send Garvey away in behind Adams. His pull-back from the byeline found the boot of Forde, but he saw his shot blocked and eventually cleared by Marshall

The Pitmen's final chance of a fairly uninspiring first half fell to Adams just two minutes before the break as Dyer's run and cross to the far post was inches away from being headed home by the full-back, who made a late move into the Ashton six-yard box but just couldn't quite get his head to the ball

It had been a game with all of the hallmarks of an end of season encounter between two sides with nothing to play for as there had been both a lack of clear chances and overall quality in the proceedings. The hosts were already resigned to their fate in the league table and a point for Ashton rubber-stamped their survival in the process

The second half, unfortunately, was to prove even more uninspiring to the paying public, with chances at a premium at both ends as both sides struggled to motivate themselves to push on. We had to wait until seven minutes into the second period for a chance of any note as Kharas lifted Garvey's pass just over Young's crossbar from fifteen yards out

Starbuck had seen enough from his uninspired side and made an early change to his personnel as Whittaker came on up front in place of Soar on fifty-three minutes

A dreadful piece of defending from the Pitmen almost gifted the Robins a goal four minutes later as both Marshall and Soar sliced their clearances to allow Tom Taylor to pick up the loose ball; with Adams coming across to cover, Taylor snatched at his shot from twelve yards out and fired just wide of the left-hand post via a deflection off the boot of Adams

From the resultant corner, more comedy defending from the Pitmen saw White inadvertently turn the ball towards his own goal and was dug out of a hole by Screaton's timely clearance off the line and away for another corner kick

White was spared any more embarrassment as he was hauled off before the game was restarted to be replaced by another striker in the form of Douglas. This meant that the Pitmen now had no less than five strikers on the pitch - Douglas, Whittaker, Darren Alexander, Bacon and Dyer - and yet there was still little in the way of penetration from the hosts

On the hour mark, Bacon was the subject to ironic cheers and cat-calls from a frustrated Heath Hayes terrace as he wildly lifted his shot from twenty yards out high and wide of goal when a simple pass to Alexander was a better option

Four minutes later, Pedro won a free-kick for the hosts after a direct run straight down the centre of the pitch was halted by Paul Collins. A pumped-up Marshall spotted the ball and took the resultant kick, but blasted his shot high over the crossbar after a ridiculously long run-up

Ashton were content to sit in front of the ball and look to pick the Pitmen off on the counter, with Garvey getting away from Screaton on sixty-eight minutes before cutting inside and attempting an ambitious shot from a tight angle that Young parried away at his near post

With nineteen minutes of an attritional game remaining, Young's long goal kick was flicked on by the anonymous Alexander and into the path of Dyer, who did well to drag the ball back into the path of Pedro with a neat flick, only for the winger to weakly sidefoot straight into the arms of veteran stopper Bracey

Ashton substitute Paul Armstrong headed a Garvey cross well wide of goal after another quick break from the visitors down the left flank on seventy-four minutes before Bracey just beat Whittaker to a long ball forwards from Screaton sixty seconds later

The goalless Jenkins was sent on to make it a sixth striking option of the afternoon for the hapless hosts with twelve minutes left as he replaced Alexander

Prompted by Starbuck's impassioned pleas from the touchline, the Pitmen made a fist of it in the last ten minutes and created a clutch of good chances to win the game late on. On eighty-one minutes, Douglas met a Pedro cross full-on with a volley at the far post but lifted his shot just over the crossbar

Three minutes later, Bracey was called upon for what was really the first time in the afternoon to make a save as he made a good save to push Bacon's goalbound half-volley away from goal

With three minutes of the game remaining, Dyer and Pedro exchanged passes before sending the anonymous Hadland away down the left. He took a couple of touches before crossing for Jenkins, who weakly headed wide of the far post as he was put under pressure by Taylor

Ashton celebrated a job well done at the final whistle with the point they needed, whilst the Pitmen's supporters sloped off into the Saturday evening traffic disgruntled at the way their campaign had imploded in the past three months. They finish the season next Saturday with a long trip up to Cumbria to face mid-table Kendal Town

Hednesford Town: Young, Marshall, Screaton, Adams, White © (Douglas 58), Soar (Whittaker 53), Hadland, Pedro, Alexander (Jenkins 78), Dyer, Bacon    Subs Unused: None

Ashton United: Bracey, Bennett, Holden, Taylor, Collins, Royle (Armstrong 55), Cooney, Forde (Murray 82), Kharas, Baker, Garvey      Subs Unused: Kay 

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