28.4.2012

Evo-Stik Northern Premier League Play-Off Semi-Final

Bradford (Park Avenue)

Marshall (26) (penalty), (89), Clayton (40), Drury (63), Knowles (75)

Hednesford Town

(2) 5

(0) 0

Attendance

MoTM

Current Form

609

Chris Clements

W L L D L W W D D L

The Pitmen's promotion challenge ends as it started on the opening day of the season at Bradford's Horsfall Stadium, crashing to a heavy defeat to their hosts on a miserable day for Rob Smith's side and the supporters that had made the trip up to Yorkshire

Two goalless draws in the past eleven days, coupled with Northwich Victoria's expulsion from the league due to financial issues, had sealed the Pitmen's place in the top five and set up today's semi-final clash. Smith made two changes to his starting XI from the one that had fired a blank against Worksop Town last weekend with Nick Wellecomme and Elliott Durrell returning to the side in place of Mark Beesley and Ben Jevons respectively

 

Bradford had been in the play-off mix for much of the season without really challenging any of the title chasers and finished the season in a net third place behind Chester and Chorley after losing 2-0 to the second-placed Magpies on the last day of the season. Manager John Deacy made one change to his side for today's big game as James Riley came in for Nicky Matthews in midfield

An overcast day saw showers passing over the Horsfall Stadium at regular intervals with the game kicking off in the midst of a heavy dumping of rain to leave the pitch in a muddy, barren state. Bradford appeared to get to grips with the conditions the better of the two sides in the opening stages as they pushed the all-blue visitors back into their own third. In the fourth minute, Alex Davidson picked the ball up thirty yards from goal and teased Cheyenne Dunkley before attempting a shot from the edge of the penalty area with the outside of his boot that Dan Crane saved easily at his near post

The Pitmen countered through Durrell in the seventh minute with the midfielder wriggling past two challenges down the right flank and sending over a low cross towards Wellecomme, only for Ross Daly to divert the ball narrowly past his own near post for a corner before the big striker could get on the end of Durrell's cross

Both sides forced a succession of corners each in the opening fifteen minutes of the game as they traded set-pieces, only to find both defences on top in the air 

A free-kick from Richard Marshall on thirteen minutes was headed away by Dunkley and into the path of manager's son Jordan Deacy who was lurking on the edge of the Hednesford penalty area; his half-volley was well blocked by the young centre-back, who threw his body in front of the effort and managed to divert the ball away from danger before Jay Denny completed the clearance

A teasing inswinging cross from Jamey Osborne three minutes later saw the teenager whip in a delightful ball towards the far post for Wellecomme, who just failed to get his head to the ball as it narrowly sailed over his head and out of play

The Pitmen's best chance of the opening quarter came on twenty minutes as skipper Darren Campion picked the ball up after his initial corner was cleared back to him on the corner of the Bradford penalty area and tried his luck with a low drive, only to drill his effort inches wide of John Lamb's near post

The hosts were handed the chance to open the scoring in highly controversial circumstances on twenty-six minutes as the referee awarded them a hugely contentious penalty kick as Marshall fell just inside the penalty area under pressure from Dunkley as he drove into the box. The match official appeared to wave away the Bradford protests initially as it appeared that no contact was made and that the challenge had happened just outside the penalty area. However, at the insistence of the assistant referee on the main stand side, the penalty was awarded to the amazement of the Hednesford players and officials. Smith and assistant manager Larry Chambers were given a strict lecture from the referee for their vociferous protests before Marshall spotted the ball and sent Crane the wrong way from the penalty to give Avenue the lead

The Pitmen looked for an immediate reply through Osborne, who played a quick one-two with Wellecomme on twenty-eight minutes down the left flank before cutting inside and unleashing a shot from twenty-five yards out that Lamb held well at his near post

A beautifully-flighted Chris Clements corner kick on thirty-one minutes very nearly drifted straight into the net as the ball caught the wind and sailed towards the far corner of the net, but dropped just wide of the upright and fell behind with five Hednesford players attacking the ball inside the six-yard box

Clements was the architect of all of the Pitmen's positive moves forwards and produced another fine delivery into the penalty area on thirty-five minutes; an inch-perfect free-kick from just inside the Bradford half from the midfielder found Chris Shaw lurking, only for the left-back to glance his header just wide of the foot of the left-hand post from ten yards out

Clements tested Lamb's reflexes once more with a low driven effort on thirty-eight minutes before more inept refereeing handed Bradford another advantage on forty minutes; with the ball bobbling along the touchline, Dunkley hacked the ball away for a Bradford throw-in on the changing room side of the ground. Once again, the referee failed to make a simple judgement for himself after initially gesturing for a throw-in and awarded Bradford a corner kick after consulting with the assistant, who was on the opposite side of the pitch. From the resultant Marshall corner, defender Adam Clayton rose highest to loop a header beyond Crane and the Hednesford defenders on the goal line to double Bradford's lead. Poor refereeing but even poorer defending from the visitors

