Vanarama Conference North

Brackley Town

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Hednesford Town

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Richard Batchelor


The Pitmen's once-encouraging campaign fizzled out this afternoon as they limped to a seventh defeat in ten games as Brackley Town earned themselves the three points they required to remain in Conference North for 2015-2016

Having been beaten by Stalybridge Celtic in their final home game of the season, Hednesford arrived at St. James Park with yet more injury and fitness issues as Ben Bailey was ruled out and replaced by Darren Campion in a move that saw midfielder Richard Batchelor forced into an emergency centre-back role alongside Chris Westwood. The second of two changes to the side that had started the Stalybridge game saw James Hurst return at right-back in place of Andy Todd

Brackley came into the game sitting just outside the relegation zone but requiring a win to ensure safety with fellow strugglers Colwyn Bay and Stalybridge both facing mid-table opposition in the other two games affecting the bottom three. Under-pressure manager Jon Brady made one change to the side that had beaten Hyde 2-1 last weekend as former Chelsea and Leicester City defender Frank Sinclair came back into the side in place of Tom Sharpe

On a beautiful bright and sunny afternoon in Northamptonshire, the hosts made a strong start to the proceedings as they looked to seal the three points needed to keep them up. Former Stafford Rangers defender Stuart Pierpoint met Greg Kaziboni's second-minute cross from the left with a full-blooded header from eight yards out but headed his effort over Dan Crane's crossbar

Good play from former Wolves man Sam Whittall two minutes later saw the midfielder pick up a pass from Eddie Odhiambo and took the ball deep into Hednesford territory before seeing his low shot blocked by another former Molineux man Chris Westwood

The Pitmen responded through Jamey Osborne in the seventh minute as a typically bustling run from the midfielder saw him take the ball past Owen Story and into space twenty-five yards from goal, but his effort from long-range was saved by Dean Snedker in the Brackley goal

Veteran Sinclair was given a ticking-off by the referee in the ninth minute as he brought Osborne down thirty yards from goal to halt the midfielder's progress. Campion's resultant free-kick drifted over the heads of everyone in sky blue and drifted well wide of Snedker's left-hand post

Batchelor was also denied by Snedker in the twelfth minute as he gathered the stand-in defender's powerfully-struck long-range effort after good play from ex-Brackley man Glenn Walker

Curtis McDonald got the better of Hurst down the left flank for the Saints two minutes later and played a deep cross to the far post that Crane managed to palm away, but could only push the ball straight into the path of David Moyo; the forwards' scuffed rebound struck the leg of Westwood and ended up back in the grateful hands of Crane

Another good save from Snedker in the seventeenth minute denied Hurst on this occasion, as the former Northampton Town stopper dived full-length to his left to push Hurst's low driven shot around the post for a Hednesford corner kick

A good run from the tenacious Story on twenty-one minutes saw the midfielder slip the ball through to Moyo, whose run into the penalty area saw him forced wide by Westwood which narrowed his view of goal. The young striker dragged his resultant shot wide of goal as Crane stood firm at his near post

Three minutes later, Osborne's run was halted illegally by Story and handed the visitors a free-kick in a dangerous position, which on-loan Lloyd Kerry curled around the Brackley wall but straight into the arms of Snedker

Story and Ryan Austin did well to work the ball through midfield and out to McDonald on the left-wing on twenty-eight minutes, testing Hurst once more as the winger tested his way left and right before crossing from the corner of the penalty area that was headed high over the crossbar by Moyo

The Pitmen really should have taken the lead on thirty-three minutes as a superb floated pass over the Brackley defence from Batchelor found Nick Rushton in behind the flimsy Brackley offside trap. The on-loan Wrexham striker took a touch too many, however, and allowed Snedker to block his shot. The ball ran kindly to the incoming Kerry, who dragged his follow-up shot from the edge of the penalty area wide of goal

A timely challenge from Batchelor denied Kaziboni three minutes later to deny the former Corby Town striker a clear shot at goal after Story's slide-rule pass had found Kaziboni just inside the Hednesford penalty area

With five minutes of the first half remaining, Hurst made a run down the right and took the ball past Danny Fitzsimons and crossed low from the byeline, which was toe-poked into the hands of Snedker by Rushton's tame shot from eight yards out. Hurst appeared to injure himself as he pulled the ball back but looked to soldier on until half-time after physio Gavin Blackwell had looked over the full-back

In the final minute of the first half, Hurst laid the ball back into the path of Kerry after the Pitmen had taken a free-kick quickly on the right flank, with Kerry's deep cross headed over the crossbar at the far post by the winger as he ghosted in behind Odhiambo

News reached St James Park at the half-time break of Colwyn Bay drawing 1-1 at Worcester City and Stalybridge beating Gainsborough Trinity 2-1, meaning Brackley still needed all three points to ensure safety in the second period if the scores remained the same in the other two games. The Pitmen were forced into a change before the start of the second period as Hurst succumbed to his earlier injury and was replaced by Todd

