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Evo-Stik Northern Premier League

Blyth Spartans

Rivers (1), (22), Armstrong (56), Dale (69), Maguire (75)

Hednesford Town

Woolston (30) (OG)

(2) 5

(1) 1



Current Form

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Dan Crane


Buxton (A) 14.2.17

The Pitmen's week of woe shows no sign of abating as they crash to a six defeat in seven league games to leave their season in real danger of ending before the month of February is out


It had been yet another turbulent, upsetting week a Keys Park in the past seven days, with news emerging on Tuesday afternoon of the resignation of under-fire manager Paul Casey. Casey's departure saw Gary Birch, Gavin Hurren and the returning Marvin Robinson handed the task of preparing the team for this afternoon's trip to table-toppers Blyth as the Pitmen take their time in naming a new permanent manager

The club had also been rocked by news yesterday of the passing of the popular and long-serving club secretary Mick Johnson, who had died after a short illness to add to the mood of doom and gloom around Keys Park ahead of their trip north


The Pitmen were dealt a blow even before they had boarded the coach with news that Darren Campion was to miss the game due to personal reasons. This saw caretaker/coach Hurren make his first start of Hednesford since he appeared at Chesham United in November 2010, whilst there was a full debut for wide midfielder George Washbourne after his arrival a week ago. Gavin Caines also returned to central defence in place of Dan Brenan, who dropped to the substitutes bench alongside Alfons Fosu-Mensah


Hosts Blyth had quietly sat behind the early pacesetters in the Evo-Stik Premier League before putting together an eight-game winning run since the New Year to move them well clear of the chasing pack. Alun Armstrong's men were therefore looking to set a new winning record of nine wins in a row this afternoon, eclipsing a previous record wet in 1975. Armstrong made two changes to the side that had beaten play-off chasing Warrington Town 2-0 in midweek with Jordan Laidler coming in for Damen Mullen and Sean Reid replacing the now-departed Stephen Turnbull


The hosts got themselves off to the best possible start, as they took full advantage of the sheer chaos the Pitmen currently find themselves in by taking the lead in the very first minute; a swift counter-attack by Spartans saw Robbie Dale play in Luke Armstrong, whose clever ball found Jarrett Rivers in space to turn the ball past Dan Crane from close-range

The Pitmen's ponderous start to the game continued as they almost gifted Blyth a second goal in the fourth minute as a bout of 'faffing about' with the ball at the back from players who were uncomfortable with the ball at their feet gifted possession to Dale on the edge of the penalty area. The Blyth legend let fly with a rising shot that beat Crane but also the far post


The Pitmen were slow to respond with any meaningful chances of their own in a poorly executed opening ten minutes, with only a Danny Glover free-kick that flew high and wide of goal to show for their efforts thus far

A strong header from Laidler after he met a Daniel Maguire corner kick was hacked away from danger by Dan Preston on fifteen minutes before Crane was alert to a swift break through the centre of the Hednesford defence to smother the ball ahead of Dale two minutes later


The under-pressure Pitmen were forced into an early substitution two minutes later as Hurren's lack of recent game time caught up with him as he suffered a leg-pull and was forced off in favour of Tony Clarke. This saw Washbourne moved to left-back to deputise for Hurren, himself deputising for the unavailable Campion

The dangerous Rivers almost put his side two goals to the good on twenty minutes but fired wide from inside the penalty area after another good ball in from Maguire


The same player, however, made his next chance count with aplomb on twenty-two minutes, doubling Spartans' advantage after running onto a through ball from Dale and firing past a horribly exposed Crane with all the time in the world as the Hednesford defence made desperate pleas for offside against Rivers

Crane was again a crucial barrier of resistance against the free-flowing Blyth attack that had scored twenty-five goals in their last eight games as he palmed Dale's shot away from goal on twenty-eight minutes before forcing Reid into firing well wide with the rebound


