13.8.2005

Nationwide Conference North

Barrow

Knight (29), (55), Smith (35)

Hednesford Town

Barrow (72)

(2) 3

(0) 1

Attendance

MoTM

Current Form

Next Match

1,031

Andy Bell

L

 

Alfreton Town (H) 15.8.05

 The Pitmen's return to step two football ends in defeat this afternoon as hosts Barrow ease their way past Chris Brindley's side at Holker Street to get off to a winning start to the Conference North season

Brindley had made several new signings throughout the summer as he looked to give his side the best chance possible of establishing themselves in Conference North after promotion last season; goalkeeper Tommy Whittle had joined from Hinckley United, midfielder Jamie Barrett made the move from Gresley Rovers, fellow midfielder Rob Heath had swapped Stafford Rangers for Keys Park and winger Colin Hunter had returned to the club from Harrogate Town. Also returning to the club was striker Paul Szewczyk from Halesowen Town. Brindley had lost the services of Anthony Maguire (Halesowen Town), Carl Palmer and Ryan Young (both Redditch United), Leon McSweeney (Hucknall Town) and Marlon Walters (Chasetown) but had retained the remainder of last season's squad for the forthcoming season. Whittle, Barratt, Heath and Hunter all started today's curtain-raiser, with Szewczyk and Brindley both missing out due to suspension

Barrow had struggled for much of last season's Conference North campaign after promotion in 2003-2004, finishing in sixteenth place and only ten points above the drop zone. Manager Lee Turnbull had been busy rebuilding his squad for the rigours of step two football with the signings of Darren Edmondson (Workington), Tom Cowan (Carlisle United), Neil Tarrant (Drogheda United), Nick Rogan (Southport) and David Forde (Derry City)

The excellent 1,00 plus crowd was greeted with a slightly overcast afternoon in Cumbria, at odds with the normal bright summer sunshine you come to expect from the opening day of the season. It was a cagey start from both sides as the remaining pre-season cobwebs were blown away quickly with some quick interplay in the midfield areas. It was the hosts who had the first sight at goal in the seventh minute as a long throw from debutant Cowan caused all sorts of problems for the Hednesford defence; Whittle came out of his goal and managed to claim the loose ball ahead of Jonathan Smith before the midfielder could turn the ball home from close-range as the Pitmen's backline was caught ball-watching

The returning Bell - who had spent the summer trialling at League Two side Darlington before returning to Keys Park recently - made a darting run in behind the Barrow defence in the eleventh minute as Lee Williams played a neat pass into his feet. However, a late offside flag against the striker denied him the chance to fire past Simon Bishop in the Barrow goal as he shaped to shoot

Referee Mr Ackerman was having an inconsistent afternoon from the off, allowing Cowan to get away with a late tackle on Williams in the fourteenth minutes but pulling Teesdale up for what appeared to be a clean tackle on Gavin Knight two minutes later to hand the hosts a free-kick on the edge of the penalty area that Scott Maxfield clipped into the box, only for Knight to glance his header well wide of goal

Cowan's singing brought Barrow an option of a long throw, which the midfielder used to good effect in the seventeenth minute he launched a ball into the penalty area where Guy Heffernan headed over Whittle's crossbar

The hosts were very much on top at this stage of the game hand had the ball in the net midway through the first half as Steve Flitcroft seized upon a loose ball and fired into the bottom corner of the net. His joy was shortlived however as the goal was ruled out for an earlier foul on Whittle by Knight in the build-up

Three minutes later, another deep cross from Edmondson was headed back across goal by Knight, only for Whittle to fumble the ball over the byeline for a Barrow corner

Just before the half-hour mark, the hosts finally got their noses in front as Maxfield won a free-kick out on the right after being fouled by Mark Branch. The full-back took the resultant kick and crossed into the six-yard box, where Knight was on hand to head home from a couple of yards out

The Pitmen were struggling to cope with Barrow's attacking threat and nearly handed the Bluebirds a second goal three minutes later as confusion between Lee Barrow and Ross Adams saw Tarrant steal in, taking a touch just inside the Hednesford penalty area but firing wide of Whittle's right-hand post

The hosts did double their tally on thirty-five minutes however as Knight turned provider on this occasion, picking the ball up in space down the right and sending over a cross that appeared to deceive Whittle and squirm away from him, allowing Smith to steal in and head home from close-range

This double-whammy had hit the Pitmen's confidence hard, with the visitors looking out of ideas going forwards against a strong Barrow defence that game them little quarter. It took a mistake from Edmondson to create an opening for the visitors in the fortieth minute as Edmondson slipped at the crucial moment trying to cut out Adams' pass to Hunter, allowing the winger to have a clear run into the Barrow penalty area. However, Hunter's shot from an angle lacked power and was palmed away by Bishop for a Hednesford corner. Hunter, with hindsight, should have done better with his effort

