23.4.2022

Pitching In Southern Premier League Central

Barwell

Stephens (11), (36) (penalty), Haddow (52) 

Hednesford Town

Ison (5), Parker (15), Lita (32), Webb (51)

(2) 3

(3) 4

Attendance

MoTM

Current Form

279

Riley O'Sullivan

W L W L W D L W L W

 

The Pitmen end their challenging 2021-2022 season with three points this afternoon as they edge out Barwell by the odd goal in seven at a sun-drenched Kirkby Road

Monday's disappointing late defeat to local rivals had left Keenen Meakin-Richards's side looking to clinch a ninth-place finish in the Southern Premier League Central this afternoon with a win, which would be enough to keep the Lambs behind them and seal a top-half finish in the process. Meakin-Richards made two changes from the side that had started against Tamworth as Josh Webb replaced Lewis Hayden at right-back and Luke Ward made a surprise return to the side as he came in for Reece Flanagan. Skipper Lewis Ison was pushed into midfield to allow for centre-back Ward's inclusion

Barwell had secured step three football for another season on Monday after defeating local rivals Nuneaton Borough 2-0 at Liberty Way; manager Guy Hadland also made two changes to his side for the final act of the campaign as goalkeeper Max Bramley returned in place of Liam Castle and Max Brogan came in ahead of former Hednesford striker Tristian Dunkley

It was a beautifully bright and sunny afternoon, fit for the end of the season, although there was a gusty wind blowing across the pitch intermittently during the game. The Pitmen got into their stride well on the new 3G pitch at Kirkby Road and stole into the lead with their first move forwards in the fifth minute; a neat, patient move down the right flank saw Webb, Leroy Lita and Kyle Bennett all link up to work the ball across the face of the penalty area and into the path of the incoming Ison, who opened up his body and curling the ball beyond the reach of Bramley to find the goalkeeper's left-hand corner of the net

There was an almost immediate reply from the hosts just sixty seconds later as a free-kick from Dominic Brown-Hill was partially cleared by the head of Harvey Portman to Tyler Haddow, whose pass to Kyron Stabana saw the full-back rifle in a shot from twenty yards out that flew inches wide of Oliver Basey's left-hand post

The hosts levelled matters once more in the eleventh as the league's top scorer Ben Stephens plundered his twenty-third goal of a prolific campaign for Barwell. A long punt forwards from Brown-Hill played Haddow into space down the right, with the forward cutting the ball back to Stephens on the edge of the penalty area. Dreadful defending from the Pitmen saw them afford the striker far too much time and space to control the ball and danced past three players before firing back across Basey's goal and find the far corner of the net from fifteen yards out. Good finish, awful defending

The goals continued to flow early on as the visitors re-took the lead in the fifteenth minute in bizarre circumstances; O'Sullivan was awarded a free-kick down by the corner flag after being hauled down by Herve Pepe-Ngome, allowing Todd Parker to swing in a free-kick that somehow evaded everyone inside the Barwell six-yard box, with the ball bouncing past Bramley as Ison followed the ball in from close-range. Ison appeared to get the final touch, but the goal was awarded to Parker by the stadium announcer

Back came the hosts once more, with Stephens going close to another immediate equaliser a minute later as Barwell worked the ball patiently from left to right and back inside to Brown-Hill, whose pass to Stephens via Brady Hickey found the striker in on goal to the left-hand side of the penalty area. However, Stephens saw his right-footed shot come back off the base of Basey's right-hand post and out for a goal kick

Barwell skipper Hickey also went close in the twentieth minute as more woeful defining from the Pitmen saw Basey slice a simple clearance straight to Stephens on the left, who sent over a fine cross to the far post where Hickey arrived top head narrowly wide from six yards out

A corner kick from the hosts three minutes later saw Brown-Hill's low, flat cross to the near post headed goalwards by Stephens, only for alert defending from Webb to block the ball on the line and clear the danger

The lively Haddow was denied a clear goalscoring opportunity by Portman on twenty-seven minutes as he saw the ball taken off his toes by Martin Riley as he picked up a Stephens pass and shaped to shoot from an angle ten yards from goal

Barwell struck the woodwork again in spectacular fashion a minute later as the hosts won the back off a dawdling George Cater on the left, with Will Warren playing Max Brogan into acres of space down the centre of the park. The midfielder took the ball into the space in front of him before striking a powerful rising shot from thirty yards out that beat Basey but came back off the crossbar

The Pitmen made it 3-1 just after the half-hour mark as it was veteran striker Leroy Lita continued his fine form in front of goal with a sixth goal in six appearances; Barwell's attempts to play it out of defence only succeeded in giving the ball away to Webb, who played Bennett into space to run into.

