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Pitching In Southern Premier League Central

Banbury United

M. Roberts (33), Rasulo (77) (penalty)

Hednesford Town

Parker (25)

(1) 2

(1) 1



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Lewis Hayden



St. Ives Town (H) 22.3.22

Despite a battling display from the Pitmen, who took the lead through Todd Parker midway through the first half, league leaders Banbury clinched all three points at the Spencer Stadium this afternoon to take another giant step towards the Southern Premier League Central title

The Pitmen arrived in Oxfordshire looking to make it three games unbeaten and follow up on last week's 2-1 win at Lowestoft Town, which moved them back into the top half of the table in the process. Manager Keenen Meakin-Richards was finally able to name recent signing Cain Smith in his XI after receiving International clearance for the former Mansfield Town midfielder ahead of today's game. Smith was the only change to the side that had started the Lowestoft game as he replaced Cameron Ebbutt. Josh Webb was finally passed fit to return to the squad as a substitute after a nightmare run of injuries that had kept him out for the majority of the season

Champions-elect Banbury - seventeen points clear of Coalville Town at the top of the table - were in the midst of another long unbeaten run, having chalked up six games without defeat heading into today's game. Manager Andy Whing made one change from the side that had beaten play-off chasing Rushall Olympic last time out as Theo Lewis came in for James Golding

It was a beautifully bright and sunny afternoon, with a stiff breeze occasionally reminding the 933-strong crowd that we were still in the late throes of winter for another few weeks yet. The Pitmen started on the front foot and knocked the ball around in the early stages of the game in midfield, with Parker seeing plenty of the ball. A well-worked move from the visitors in the sixth minute saw Reece Flanagan's cross-field ball flicked into the path of Carter Lycett by George Cater down the left-wing, with Lycett's ball into the near post headed over the crossbar by debutant Smith

A strong run into the Banbury penalty area from Kyle Bennett two minutes later saw the former Portsmouth man make a run into the box from the right flank, cutting inside and sending over a low cross towards Riley O'Sullivan that was cleared by Jay Williams

Good play from Cater in the eleventh minute saw the winger pick up Parker's pass and drift in front he left, taking on Sam Brown but electing to take a touch too many rather than pull the trigger on the edge of the penalty area, allowing Kelvin Langmead to clear the danger

Four minutes later, a monstrously long throw from Banbury's Brown was headed towards goal at the far post by Langmead, only for Lewis Ison to spit the danger early on and head the ball clear from a position behind Oliver Basey

The table-topping hosts had looked distinctly ordinary in the first twenty minutes, finding themselves frustrated against a well-drilled and hard-working Hednesford team. Good approach play from Bennett again on nineteen minutes saw him supply Lewis Hayden with the ball down the right, with the full-back's swerving cross into the box easily claimed by Jack Harding in the Banbury goal ahead of O'Sullivan

Midway through the half, good play from the hosts saw Giorgio Rasulo's long pass brought down by Ben Aquaye, whose neat pass found chris Wreh to the left-hand side of the Hednesford penalty area. Hayden did well to jockey the burly striker out to the touchline but could not stop the cross, which Basey did well to claim at his far post ahead of Morgan Roberts

The Pitmen silenced the home crowd as they took the lead in the twenty-fifth minute; the talented Parker picked the ball up in midfield and made a drifting run towards the Banbury penalty area, playing a neat one-two with Cater before rifling a low right-footed shot beyond the reach of Harding and into the right-hand corner of the net to open the scoring

Back came the hosts and another long throw from Brown just before the half-hour mark was punched away by Basey at the far post as he was challenged by Langmead in his six-yard box

Banbury were to level matters in an impressive manner on thirty-three minutes as Brown's throw from the left was headed on by Langmead into the path of  Rasulo, who was brought down just outside the Hednesford penalty area by a crude Smith to hand the hosts a free-kick in a dangerous position to the right-hand side of the box. Morgan Roberts took the resultant free-kick and expertly curled the ball around the Hednesford wall and beyond the reach of Basey to his right to equalise for Banbury

Parker and Cater combined to set Lycett away down the left on thirty-six minutes, only for the left-back's deep cross to sail over the head of O'Sullivan and out of play at the far post as he got a little too much on his lofted ball into the Banbury box

With six minutes of the first half remaining, the Pitmen won a free-kick just outside the Banbury penalty area after O'Sullivan was brought down by Williams as he controlled a Flanagan forward pass. Cater lined up the resultant free-kick but lifted his effort over the crossbar

On forty-three minutes, a quick break from Banbury saw Harding's goal-kick headed away by Ison but only into the path of Jack Stevens, who made progress down the right-wing before playing Rasulo in on goal - his low shot was well held by Basey at his near post as he smothered the angled drive from the Puritans skipper

It had been a fairly even but mundane affair in the first forty-five minutes, with both sides limited in clear-cut chances as the defences had spent most of the game on top. The Pitmen will have been pleased with their application in frustrating the hosts and the crowd, keeping the ball well for long periods of the game without really creating anything in the way of a clear-cut chance other than Parker's goal