A largely uneventful first ten minutes of the second half became more and more concerning for the hosts as word of a goal flurry for Colwyn Bay at the start of the second period had seen them take charge of their game, meaning that Brackley were relegated unless they could find a winner against the stubborn Pitmen

On fifty-two minutes, Pierpoint made a late charge into the Hednesford penalty area to latch onto Moyo's low cross, but Crane was equal to the full-back's angled drive as he brilliantly turned the ball away, despite initially diving the other way

Another fine run from Osborne on fifty-five minutes saw the talented midfield man make a surging run from the halfway line and into the Brackley penalty area but saw Snedker equal to his effort from eighteen yards out once again as he pushed Osborne's shot around the post for a corner to the Pitmen

The hosts made a bold doubled attacking change on the hour mark as they looked to push more men forwards in search of that all-important goal, with striker Ryan Rowe replacing Sinclair and young attacker Will Green coming on for Whittall. This saw the Saints move to a 4-2-4 formation as they became more and more desperate for a breakthrough

Brackley man of the match Story struck a powerful long-range shot at goal on sixty-three minutes after Campion's clearance had dropped to him, but the midfielder's effort was off-target and flew wide of Crane's right-hand post

At the other end, Kerry's corner kick from the left two minutes later was flicked on by Westwood at the near post, but Rushton got underneath the ball and headed high over the crossbar from six yards out

More excellent defending from Batchelor midway through the second half saw him block Moyo's shot after Green's initial effort was scuffed into the path of his strike partner

With twenty minutes to go and the Pitmen starting to look a little leggy, Hednesford manager Rob Smith made his final two changes as former Brackley striker Steve Diggin came on in place of the anonymous Adam Thomas and Rushton was replaced by Marvin Robinson

On seventy-three minutes, Austin's quickly taken free-kick was turned across the penalty area by Kaziboni to McDonald, whose first-time shot was held by Crane

Two minutes later, Rowe's flick-on from Pierpoint's cross fell to Moyo, who rushed his shot from ten yards out and pulled his effort straight into the arms of Crane once more

The hosts' pressure finally told as they got themselves in front with fourteen minutes remaining; Austin - now playing as a centre-forward - chested down Pierpoint's deep cross from the right and found Rowe, who found half a yard of space to fire past Crane from fifteen yards out with a low shot. The majority of the 775-strong home crowd went wild with delight, relieved at their side finally getting themselves in front

The Pitmen looked for an immediate response through Diggin, who got goal side of Odhiambo to get on the end of Walker's cross on seventy-six minutes but chipped his effort wide of the post from twelve yards out

Two minutes later, Robinson headed over the crossbar with a looping effort from ten yards out as he got on the end of Kerry's inswinging free-kick from the right


With seven minutes remaining, the Pitmen continued to pile forwards in search of an equaliser as Campion's run and cross found Tom Thorley on the edge of the penalty area, with the former Worcester man drilling his effort well wide of goal as Fitzsimons closed him down

Diggin was keen to grab a goal against his former club and send them down in the process, firing straight into the arms of Snedker on eighty-six minutes as he worked the ball onto his right foot after Thorley had played the ball into his path

With three minutes remaining, the Pitmen were reduced to ten men as the excellent Batchelor was forced off the pitch holding his side after picking up a rib injury in a clash with Moyo

Three corner kicks in a row by the ten-man Pitmen failed to muster up an equaliser in added time, with Snedker and his makeshift defence seeing the game out to clinch the win required to stay up. Despite Colwyn Bay's 5-2 win over Worcester, it is the Welsh side that will join Leamington and Hyde in being relegated to step three for the 2015-2016 season as Stalybridge's 4-4 draw with Gainsborough is enough to keep the Celts up on goal difference

Having been as high as third in the league table only eight weeks ago, the Pitmen's form in the final ten games has seen them drop down to an eighth-place finish - still a highly respectable final position but leaving the Hednesford fans thinking about 'what could have been' had Smith's side not suffered from some horrendous luck with injuries and suspensions in the latter stages of the campaign. There will be hope that the Pitmen can once again build on a second season back at step two with a more consistent third one in 2015-2016, hopefully being less reliant on loan players as they have used no less than nine this term 

Brackley Town: Snedker, Pierpoint (Sharpe 67), Fitzsimons, Odhiambo, Sinclair (Rowe 60), Austin, Story, Whittall (Green 60), Moyo, Kaziboni, McDonald      Subs Unused: Carruthers, Farrell

Hednesford Town: Crane, Hurst (Todd 45), Campion ©, Westwood, Thomas (Diggin 70), Walker, Osborne, Thorley, Rushton (Robinson 70), Kerry, Batchelor (87)      Subs Unused: None