Despite their woes, the Pitmen got themselves back into the game on the half hour mark through a slice of badly-needed luck. A Kyle Haynes cross from the right was headed against the foot of the post by the towering presence of Vinny Mukendi, cannoning off the heel of young goalkeeper Paul Woolston and into the net before he could react


Back came the home side with Rivers going close to grabbing a first-half hat-trick inside the first half-hour, but his effort found the side netting as he tried his luck with an angled drive


A swift break from Spartans on thirty-five minutes saw the Pitmen short of numbers at the back, with Daniel Maguire fluffing his lines at the end as he fired high and wide of goal from a great position ten yards from goal


The Pitmen will have been happy to still be in contention at half time after a difficult first twenty minutes, although you did feel that Blyth still had a couple of gears to move into if they so wished against a Hednesford side surviving through sheer luck and poor finishing from their hosts


The second half starting with a yellow card for Washbourne for a cynical challenge in midfield on fellow half-time substitute Richard Pell. He was followed into the book on fifty-one minutes by the on-loan Preston after an over-the-top reaction to a challenge from striker Luke Armstrong


Blyth started to ramp up the pressure on the Hednesford defence as the minutes ticked by, with Crane making a fine save to deny Armstrong on fifty-three minutes after Rivers had played him in on goal


However, Crane could do little to deny Armstrong on three minutes later as the striker reacted quickest to the ball coming back off the crossbar to bundle the loose ball home from close range to restore Blyth's two-goal lead after Maguire had initially been denied by a block on the goal line by Haynes


Haynes - the only recognised right-back currently fit and available at the club -  gave the Pitmen's new interim management team a moment of concern after he limped out of a challenge from Dale on the hour mark, but following a lengthy spell of treatment continued to play on

Neat play involving Dale, Armstrong and Maguire saw the latter whip in a cross from the right flank on sixty-six minutes that was headed over Crane's crossbar by the incoming Rivers


The hosts effectively killed the game off on sixty-nine minutes, as a neat passage of play saw Blyth legend Dale played in on goal, with the striker rounding Crane and slotting into the net for number four. A simple but effective move that caught the patched-up Hednesford defence ball-watching


Blyth's fourth goal signalled a change in tactics for the Pitmen as youngster Remeao Hutton came on for the hardworking Mukendi on seventy-three minutes, moving to left-back to allow Washbourne to play further forward


It got even worse for the Pitmen on seventy-five minutes as the excellent Maguire got in on the scoring act, firing home at the near post after a quick break had once again caught the dreadfully static Hednesford central defence cold


The visitors made their final change of a dreadful afternoon with ten minutes remaining as Glover was replaced by Fosu-Mensah up front after eighty minutes of being completely starved of any semblance of service


Blyth continued to stream forwards as they looked to add to the Pitmen's woes further and boost their own goal difference in the process. Crane earned his man of the match nomination with five minutes left, tipping Dale's shot over the crossbar from close-range to deny Dale another goal


In the first minute of added time, Crane again made another flying save to keep the scoreline down, tipping an inswinging corner kick from Maguire  over his own crossbar as Blyth pressed for a sixth goal


All in all, a thoroughly miserable day for all connected with Hednesford Town Football Club with none of the players, officials and supporters hanging around as they made a swift departure from Croft Park. The games don't get any easier for the interim management team either, as they face another high-flying team in the form of Buxton on Tuesday night at Silverlands. To many, a season that promised so much short a short amount of time ago is now one they can't wait to end


Blyth Spartans: Woolston, Atkinson, Watson, Laidler, Hutchinson, Buddle (Pell 45), Rivers (Wrightson 76), Reid (Cartwright 80), Maguire, Armstrong, Dale ©       Subs Unused: Bell, Pattinson


Hednesford Town: Crane, Haynes, Hurren (Clarke 17), McNaught , Caines, Preston , Fitzpatrick, Thorley ©, Glover (Fosu-Mensah 80), Mukendi (Hutton 73), Washbourne       Subs Unused: Ransome, Brenan

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