However, the Pitmen were given a chance to reduce arrears just before half-time as a period of Hednesford pressure led to them being awarded their own contentious penalty kick. Dunkley rescued the ball out on the right flank and drove towards goal before clashing with Marshall and left-back Drury just inside the Bradford penalty area. Once again, a questionable call from the referee saw him award another penalty for a debatable challenge on the defender. The normally reliable Clements stepped up to take the spot-kick but placed his low shot to Lamb's right and saw the burly keeper make a good save to push the midfield man's penalty away from danger

The Pitmen could feel aggrieved at some of the decision making in a first half that they had enjoyed plenty of possession and chances in, but had come out second best in the scoring stakes as the hosts had taken the chances presented to them, whilst Smith's side had failed to do so despite having ample opportunities to get back into the game

Bradford started the second half well and were denied a killer third goal on fifty-one minutes by Crane as the ball was worked to Davidson on the edge of the Hednesford penalty area, only for the experienced stopper to make a fine save to push the midfielder's rising shot away from goal before Dunkley completed the clearance

Dunkley was involved at the other end of the pitch four minutes later as a Clements free-kick was headed towards goal by Shaw - Dunkley attempted an acrobatic overhead kick inside the Avenue six-yard box but failed to get a good connection on the ball and Bradford cleared their lines

Good play from Campion and Shaw down the left saw Shaw pull the ball back into the path of Wellecomme on fifty-six minutes, only for the ball to get caught in the mud and prevent the striker from getting his shot away; he slipped the ball to Clements, who saw his powerfully-struck shot deflected wide for a Hednesford corner kick

Two minutes later, Durrell's lack of fitness in recent weeks saw him replaced as Smith threw on another striker in the form of veteran Gary Hay in an attempt to find a way back into the game. Wellecomme was also sacrificed for Beesley at the same time as the away side freshened up their impotent attack

Crane denied Drury once more on sixty-two minutes with a smothering save at his near post after a slip from Dunkley had let the Bradford man in down the right side of the penalty area. From the follow-up, Avenue substitute Matt Dempsey lashed his shot over the crossbar with his first touch of the ball since coming on for Riley

However, Drury did put the game beyond the Pitmen with a superb individual goal a minute later; picking up the ball on the halfway line, the full-back made a surging run into the Hednesford half as the away side's defence backed off and fired low past the despairing dive of Crane from the edge of the penalty area to make it 3-0

Things went from bad to worse for the Pitmen on sixty-eight minutes as Denny was rightly shown a red card for a studs-up challenge on Marshall; having failed to win the ball off Nathan Hotte, the frustrated Denny launched into a flying challenge on the striker and caught him with a late tackle just inside the Bradford half. The referee had little option but to show the former USA U20 international off for a poorly-timed and wild tackle

The final twenty minutes were simply damage limitation for the Pitmen, whose ambitions of reaching the play-off final had long since diminished; a succession of Bradford corner kicks culminated in a fourth goal for the hosts on seventy-five minutes as a deep ball in from Davidson found skipper Knowles completely unmarked at the far post to gleefully nod home past Crane from ten yards out

Clements was taken off by the Pitmen before the restart in what was most likely to be his final appearance for Hednesford with a number of professional clubs looking at a summer swoop for the talented youngster, with Ben Jevons coming on for the final fifteen minutes of the game

Drury went close to rubbing salt in the wounds for the Pitmen on eighty-one minutes as he cut inside from the left-wing and tried his luck with an angled shot that Cranes superbly turned away with a flying save at his near post

Marshall should have made it five a couple of minutes later as he somehow headed a flighted cross from Dempsey wide of the far post after beating Shaw to the ball

Campion did well to get in behind the Bradford defence momentarily with four minutes remaining but lifted his long-range shot high over the crossbar as he came under pressure from two covering Bradford defenders

Another great run from Davidson with two minutes remaining saw him drift inside a non-existent Hednesford defence and shoot at goal, only to be denied once more by another superb Crane save

Bradford finally rounded off the scoring in the last minutes of the game as a goalmouth scramble in the mud from Hotte's initial shot dropped to Marshall, who turned the hapless Jermaine Johnson and fired low past Crane to put the Pitmen out of their misery

It had once again been a season that, at times, had promised so much for the Pitmen, who had topped the table sporadically up to January before their home form dropped off the cliff and saw them fall away and had to rely on Northwich's off-the-field problems to guarantee them a play-off place in the end. A sound defeat here leaves Smith and Chambers much to ponder in the summer months as their return to the Northern Premier League has proven to be a steep learning curve; 2012-2013 will prove to be another tough season as Hednesford will once again look to get themselves back to the promised land of Conference football once more

Bradford (Park Avenue): Lamb, Clayton, Drury, Daly (James 52), Knowles ©, Riley (Dempsey 62), Davidson, Hotte, Marshall, Deacy, Boshell (Matthews 75)     Subs Unused: Duckworth, Greaves

Hednesford Town: Crane, Haynes, Shaw, Dunkley , Johnson, Denny ©  (68), Osborne, Clements ▆ (Jevons 75), Wellecomme (Beesley 58 ), Durrell (Hay 58), Campion       Subs Unused: Blakeman

Images © copyright Pitmenweb