The creative midfield man threaded a delightful through to Lita, who was forced wide but showed superb technique to slot the ball into the far corner of the net with a low driven shot beyond the reach of Bramley

Basey was alert to a deflected Stephens free-kick just a minute later, watching the ball take a huge nick off the Hednesford wall and having to back-track to turn it over the crossbar as the ball looked to be looping into the net 

However, the home side were back in contention on thirty-six minutes as they were awarded a penalty kick; an angled pass into the Hednesford penalty area from Pepe-Ngoma was controlled well by Stephens who was manhandled to the ground by Webb as he shaped to shoot, leaving referee Mr Woolley with little option but to point to the spot. Stephens stepped up and fired low beyond Basey to the goalkeeper's right to reduce the deficit once more. Stephens went to scoop the ball out of the net and clashed with Ison and Basey, leading to a bout of pushing and shoving between both sets of players that led to Mr Woolley to show both Ison and Stephens a yellow card apiece

The impressive Riley O'Sullivan tested the reflexes of Bramley on forty-one minutes as he received a pass from  Parker, who was fouled just outside the box as he played the ball. Mr Wollley played advantage with the visitors still in possession, allowing O'Sullivan to steal a yard on Pepe-Ngoma and attempt a shot from an angle that Bramley tipped away at his near post for a corner kick to the Pitmen

In the final minute of a breathless first half, Haddow did well to skip past Portman down the right, turning the auxiliary full-back inside out before dragging his angled shot well, well wide of Basey's far post from sixteen yards out

It had been a hugely entertaining first half, with the goals flowing regularly as both sides had thrown off the shackles and were playing with a freedom you often find from teams who have nothing to play for at the end of the season. The defending at both ends had been dreadful, with the Pitmen opting to make a change before the start of the second half as the hapless Ward was replaced by Flanagan in a move that saw Ison moved back to central defence

 The Pitmen were straight onto the front foot at the start of the second half with Cater playing O'Sullivan into space down the left on fifty minutes - his wicked cross, aimed at Lita in the six-yard box, was acrobatically hacked over his own crossbar by Brown-Hill for a corner kick

From the resultant Parker corner, Portman's goalbound header at the far post was cleared by Barwell as far as Webb, who executed a superb left-footed half-volley from twelve yards out that nestled in the left-hand corner of the net

However, straight from the kick-off, Barwell struck back immediately as a slide-rule pass from Stephens found Haddow in behind Portman, who made it two goals in two games as he struck the ball past Basey from eighteen yards out. A good strike again, but yet more question marks on both the defending and potentially Basey's positioning to be beaten so easily from a tight angle

On fifty-five minutes, the Pitmen struck the crossbar themselves, although it was a man in green that was to strike the woodwork for the visitors as Portman's lofted ball sent O'Sullivan away down the left once more, with his low cross into the six-yard box diverted onto the bar by defender big defender William Edjenguele

Stephens - ever willing to run in behind the Hednesford defence - raced onto a fine through ball from substitute James Rowland on the hour mark, but an offside flag against him on the far side of the pitch denied him his hat-trick opportunity

Before play could restart, Ison was forced off the pitch with a limp after picking up a knock and was replaced by Lewis Hayden. This saw a further re-jig to the Hednesford defence as Portman moved to centre-back, Webb moved across to left-back and Hayden slotted in at right-back

The pace of the game started to drop at this point as both sides had given everything in the first hour of the game, with the ball mired in midfield for long periods of the second half. On sixty-eight minutes, Webb's deep cross from the left was recycled by Cater, who laid the ball back to Bennett just outside the six-yard box. The former Portsmouth man jinked his way past Edjenguele but saw his low shot deflected behind by the back-tracking Rowland for another corner kick

Bennett felt that he had a legitimate shout for a penalty kick on seventy-four minutes as he went down under a challenge from Edjenguele after tricking his way past the centre-back just inside the Barwell penalty area. Mr Woolley gestured to the midfield man to get to his feet, however, despite his protests

With fourteen minutes remaining, the Pitmen made their final change of the afternoon as Cater was replaced by Chay Tilt out on the right flank for the remainder of the game

With eight minutes of the game remaining, Hickey sent over a corner kick to the near post where the ubiquitous Stephens met the ball with a flying header, only to glance his effort narrowly over the crossbar

Brogan looked to catch Basey out with an opportunistic long-range effort a minute later, spotting the goalkeeper off his line and attempting a lob from nearly thirty yards out that clipped the outside of the on-loan stopper's left-hand post

Both sides had played their part in a very entertaining and open ninety minutes, with the 279-strong crowd having had their money's worth for their entrance fee. The Pitmen end the season in ninth place, a fairly lofty return for a season that has been very topsy-turvy for much of the past nine months and had seen Meakin-Richards side spend most of it labouring in the depths of mid-table without really ever troubling the play-off chasers or being in any real danger of being dragged into the relegation dogfight. You will hope that the Hednesford manager will have learnt valuable lessons from what has been a tough season at times, with his side lacking leadership and experience in key areas of the pitch - particularly in defence - to compete with the sides above them in the table. A lack of a goalscorer for much of the campaign has also cost them heavily, with the side lacking a poacher for many months between Reece Styche's departure and Lita's arrival. Expect another close-season of comings and goings before the start of yet another tough-looking Southern Premier League Central campaign, which may well see more of the Pitmen's old rivals join the league to make it an even more challenging proposition in 2022-2023

Barwell: Bramley, Stabana, Edwards, Pepe-Ngoma, Edjenguele, Brown-Hill (Rowland 53), Warren (Dunkley 45), Brogan, Stephens , Hickey ©, Haddow       Sub Unused: Painter

Hednesford Town: Basey, Webb, Portman, Riley, Ison © ▆ (Hayden 60), Ward (Flanagan 45), Cater (Tilt 76 ) ParkerLita, Bennett, O'Sullivan     Subs Unused: Ebbutt, Williams

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