In the final minute of the first half, a Hednesford corner kick was taken by Williams, who floated the ball to the far post where Barrow arrived to head goalwards but was denied by a volleyed clearance out of the six-yard box by Cowan before Bell could pounce on the rebound

It had been a sobering first forty-five minutes for the Pitmen, who had been given a taste of what is required to be competitive in this new league after Barrow showed their proficiency in front of goal. Bell had looked a little isolated without his long-departed striker partner McSweeney alongside him as the Pitmen's tactic of packing the midfield had not paid off as yet. The visitors made a half-time substitution as Barrett - who had looked woefully off the pace in the first period - was taken off in favour of Paul McMahon

Barrow started the second half well and went close to killing the game off as a contest on fifty minutes as Knight's knock-down from Cowan's pass fell to Steve Ridley, whose looping volley ended up on top of Whittle's goal from thirty yards out

The hosts did, however, find a way through with a third goal on fifty-five minutes; Whittle was to prove the guilty party as the debutant stopper dropped a huge clanger to hand the hosts a game-settling third. A long, searching ball forwards from Flitcroft was missed by Teesdale and dropped to Knight once more, whose daisy-cutter of an angled shot from twenty yards out somehow managed dribble through the fingers of the Hednesford goalkeeper and roll over the line and into the empty net. A shocker of a goal to concede and not one Whittle will want to remember

 

With very little to lose at this juncture, the Pitmen started to press forwards and play on the front foot, with Bell dragging a shot well wide of Bishop's left-hand post on the hour mark after good play from Heath to send the striker clear behind Smith

 

Two minutes later, Edmondson was again indebted to Bishop as another loose pass from the full-back was seized upon by Bell, twenty-five yards from goal. The Barrow stopper spotted the danger early and made a fine smothering save at the feet of the Hednesford striker to deny him a shot at goal

Midway through the second period, Bell was involved once again for the all-green-clad Pitmen as he picked up a pass from Heath and turned past the long-serving Graham Anthony before shooting at goal from twenty yards out. Smith managed to get across and block the initial shot, which looped up and into the path of Hunter, who executed a fine first-time volley that dipped inches over Bishop's crossbar. Unlucky from the former Morecambe man

The Pitmen did eventually give themselves a glimmer of a chance as they reduced the deficit on seventy-two minutes; man of the match Bell made another fine run from deep and towards the Barrow penalty area before being fouled by Smith. Skipper Lee Barrow stepped up to take the kick, despite Williams also showing interest, and curled a delightful shot around the Barrow wall and beyond the reach of Bishop as the ball nestled in the corner of the net

There was a directness about the Pitmen as they sensed what had looked an unlikely comeback a few minutes earlier; on seventy-five minutes, Adams looped a cross into the penalty area from wide on the right and found the head of Heath, whose knock-down was toe-poked well wide by substitute McMahon as he was jockeyed away from goal by Cowan

With twelve minutes remaining, the Pitmen made a double attacking change as they brought on assistant manager Steve Anthrobus in place of Adams and Steve Brannan for Williams. This saw Hunter drop into a wing-back role down the right and Brannan play in front of him

Anthrobus's physical presence can be an equal blessing and a curse depending on the referee, as the veteran striker got involved two minutes after coming on to get in front of Bishop to reach a Heath free-kick, only for the over-zealous Mr Ackerman to penalise the striker for a foul on the keeper when it appeared that he had not laid a finger on the stopper

A minute later, Heffernan got himself into strife as he looked for a little too long to clear his lines and lost the ball to Hunter, who spotted Bishop off his line and attempted an audacious first-time lob that dropped just over the goalkeeper's crossbar

More good battling from McMahon on eighty-four minutes saw him pick the pocket of Cowan and play the ball to Bell, whose attempted return ball to his strike partner was cut out in front of McMahon by Smith's covering challenge

The final action of the game came at the other end of the pitch as Barrow broke quickly on the counter-attack through Tarrant, playing substitute Danny Forde into space. The Hednesford defence allowed the substitute to make a run into the penalty area but his effort lacked power or pace and sailed into the small and cramped terrace behind Whittle's goal

It had been a hard opening day lesson for Brindley and his troops, particularly in finishing at the one end and keeping it tight at the other. The defence may have been Hednesford's strong suit last term but a higher calibre of striker at step two will be a much tougher proposition for the younger players like Adams, Branch and Teesdale to face week in, week out. Hednesford get a chance to put some points on the board on Monday night when they face Alfreton Town in their first home game of the new campaign

Barrow: Bishop, Heffernan, Maxfield, Edmondson (Colley 71), Smith, Cowan, Flitcroft, Anthony ©, Tarrant (Wilford 65), Knight, Ridley (Forde 61)       Subs Unused: Rushton, Kewley

 

Hednesford Town: Whittle, Adams (Anthrobus 78), Branch, Barrow ©, Teesdale, Williams (Brannan 78), Barrett (McMahon 45), Heath, Bell, Beckett, Hunter     Subs Unused: C. Marshall, Rogers