The second half was to resemble the first half for the first twenty minutes, as chances were again scarce at both ends with the two sides cancelling each other out for long periods of the game. Lycett became the first player to receive a yellow card just a couple of minutes after the restart as he was booked for leaving his boot in after a challenge on Roberts on the left-hand touchline. Ison and Williams both took exception to the other's attempts to mediate in a bout of pushing and shoving that followed but escaped a booking on this occasion

Good approach play from the Pitmen two minutes later saw the ball worked wide to the right where Smith picked the ball up; he turned inside of Brown's challenge and looked to pick O'Sullivan out with his cross, only to get too much on the ball and send his cross over the bar

On fifty-eight minutes, the Pitmen made their first substitution of the afternoon as Ebbutt was brought on in place of Smith, who had impressed in a busy first half but had faded as the second half had progressed

A minute later, Basey had to be alert to a bouncing ball to claim ahead of Alex Babos as Rasulo's left-wing free-kick was allowed to find its way through to the on-loan stopper after no one on either side could get a foot to the cross

Another bout of handbags on the hour mark saw players from both sides clash after O'Sullivan challenged Harding for a long, searching ball forwards from Portman and left the goalkeeper in a heap just inside his penalty area. Williams looked to dish out his own form of retribution on the striker, with the pair becoming embroiled in a one on one bout of pushing. Referee Mr Jackson elected to book the pair after handing out a warning to both players about their conduct

The hosts went close to taking the lead a minute later as former Rushden man Acquaye made a mazy run inside from the left-wing, leaving three Hednesford players in his wake before seeing his shot from the edge of the penalty area blocked by Ison. The ball rebounded to Wreh, whose follow-up shot from twelve yards out came back off the underside of the crossbar before Ison cleared the danger

Banbury sensed a winner and pushed men further forwards to press the Pitmen after previously allowing them to play out from the back with relative ease. Acquaye was played into space down the left once more on sixty-four minutes by Brown, with the forward's cross turned behind for a corner kick by Harvey Portman ahead of Stevens

Ison looked to get on the end of a deep Lycett free-kick, taken thirty yards from goal, two minutes later but was beaten to the floated cross by the instincts of Harding, who claimed the ball ahead of the Hednesford skipper

Henry Landers came on for Stevens on sixty-eight minutes and was involved straightaway as he headed a shorter-than-normal throw from Brown well wide of the Hednesford goal at the near post just a couple of minutes after coming on

Another sublime free-kick from Roberts on seventy-two minutes tested the young Hednesford defence once more as his delivery from the left was flicked towards goal by Langmead's head, only to be headed away from danger by Portman

With thirteen minutes remaining, more familiar defensive indecision was to cost the Pitmen dearly as Portman's ill-judged pass across his own penalty area was seized upon by Roberts, leading to the back-tracking Ison bringing the forward down just inside the penalty area. Mr Jackson pointed to the post and booked Ison for the foul leading to the spot-kick. Rasulo stepped up and sent Basey the wrong way from twelve yards out to put the hosts ahead for the first time in the game

The Pitmen looked for a response through Parker, who picked up a Cater pass on eighty minutes but wanted far too much time on the ball on the edge of the penalty area and allowed Williams to clear

Cater was seeing plenty of the ball in the closing stages in the game, taking on Lewis down the left flank with seven minutes remaining but pulling the ball back from the byeline straight into the path of Babos, who cleared ahead of Bennett at the near post

A mazy run from the Hednesford winger on eighty-five minutes saw him surge past three players as he drifted across the face of the Banbury penalty area, but more indecision saw Cater caught in two minds whether to shoot or pass and Williams was allowed to pick his pocket and clear

With three minutes remaining, Bennett - who had had a frustrating game playing just behind O'Sullivan - was taken off by the visitors as he was replaced by Webb. This saw a re-jig of the Hednesford side as Cater moved to the right flank, Lycett was moved further forwards down the left and Hayden switched across to left-back to accommodate Webb's introduction

It had been a hard-working display from the Pitmen, who had more than matched their opponents for the majority of the game, but as we have seen for much of the season, poor decision making and individual errors in defence have been punished by sides with more quality in their ranks, shown once more today as Banbury ruthlessly took advantage of two sloppy pieces of defending to grab the all-important goals. The Pitmen drop back into the bottom half of the table as results elsewhere went against them, although they will get a chance to move back into the top eight on Tuesday night when they return to the PRG Stadium @ Keys Park to face sixteenth-placed St. Ives Town

Banbury United: Harding, Lewis (Thompson 84), Williams , Langmead, Brown, Babos, Rasulo ©, M. Roberts, Acquaye, Stevens (Landers 68), Wreh      Subs Unused: Taylor, Sodeinde, Hercules

Hednesford Town: Basey, Hayden, Lycett , Portman, Ison © , Flanagan, Smith (Ebbutt 58), Parker, O'Sullivan , Bennett (Webb 87), Cater     Subs Unused: Richards, Ward, O'Shaughnessy


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