Skrill North

Brackley Town

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Hednesford Town

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Dan Crane


Gateshead (A) 30.11.13

Hednesford's thirteen game unbeaten run in all competitions finally came to a halt this afternoon, as Brackley Town underlined their title credentials with a narrow win over the Skill North league leaders at St. James' Park. The defeat means the Pitmen now top the table only on goal difference, with four clubs now sitting on thirty-two points after the latest round of games

The Pitmen arrived in rural Northants off the back of a confident victory over Workington in the F.A. Trophy last weekend, with manager Rob Smith making only one change to the side that had seen off the Cumbrian side at Keys Park; in came Michael Lennon in place of Wayne Riley, who dropped to the bench to allow the experienced striker to renew his partnership with Neil Harvey up front

Brackley came into the top of the table clash on the crest of a wave, thanks to an F.A. Cup giant-killing in midweek that had seen them beat SkyBet League One side Gillingham on this very ground. Manager Jon Brady had assembled a powerful, experienced side that had only conceded six goals in the league in the thirteen league games up to today

These two in-form sides started the game with a cagey nature, with neither taking any risks in the opening minutes of the game. Lennon's deep cross on seven minutes looped up into the air as he looked to find Harvey but veteran Brackley keeper Billy Turley watched the swirling ball drop onto the roof of the net

A minute later, Brackley had a great chance to take the lead, with Dan Crane pulling off the first a clutch of impressive stops in the game. A cross from the talented Glenn Walker found the head of Brett Solkhon at the near post, with Crane doing brilliantly to turn Solkhon's goalbound effort away from goal from point-blank range

Hednesford started to get a grip of the greasy pitch and well-drilled opposition as the half wore on, with Lennon next to test Turley's reflexes on twenty minutes - a clever link-up with Harvey saw the striker fire a shot low to Turley's right, with the former Rushden man saving well low down

Durrell's dangerous set-pieces almost created further openings for the Pitmen ten minutes later, as his corner kick gave Brackley problems as they looked to clear their lines. Durrell picked up the loose ball and sent over another cross from the left, which Francino Francis headed tamely at Turley from eight yards out

Crane made his second excellent save of the afternoon just before half time, making a double stop to keep the Pitmen on level terms going into the break. John Disney - struggling to see properly after taking a bang on the face ten minutes earlier - was dispossessed by Steve Diggin, allowing the striker to approach the penalty area and play the ball across to Eddie Odhiambo, who was unmarked at the far post. Crane made himself big, and produced a superb smothering block to deny the midfielder a certain goal. He followed this up by diving on the loose ball before Diggin could seize upon the rebound

In the final minute of the half, another flighted cross from Durrell was headed narrowly wide of the post by Lennon, who glanced the ball across the face of Turley's goal

Disney's concussion was deemed too much of a concern to allow him to go back out for the second half, meaning Smith was forced into a change at the start of the second half that saw Alex Melbourne replace Disney at right-back

The Pitmen made a barnstorming start to the second half, pushing Brackley into their own third and exerting serious pressure on their well-drilled back line in the opening twenty minutes of the half. Durrell made a wonderful mazy run through the Brackley defence on forty-eight minutes, but skewed his shot wide of the post rather than test Turley

Durrell was involved again on fifty-two minutes, creating the Pitmen's best chance of the game with a tantalising cross from the left-wing that dropped perfectly at the far post for Tom Thorley. Unbelievably, Thorley somehow failed to turn the ball home from four yards out, missing the ball as it spun beyond his foot and out of play

More pressure followed a minute later, as the visitors forced three successive corners via the boot of Durrell and Kris Taylor. Once again, however, the Brackley defence stayed strong and further enhanced its reputation as the meanest defence in the league

With nineteen minutes remaining, the hardworking Lennon was replaced by Riley, as the Pitmen looked for more pace from their attack in an attempt to at least seal a point

Brackley themselves made a notable substitution at the same time, with former Macclesfield winger Izak Reid coming on for Elliot Sandy to give Brackley more width and threat on the break

The final fifteen minutes was all Brackley, as a tired-looking Hednesford side struggled to cope with the pace of the Brackley attack. Diggin did well to wriggle clear of Ben Bailey's challenge on seventy-seven minutes after the centre back had gifted him the ball, hitting a swerving shot from just inside the penalty area that came back off the crossbar. Reid's excellent cross from the rebound was well claimed by Crane before Diggin could react and turn the ball home

Durrell's game was brought to an end with eight minutes remaining, with Aaron Rey coming on in his place. Durrell showed his displeasure at the decision by throwing his shirt to the floor and sulking on the bench after Rey came on in his place

After Harvey wasted a good chance for the Pitmen by flashing a shot over the bar, Brackley finally found a way through the sturdy Hednesford back line with three minutes remaining; a marauding run from Reid down the right saw him get the better of Darren Campion, crossing well for Diggin to head beyond the reach of Crane and into the far corner of the net

The Pitmen tried to rectify the problem in a frenetic final few minutes which saw Riley head wide of goal and Crane move forward and head a Taylor free-kick into the hands of Turley

In truth, Brackley probably shaded the game over the ninety minutes, although the Pitmen will be kicking themselves at not taking one of the numerous great chances that came their way at the start of the second half. Other results ensure the Pitmen stay top of the tree, but with so many teams now manoeuvring themselves into a position of power just behind them, Smith and his troops must dig deep in the coming weeks if they are to maintain their place amongst the Skrill North pacesetters

Brackley Town: Turley, Odhiambo, McDonald, Towers ©, Sharpe, Austin, Sandy (Reid 67), Solkhon, Mulligan (Mills 76), Diggin, Walker      Subs Unused: Nisevic, Griffin, Jarvis

Hednesford Town: Crane, Disney (Melbourne 45), Campion ©, Bailey, Francis, Taylor, Osborne, Durrell (Rey 81), Harvey, Lennon (Riley 71), Thorley      Subs Unused: McCone, Thompson-Brown

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